The visual artist shares her most vital beauty secrets—from concealing the Asian flush to the one product she packs no matter where she goes.
To me, the concept of beauty is about transcending conventional norms, especially when it comes to lensing subjects as an artist. I believe that if you don’t see beauty in something,then you aren’t really paying attention to it. It’s about looking at day‐to‐day details that are often overlooked—for example, a simple scene like that at a hawker centre or even just an old lady or uncle sitting down and relaxing.
Another example: you know how it’s often said that Singapore’s a green city, right? We have all these plants that are either staggered around or nicely placed, but we don’t even realise their beauty until tourists or our overseas friends come over to Singapore and casually remind us about it. We often take things like that for granted because they’re actually so planned out, but I suppose there’s also a beauty to scenes that are staged.
I’ve always been very attuned to observing things while growing up, and often wondered about the stories and narratives behind each person that I met or a scenario I encountered. I suppose it’s only through this keen observation that I managed to develop a highly astute sensitivity to detail, which influences the way I create things that I think are beautiful.
If you’re talking about beauty in terms of outward appearances, I was regularly exposed to it while growing up because I’d often go shopping with my mother, during which I’d be fascinated by the ladies behind the cosmetic counters and window displays in malls. That point of view translates to my practice as well: A lot of the photos that I put up—even casually on social media—are staged and I’m increasingly more aware of that, because that’s how I was used to looking at things growing up. To me, it’s about the art of observation and then putting those observations together to tell a visual story. It may seem intentionally calculated to some, but for me, I’m so used to doing so that it’s almost actually a reflex.
I don’t usually put on makeup if I’m working in the studio or at home, but I’ll always have a pair of false lashes on and my nails painted with a gel polish—these are my most basic beauty needs.But when I do go out or go for events, I love doing a smoky eye. I also prefer to enhance my cheekbones with contouring instead of using a blusher. I feel that the magic of a beauty product is always about its power to enhance instead of transform, because everyone has different features, and we have ones we prefer and others we don’t like. I have very small eyes, so I’ll use maybe an eyeliner or a shadow to enhance them, but I don’t really see them as transformative tools. Maybe, conceptually, you might feel transformed because you feel you look better and thus, become more confident. I do believe in that. In fact, I often make the analogy that wearing makeup for events is like wearing armour—that makes me ready for whatever is going to happen.
My skin is on the dry side and I think I’ve been quite blessed because I’ve never had much issues with it growing up, except for the occasional pimple. When I wake up, I simply wash my face with water because I find that using a cleanser actually dries out my skin—but at night, I need to get into my comfort zone before I sleep, so I have to use one. My first step after a shower is to use SK‐II’s Facial Treatment Essence—once you do, you can never go back!
Next would be a moisturiser and sunblock before I move on to makeup. I don’t take very long, probably 10 minutes or less—I know exactly what needs to be done. I never play around with colour as I know exactly what looks good on me. For facials, I’ve been going to Epion Clinic for its DNA Skin Renewal treatment because it feels moisturising and rich on the skin. I’m actually someone who keeps going back to the same products, person or service once I find that it works for me.
My beauty regret is not applying sunscreen earlier. I only started two years ago, when I was 32, but I think you should start doing so in your twenties or even younger. I developed sunspots because I love to go out under the sun, and I’m currently going to a dermatologist to get them lasered off. Sunscreen is a non‐negotiable for me and my favourite one is from Aesop, of course.
I make it a point to use a mask twice a week, and the ones I’m currently using are Sisley Paris’s Black Rose Cream Mask, to moisturise my skin, and a charcoal one from Clarins that draws dirt out. If I could find the time to mask every night, I totally would do so.
It’s a simple thing to do, but I love to scrub my body in the shower using a loofah to get rid of dead skin cells. I recently tried and loved scrubs made using salt and olive oil. I don’t like the ones using seed kernels because they end up messing up the bathroom. To be frank, I’m not fussed about the brands I use because if it’s made using salt and olive oil, the salt does such a good job exfoliating the skin while the olive oil leaves it glowing—it’s especially useful to do so before an event if I know I’m going to wear something that shows my shoulders or legs.
I’ve seen how my body has changed and transformed through the years, and I’m currently happy with how it looks. When you’re younger, you don’t have to do much, exactly, to look like how you’d want to look, but increasingly, I find that it’s getting harder to do so, perhaps because of my diet or just because I’m getting older. I do personal training sessions at least twice a week, and also pole dance and play tennis. I try to exercise at least once every other day.
My diet has also changed: I didn’t eat a lot of things growing up because my parents often ate a lot of vegetables and fish, and naturally, I followed suit. But you know, as you grow up and start socialising more, you get the opportunity to try more interesting cuisines, especially if you live in Singapore, where you have so many to choose from. I make it a point to have a healthy lunch and then reward myself during dinner.
I grew up having long hair, but it has been getting shorter and shorter. Growing up, I always thought that a beautiful lady was one who had long hair, because that’s the general sentiment, right? I grew up with that notion and I wanted to be that, but as I started to discover myself a little bit more, I realised that that’s not really me.
I remember the day when I made the decision to cut my hair shorter and edgier. I thought it was time to change things up because my current style wasn’t helping my career; I didn’t want to look cutesy. So I went to Mervin Koh For Hair And Makeup at Voco Orchard and looked for Mervin, who has been the only person I’ve trusted with my hair for the past four and a half years. He’s the only one who knows how to accentuate my face shape. In fact, he was the one who convinced me to go platinum blonde. When I recently went to him, he agreed to give me an edgier cut because he said I looked like such a young girl and it was time to spice it up. Despite me being worried that it’d be too short, he reassured me that it’d look spunky and cool—much like what it is today.
