As something of a skincare enthusiast myself — and by "something," I mean I have an entire skincare drawer in my dresser and an Opening Ceremony tote full of extras of my favorite products in the closet — I'm always on the lookout for new experts to follow. That's what led me to Sean Garrette, an esthetician and skincare specialist who has built a following on thoughtful product reviews all while building an IRL clientele primarily made up of Black women. In his own words, Garrette is a "skin therapist."
Garrette is especially passionate about sharing his knowledge of skincare with Black women because the beauty industry so often neglects to make and market products specifically for them. His love of beauty was also directly inspired and fostered by the Black women in his life — namely his mother, grandmother and an aunt whose beauty rituals he observed reverently.
"She used to be a jazz singer," Garrette recalls, "and I used to sit on her bed and watch her get ready. She had about 50 perfumes from Chanel, Dior, Givenchy. Her signature was red lipstick and she had 80 different wigs. I was always obsessed with beauty. When she'd leave, I'd be in her closet, trying perfumes and makeup and hair." This fostered Garrette's love of beauty and an understanding of its transformative power.
The skin therapist has earned the trust of his audience by providing them with his favorite products and the science behind them — I've learned about the importance of lactic acids from his posts — and also by being vulnerable with them. You trust Garrette because he's not just recommending his favorite face wash (Youth to the People's Superfood Antioxidant Cleanser), but because he's sharing candid photos of the days when his skin isn't looking flawless. In a world where influencers are beat and Facetuned to perfection, it's refreshing to follow someone who knows that we all have acne, razor burn, sun damage and hyperpigmentation — and isn't afraid to share his own.
Although after seeing his gorgeous skin over Zoom, I can't imagine Garrette ever looking less than 100% snatched...
What's your favorite thing about your skin?
I love my skin tone. I've always loved the color of my skin. My mom has the most beautiful, caramel skin. And I love during the summer, when we get a little tan because the more red and golden tones come out. I really do love my skin tone, it's like my favorite thing about myself, honestly.
Did you always have good, clear skin, growing up?
Yeah, I pretty much always had clear even-toned skin. I literally did not have any skin issues or major breakouts until I turned 21 and had adult acne. I went through almost a second puberty, but I had lost like a ton of weight. So my diet had changed, my lifestyle had changed, but I think all of that shifting in my hormones just freaked my skin out. And that's what led me into my obsession with skincare and products.
When did you realize that your skin was something that you had to actively take care of?
Probably when I was in middle school. My mom is a type A parent. I was her little doll, she always dressed me to a T, my hair had to be a certain way. I couldn't play outside in certain clothes. My mom was very image obsessed. When you come from a Black family, you always have to put your best foot forward. Especially with my mom because she was in corporate America. She always made sure she looked great and that passed down onto me. So as I got older, she would tell me about taking care of my skin, make sure I'm washing my face, just hygiene, deodorant, things like that. But she was using, like, Noxzema. So she wasn't even on to the good shit, she just would just cleanse her face and put lotion on.
Those are the building blocks! The most important skincare rule I've ever learned was from my mother who told me to never go to sleep without washing my face. What was the most important beauty rule you learned early on?
To never leave the house ashy. My mom did not play with that ashy shit, you had to make sure you brushed your teeth, have fresh breath, your hair was groomed and that you were moisturized. That's why I'm always glowing and I look like I'm sweating all the time because I'm overly moisturized.
When did you start getting interested in beauty as an adult?
Around like 2013-2014. I had moved to New York the first time or when I was like 21, 22. And I was interested in getting to the fashion industry. Of course, my image and the way I presented myself became very important. That's when I discovered makeup and different fashion choices and things like that. As a career, I would say around 2014, I started working at a beauty counter and I just became obsessed with beauty. Everything about skincare, fragrance, it became like my life.
"I hope moving forward that there's more intuitive inclusivity and not such a quota being met, especially for people that look like me."
How would you quantify what you do?
By trade I'm an esthetician, but I'm almost a skin therapist. About 90% of my clients are Black women. And so with that comes a lot of trauma, a lot of insecurity about image, especially skin, because those women aren't as represented in these industries as they should, or even marketed towards. So it's like I'm counseling women in my spa, but I'm also giving them the building blocks to help them achieve better skin, lighten their hyperpigmentation, control their acne, for more confidence for them to do things like go for job interviews or dates. It's almost like I'm a skin coach.
