I have a terrible memory and a hard time recalling events or conversations. However, one of the few moments I can recall from the past few years took place one summer break. I remember sitting on the dining table on my laptop and watching YouTube videos. I watched a skincare routine by Michelle Phan, where I learned I should be using retinol sooner than I thought. I watched a get un-ready video by Nicole Guerriero and watched her apply bottles of potions and creams on her face. I remember watching these videos with my eyes wide in desire for the beautiful, clear skin these girls showcased, and thinking to myself ‘I would do anything for skin like that.’ I remember turning off my laptop and, in the black reflection of my screen, staring at myself. My skin was covered in pimples, bumps, and scars. The parts where actual skin peeked through looked sickly and discolored. I remember closing my laptop so I didn’t have to stare at myself anymore and thought ‘I wish there was someone out there who could help me.’
For as long as I can remember I fought daily battles with acne. Well into my college years, I struggled to keep my skin clear and I relied heavily on makeup to help me. The only selfies I have were taken on good skin days because I refused to document the days when my skin looked so bad. I often would cried while applying my foundation. In 2014 I was diagnosed with medullary thyroid cancer. I had my entire thyroid, a parathyroid, and some lymph nodes removed. I began my lifelong hormone treatment and the imbalance of hormones lead to more issues with my body. I was unable to control my weight, my hair fell out of my scalp constantly, and my skin became my biggest rival. Nothing I did made it happy. This combined with the death of my father after his 2 year battle with pancreatic cancer lead to me hitting one of the lowest peaks of my life.
I became a regular at the CVS by my house. I was looking up and down the aisles for magic in a bottle. I tried multiple products and would occasionally find something that would help my skin look a little better, but not good enough. I felt so alone and ugly in my own body, and I was unable to find any beauty in the person I was. I struggled with self-confidence and loving the person I was on the inside, because I loathed the skin, hair, and body I saw in the mirror every day. That person was horrific, and I hated knowing that person was me.
It took me a very long time to finally examine my skin thoroughly. I grabbed my textbooks, school resources, and researched more about ingredients, skin conditions, and signs to look out for. I learned how to trust my skin to tell me what it needs, how to find out what products to use, and the importance of investing in a few products versus buying a ton of items and praying they all work. I learned to stop watching YouTube videos and start applying my Bachelors in Biology in my everyday routine. I took the biggest plunge by cutting out makeup completely and relying solely on skincare. I stopped hiding my imperfections and for once just let them breathe and heal. I stopped trying to fight my skin, and instead I began to work with it.
I took an old fruit basket and turned it into a vanity shelf to hold my collection. I learned about Blue Tansy, which has become a staple in my skincare routine. I learned that I did not ease myself into retinol and that was why I had adverse reactions to it for years, causing redness on my cheeks and dry patches on my lips. I also learned about the importance of a toner to re-balance my skin after washing it (I also learned about the importance of exfoliation in my cleansing routine and threw out every single St. Ives Apricot Scrub I owned). My little sister watched me begin my skincare journey and gifted me a Clarisonic, and my exfoliation game changed dramatically since. I also learned about the importance of masking, and how a mask can deliver so many amazing ingredients while making you feel like a pampered princess. I began incorporating more exfoliating products, as my hormone imbalance was causing my skin to turnover slower, which allowed the dead cells to clog my pores faster and more often. I learned to exfoliate, but not too much. I also began using vitamin C and other hyperpigemtation-tackling ingredients, and I became a stickler for SPF products. I refused to leave the house with sunscreen on, and I made it a staple in my routine every morning. My biggest take-away is the use of vitamins as part of my skincare routine. I take Hair, Skin, and Nails vitamins to help my skin turn over faster, my hair to stop fall, and my nails to stop bleeding. It was the smallest addition in my life, but the one that led to my obsession with my skin. Is my skin smooth and flawless? Hell no… But am I happier than where I was before? You bet I am.
It’s been a year and a half since I took that plunge, and the biggest thing I wish I had when I took that dive was someone like me on my laptop screen. Most Indian girls rely on their mothers or grandmothers for skincare advice, but little do others know that our own elders are turning to us for help. Typical Indian women in this generation are first-generation college students, and our elders ask us to apply our education in everyday necessities, including beauty routines. My family migrated to the United States from the Fiji Islands, and in Fiji, sunscreen was unheard of and Fair N Lovely (a skin lightening cream) was used as a daily moisturizer. My grandmother migrated with a plethora of knowledge in homeworking, gardening, sewing, and many folktales that I heard every night as a child. Yet, she asks me about her skincare routine, what makeup to buy, and what outfits to wear. The very things I relied on her for, she was asking me to help her with, leaving both of us confused and unsure of our routines.
After much thinking and debating, I finally created a skincare Instagram page to share what I have learned and experienced, and give other Indian girls another source of credible advice. I still freak out over break outs along my cheeks and the darkness around my eyes, and I use my page to bring these quiet fears to light. I don’t hide my flaws, and instead try to draw attention to how I am addressing them within my routines. I review products and talk about what works for my skin, including skincare routines that I found work well with any skin issues that are bugging me the most on a day-to-day basis. I try to make my reviews thorough and encourage my followers to ask questions, in hopes that anyone who has been in my shoes will see my page and find peace in my words.
My skincare routine is constantly changing, and I learn more about products, ingredients, and my skin’s reactions all the time. I make sure that I know how to read my skin’s needs, nourish it, and find a balance between my hormone treatment and my body’s wellness. I am my own representation in my everyday commitments, the skincare community, and the woman I see in the mirror. I take care of my skin for my self-care, my well-being, and my happiness. I do this for me.
Be sure to follow Ashley on Instagram HERE!
Side note from Ashley: my grandmother now scrolls through my Instagram feed and admires the products I post. I am happy to become a source of knowledge for her, as a way to thanking her for always being a source of traditional knowledge, cultural folklore, and motherly love. My mother experiments with old Indian skincare recipes with me, and we have perfected a few of them to fit our skin’s needs much better.
Note from Matt Woodcox @Dirtyboysgetclean: It was very important to me to publish this story by Ashley. I find it so inspiring to hear stories from my fellow bloggers. There are so many beautiful and important stories out there and if I can share using my platform then I am glad to do so.