News & Politics

Passport to Beauty

Five local women, each with roots in a different culture, share the best beauty secrets learned from their mothers and grandmothers.

Photographs by Erik Ueke.

Around the time of my bat mitzvah, my mother indoctrinated me into the world of wrinkle prevention with a small aluminum tube of eye cream that her aesthetician—and I use that term loosely—had prepared for her.

The newly emigrated Russian women I grew up emulating, such as my mother, juggled the stresses of a new culture, a new (financially strapped) lifestyle, and a new language by indulging in regular facials, manicures, and waxing appointments—usually performed for free by friends who had honed their skills in the old country.

Being a woman, my mother said, was not something that changed with your citizenship.

Perhaps nowhere is that clearer than in Washington, where on any given day you may encounter women from different cultures. From the seemingly poreless and age-defying porcelain complexions of Asian women to the impeccably arched, full eyebrows of Iranians, it seems that every exotic beauty is equipped with age-old rituals unique to her homeland.

We talked to five Washington women whose beauty routines and philosophies are as varied as their native cultures. They shared the tips, tricks, and secrets of women from their parts of the world.


Charissa Benjamin, 31
Regional Restaurant Director of public relations, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants
Country of origin: Antigua

“The one thing that’s a constant when you live on a small island where everyone knows one another is gossip, which is a great impetus for looking your best,” says Charissa Benjamin, a born-and-bred Antiguan who has called Washington home since 1998. “Whether you’re grocery-shopping or going to the beach, in the back of your mind you’re thinking, ‘I might run into someone—let me look presentable.’ We’ll make sure that our hair isn’t too messy and there’s at least some gloss on our lips.”

Her beauty philosophy: Stay as close to Mother Nature as possible. “Most of the products I use are organic and paraben- and detergent-free.”

Her dirty secret for healthy hair: “Most people find this gross, but I wash my hair once a week. When I moved here, I was shocked that most American women wash their hair every day. I have really curly, dry hair, and if I washed that frequently, it would look and feel like Brillo. My grandmother had the same texture, and throughout her 99 years she’d only shampoo once a week. I rely on leave-in conditioner when it’s wet and just reactivate it daily with moisture-rich pomade when dry.”

How she beats breakouts: “One thing I indulge in whenever I go home is a mud bath. Half Moon Bay is a secluded beach in Antigua, and at the end of it is a big puddle of mineral-rich, clay-like mud. My sisters, girlfriends, and I would go every Sunday to cover our bodies and faces in it and let it sit for about 20 minutes before scrubbing it off with sand. My skin felt amazing afterwards, and I didn’t have as many blackheads or breakouts.”

Favorite skin remedy: “At home, aloe grows on the beach and in our yards. We cut open the leaves and use the gel-like substance inside to treat sunburns, rashes, and eczema. It’s nothing like the packaged goop you find in drugstores here. I tried growing an aloe plant in my DC apartment, but it needs a lot of sun.”

How she keeps her hands and lips from looking their age: “My sister is 12 years older, but we’re often asked which one of us is younger. She taught me to use hand cream and lip balm every night before bed. I’m devoted to Aveda Lip Saver because it stays on my lips all night and keeps them moisturized.”