#MakeupMonday: How Can You Code Switch Your Face? Managing Hyperpigmentation in the “Natural” Sciences – WOC Guest Post

I am delighted to offer another guest post in my series of contributed posts by black women and other women of color.

If you’d like to submit a post or an idea for a post for consideration, email me at gettenure@gmail.com. I pay $150 for accepted posts. The posts can be anonymous or not, as you prefer. I welcome content on #MakeupMonday (the initial impetus was a Twitter follower asking for #MakeupMonday posts oriented toward women of color) as well as anything related to the academic and post-academic career. Today’s post is by Dr. Bala Chaudhary

Dr. Bala Chaudhary is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Studies at DePaul University. Her research examines plant-soil-microbe interactions using a combination of experimental, macroecological, and data synthesis approaches to study multi-scale questions in microbial community ecology. Follow @balachaudhary

Confession: I am ecologist and a daily makeup wearer.

This largely stems from the fact that, as a woman of color with hyperpigmentation (HP), I feel more comfortable and confident wearing makeup to even my skin tone. I also have become tired of hearing comments like:

“Are you ok? You look tired!” or

“Jeez you don’t look so good!” or

“Why do you paint those dark spots on your face?” (My personal favorite)

These are all comments, by the way, from fellow ecologists that would likely claim that makeup is a waste of time and money, a tool of the patriarchy, and that no woman that wears makeup could be taken seriously in ecology. The current president of the Ecological Society of America recently shared via twitter a story of a faculty search where a woman in, “somewhat formal dress suit and makeup, hair is nicely ‘done’…is scorned by faculty and grad students as too feminine, couldn’t possibly work in field.” This is a familiar story and I applaud leaders in our field for bringing such issues to light that may seem minor, but have real consequences with respect to jobs, salaries, and promotion.

Me at my wedding

To adapt to the cultural norms of ecology, I both consciously and unconsciously engage in a fair amount of code-switching, the act of changing the way you speak or act depending on the audience. I am a child of Indian immigrants and grew up in suburban Minnesota, so code-switching is second nature. Imagine cross-country ski races preceded by bhangra dance practice. As a result, in ecology grad school, code-switching was a cinch. I bought chaco sandals, hid my diamond wedding ring, and even attempted an embarrassing period of trying to grow dreadlocks. If code-switching sounds fake or disingenuous to you, I suggest using your excellent research skills to learn more about this very real sociolinguistic phenomenon and the reasons why people code-switch, because this is a make-up blog.

One year later at grad school

But, how can you code switch your face? My au naturale beauty regime is failing me as approach mid-life and I find myself spending more and more time investigating ways to apply makeup to make it look like I’m not wearing makeup. I’ve learned a few tips along the way that I’d like to share to hopefully save y’all some time and also help bring to light issues surrounding appearance norms in ecology. When I share my experiences of code-switching, makeup wearing, and beauty norms in ecology with white female and minority students, I see how strongly it resonates with them (some even visibly relax). I share these stories to encourage students in my lab to speak and act in a way that feels true to their identity instead of the perceived norms of our field.

Many women of color develop hyperpigmentation (HP) as a result of many different factors: age, genetics, sun exposure, acne, dryness, hormones, stress, etc. It’s totally normal! If you choose, a few extra beauty regime habits can help even out your skin tone and keep you looking fresh. There are two aspects to managing HP: prevention and coverage.

Prevention of HP requires understanding the cause of your HP. For me, it’s a lovely combination of sun, dryness, and hormones. Eczema patches leave behind dark spots. I also developed dark patches on my eyelids, around my nose and around my mouth during pregnancy. Note that this was NOT the same as melasma or the “mask of pregnancy”, a menacing phrase I always hated. Therefore, the prevention aspect of my HP involves sunscreen, excessive moisturizing, and waiting for my hormones to calm down post birth/nursing. Yay waiting! If you’d like to see a dermatologist about your HP, I’m just going to be frank here and suggest you find a WOC doctor. In my experience, if you can’t find a WOC doctor you’ll find just as good info on the internet. I would also consult a WOC dermatologist before any more intense medical skin treatments (e.g. peels) as, depending on your HP, patterning these can lead to raccoon eyes.

I use Origins Mega-Bright SPF 30 Oil-Free Moisturizer on my face and neck and Mega-Bright Dark Circle Minimizer on my eyes since I have very dry fragile eye skin. I also use Cetaphil Cream on my body which locks in the moisture and helps your face. My dermatologist said I should be going through a tub a month! I don’t come anywhere near that but I try. Drinking water and sleeping with a humidifier helps too.

For coverage and to even our my skin tone, I use Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer SPF 20 in tan. In the summer, when my skin is darker, I use the oil-free version which has a darker tone. To find the right skin tone match, I go to Sephora on a slow day, stalk a POC employee (are you listening Sephora HR!?), and ask them to help me find the right tinted moisturizer shade to provide HP coverage without making it look like I’m wearing heavy makeup. I put a nickel size amount on my palm and apply with a Multitasker complexion #45 brush. Since the goal is even skin tone, no other applicators works as well for me. Start with your darkest spots and blend throughout. Afterwards, it’s a bit dewey for my taste, so I dust with NARS Setting Powder using a Sephora #59 powder brush. I have learned from Karen the magic of setting spray and use NYX Matte Finish Fini Mat because you can get it at Target and it recently worked wonders after an overnight transatlantic flight! The final step for me is a long-wear lip color and I use Sephora cream lip stain, though the quest for a shade that looks like I’m not wearing anything continues.

I have no connections to any of the above products or businesses and would be curious to hear what has worked for other WOC in ecology or other WOC with HP!

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.


#MakeupMonday: How Can You Code Switch Your Face? Managing Hyperpigmentation in the “Natural” Sciences – WOC Guest Post — 2 Comments

  1. Thank you for this post. I am a WOC who suffers from HP as a result of acne and just genetics. I wonder if you ever have had SPF leave a white cast on your face and how you might deal with that? Also, I am impressed that you can find a WOC of Sephora who can send you in the right direction. Sadly, most women place a great deal of make-up on my face and I feel too done up. I guess it is all about technique ( I don’t want to malign the women).

    • You are so welcome and thanks for the question! Yes some products leave a white cast and some don’t. Unfortunately, trial and error to find a product that has adequate spf but no quite cast. The products I mention above don’t leave a white cast so you can start there if you like. I also just got a sample of Clinique pep-start spf 20 which is nice. But I have dry skin, so if acne is an issue you may want to experiment with other options. I think they are out there! Regarding my Sephora experiences, I get pretty aggressive telling them I want a “natural” look, and that I’m “outdoorsy” and a “tomboy”. Drop all the keywords! In the end it is definitely more done up than I would do, but I can adjust the heaviness at home ok with the same products. Good luck!

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