Do you feel like you're taking this insider knowledge and bringing it to people who don't normally have access to it?
Yes, and that's really what started my Instagram and what I think made people gravitate towards me, mostly Black women, because I would take things that I learned in school and by trade and the spa and would simplify it to make it more digestible for my audience. A lot of people don't know why you need sunscreen if you have more melanin in your skin or why certain products work for acne versus hyperpigmentation. I took my Instagram as an aesthetic medium to also be educational to people. It draws you in, but you learn something and can take from it and apply it to yourself.
What is your favorite part about interacting with your audience?
Just the connection. Growing up, I was a loner. I grew up mostly as an only child until I was 12 years old and my mom had my little brother. I always was a very isolated person, and now my work is a way for me to connect with people on a more personal level, learning people's stories and expanding my knowledge of skin because everyone's skin is completely different. Certain medical things or stressors or hormones trigger certain skin issues. I'm consistently reeducating myself.
How has your business changed during the pandemic?
Since March, I've been doing virtual consults. I'll do Zoom consults and they'll do an intake form. I'll go over what they're using, do a quick 30-minute interview and then create a new plan and routine moving forward for them. Also, I've been trying to bump up my online content to be more educational because virtual consults can be a little pricey for certain people. Instead of paying for a virtual consult and having to buy products on top of that, you can go to my Instagram and get something from it and be able to create a little routine for yourself.
When you are recommending products, how do you tailor that to your patient?
When you've been doing this for a while, you know what works with what, but again, depending on the certain issues or personal constraints, you tailor that to that. For me, the biggest challenge is tailoring it and making it more concise for clients because there's so much on the market and so many products — so many ingredients that target the same thing. I'm always trying to make sure I'm tailoring it and making it as digestible as possible. And also take into consideration their price point with the pandemic going on, and then make sure it's something that they can continuously afford to repurchase and they'll follow in the future.
If you're traveling — obviously no one's going anywhere right now — what are five skincare products you have to bring with you?
I actually just went on a four-day trip and I took three bags of skincare. So I'm literally the worst at packing because I'm like, I need everything for every situation. But, must haves is: a good oil cleanser or balm cleanser at night. And then also like a gentle cleanser I can use morning and night. So that would be my cleansing step. A hydrating toner, of course, a hydrating serum, an SPF, and a good moisturizer I can use morning and night.
"You can't really be inclusive if you're not including Black trans people, Black nonbinary people, Black gay people."
No eye cream?
I don't really use them. I have like 50 eye creams and I probably use like three of them. Most of my creams are pretty rich, so I look for things that have a little bit more advanced formulas. My hyaluronic acids usually have three or four other ingredients that treat things that I want. So it has peptides, niacinamide, peach extract and yam extract. Super, super hydrating, but also the niacinamide helps with some hyperpigmentation, a little oil control. And the peptides, if I bring it up under my eye, it will help with the wrinkles and dryness.
As a Black esthetician who works primarily with Black women, what kind of ripple effect are you hoping the current movement to dismantle white supremacy will have on the beauty industry?
I'm hoping for a more authentic change. For me it's conflicting because I love the beauty space and the beauty industry so much. But it's also a very divisive environment, and we've been having this conversation for years and years at this point. The consumer has become more aggressive with their demand to be recognized by brands.
It's sad that you have to almost attack and bully people to just do the right thing, but unless you hit them where it hurts, which is these brands' pockets and their profit margins, your voice isn't heard. I hope moving forward that there's more intuitive inclusivity and not such a quota being met, especially for people that look like me. I think Black women are very excluded, but also Black men are excluded as well. And beauty needs to be more inclusive of sex, gender, race. It really goes beyond race, honestly, because you can't really be inclusive if you're not including Black trans people, Black nonbinary people, Black gay people, it has be intuitive and authentic across the board.
Welcome to "You've Been Served," Rose Dommu's alternately irreverent and incisive look at beauty, ranging from the deeply personal to pop cultural — essays, product guides, interviews with artists/influencers/specialists and deep dives into the beauty industry's impact on internet culture.
Photo via Instagram