After a shower, I blow‐dry my hair first because letting it air dry to a semi‐dry state often makes it difficult to style. For example, I blew it back today, applied the Keune Style Strong Mousse and used the brand’s Style Freestyle Spray to fix it. One thing that really annoys me sometimes is my fringe. I know that having one can make you look good because it adds texture, but I need to feel like there’s nothing on my face when I work. Sometimes, even wearing a hairband doesn’t sweep it away from my forehead but presses down on it instead, so I just pull everything back. I often even gel it back when I’m working.
My desert island haircare product would be a conditioner—I have very, very dry hair and natural curls. If I don’t use one, my hair will be challenging to deal with. My other product would be a hairdryer. I need to pack one even when I travel—like when I packed a Dyson Supersonic when I eloped in Australia last year—because I get so worried that an Airbnb apartment I rent might not provide one. A good hairdryer really makes or breaks a look.
My first memory of makeup was an eyeliner I discovered at (personal care store) Watsons during my junior college days and one I still use today: the Maybelline Crayon Pen—it gives me a smudgy look that looks like I’m not wearing any makeup. In fact, I didn’t even put on makeup till those years [in junior college] and I only did so because of a practical reason—that was when I started to attend exhibitions or put on solo ones.
When I started putting eyeliner on, I quickly realised I didn’t know how to do so, because I’d draw a line from the inner corner to the outer that is of equal weight from start to finish, which made it look like I outlined the eye. A sweet friend called Bryan, whom I met in university, came up to me one day—a day when I was going to do a presentation and, funnily, felt confident—to tell me that I was drawing it wrongly because of my eye shape. He said I was supposed to draw it thicker towards the end instead, and after doing so, I thought that it was a total transformation. Bryan’s also the one who got me to take better care of my looks because back then, I was a glasses‐wearing nerd who was usually unnoticeable in a corner of the room.
But I’m also super happy to go out without makeup on days when I don’t feel like doing so. On those days, I sometimes get self‐conscious when I meet someone I don’t know, but then I tell myself that it’s fine, because it’s how I naturally look.
I’m currently loving Charlotte Tilbury’s 12‐shade Instant Eye Palette in Smokey Eyes Are Forever—that has passed the quirks I’ve obtained from my job, like questioning if a product lasts on the skin, or if the shades are too warm or too cool. It was gifted to me by a close family friend who noticed that I loved a smoky eye but had trouble making the look last all day. I also love that the brand has curated four different sets of shades for you and that you can’t go wrong with them. All I have to do is to choose whether I want a day, night or even a date night kind of look.
I used to use a fair bit of red lipsticks, like the ones from Huda Beauty’s Power Bullet range and Givenchy Beauty’s Le Rouge collection, but the thing is, I’m increasingly realising it’s counter‐intuitive to wear lipstick because I often end up removing it before I have meals.
Another favourite of mine is Estée Lauder’s Double Wear Stay‐in‐Place Makeup SPF 10, because it’s so lasting and it conceals my Asian flush whenever I drink. I also like using Fenty Beauty’s Sun Stalk’r Instant Warmth Bronzer to contour my face as it’s not too dark and its palette size is big enough for my brush to pick up just the right amount of product.
I use scents to help me feel good in a space—they’re very important for me and my partner, and we often experiment with different fragrances in various forms, from candles to reed diffusers, in our home. We currently love Diptyque’s home scents a lot.
For perfumes, I used to use ones like Elizabeth Arden’s Green Tea, Clinique’s Happy and Chanel’s Chance or No 5, but I now enjoy the scent of oud or a perfume that’s more smoky, or even a little bit more musky. Santal 33 by Le Labo is my exercise perfume and I also use it for less formal occasions.
When it comes to discovering new ones, perfume ads on social media somehow do find me, but I make it a point to discover new ones when I travel. But my partner and I are currently working on the fact that we have too many perfumes. We love scents so much that we always immediately buy a new one we like on our travels or days out.
I love getting my nails done and I’ve been doing so since I was in secondary school. I’d buy Sally Hansen nail polishes and would simply just paint them on instead of doing the whole routine, which usually includes grooming the cuticles. Nails actually say a lot about a person, which is why I’m more particular about them.
Now, I engage The First Refresh to do my nails. It’s a mobile beauty business and I have a monthly subscription with it. So basically, a nail technician comes to my house once a month and does my nails—I also trust The First Refresh with my lashes because it’s always the same beautician who does them. It’s all about saving time for me—I don’t want to spend time sitting around and waiting for them to be done when I could be working instead.
Colour‐wise, I always gravitate towards nudes and whites instead of reds, which I used to love but realised that I could no longer carry them off because of the clothing I wear now. Something more understated and natural is my look, and something I learnt along the way is that a good manicure should enhance the way your fingers look—nudes elongate them and I love the way it looks.
I don’t have a proper hand‐care routine though and have to admit that my current one is quite bad—whenever I shake hands with more straightforward people, they’d often tell me that my hands are quite rough. My heels also crack till they bleed and sometimes, I’d notice blood on the floor, so what I try to do is wear rubber socks or use an exfoliating foot mask.
This is why having a manicure and pedicure is so important to me—it helps to exfoliate the dry bits. I don’t really enjoy using body lotions when I’m in Singapore, but when I have to, I use the Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Energizing Lotion for its lightweight texture and grapefruit scent. It does the job of keeping my skin moisturised, but if I want to feel fancier, I’ll use a Diptyque body balm.
PHOTOGRAPHY JAYA KHIDIR
ART DIRECTION MARISA XIN
MAKEUP WEE MING USING LAURA MERCIER
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANT ZILHANZ