The radiant actress on summer beauty, self-love, and staying sane in Hollywood.
How do you define beauty? Magnetism and happiness. It’s about what brings you joy. That’s it, really. “Does this bring me joy?” If the answer is yes, then I’m pretty sure it makes you feel beautiful. At the end of the day, though, makeup should never take the place of self-love.
What did your mom teach you about self-love? The lesson wasn’t a sound bite but rather something I’ve learned over the years. It was about caring enough to put effort into how you present yourself but also what you put into your body, what you eat, how you exercise. I saw my mother paint her nails every Sunday in front of the TV while watching Oprah. Her nails were always immaculate—they still are—and that was her way of caring for herself, for her marriage, for her workplace.
In what ways do you think makeup and caring for your skin can help women feel more empowered? I’ll tell you a quick story. I went to an all-boys school for high school, and they had girls in the last two classes. This is a school with 700 boys and a handful of girls. At one point, there was an archaic rule that said that girls could not wear makeup to school. I was angry that the powers that be were trying to basically oppress and control the small female population. It infuriated me to the point that I started a petition. I said to myself, “Look, if a woman wants to wear makeup to school to feel confident in an environment where she’s a minority, why not? It doesn’t actually change whether or not she’s able to take in the information being given to her in the classroom.” I personally had no interest in wearing makeup, but I just did not think it was right. So in that, and for me in my life now, I think makeup has become an accessory. It’s something that I enjoy. It’s not the thing I rely on to feel beautiful, and I hope that a lot of women feel the same. Makeup is something that is something that can accessorize, just as much as a hat or a pair of earrings. It adds to the reflection of your own beauty.
Do you remember your first experience with foundation? Oh, it was awful. I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup growing up, but when I was about 18, my mother let my aunt give me a makeover. She had lighter skin than me and didn’t have my foundation shade. I actually don’t remember my shade existing, or at least I didn’t see it. She applied this lighter foundation to my face and just caked it on. I cried. I was expecting the kind of makeover you see in the movies, but it was far from that.
Have you discovered a good foundation for your skin tone? I love Lancôme Teint Idole Ultra Wear because it’s light and looks natural, like skin. I used it for Black Panther; it works for every day and for when I’m on camera.
Does your makeup routine change during summer? I have to go deeper with my foundation shade in the summer, when my skin gets darker, and I use sunscreen, aloe vera, calendula—all the things that protect my skin from sunburn.
VIDEO: Lupita Nyong'o Shares Her Beauty Secrets
Speaking of Black Panther, how are you processing its success? It’s one of those things we knew we wanted, but we didn’t know how badly until now. I mean, a world based in fictitious African culture and populated by badass African people—that’s the stuff of dreams. We were all ready for this.
What about the flip side? Are there ever times when you feel defeated? I feel that a lot, especially when I’m starting a project. I have to remember that I’m not curing cancer. The job I have is such a privilege. It cannot cost me my mental health because it’s never that serious. It’s great to keep that perspective—it reminds me to enjoy it. And also, if I fail, so what? I value the people in my life more than anything, so it’s important to remember that my movie could tank and those people will still love me.