Photo: Olivia Kooyman
In 2017, Rio Viera-Newton’s personal skin-care routine went public. After a period of experimentation and discovery about what worked best for her then-beleaguered complexion, she had been able to rid her skin of the blemishes, dry patches and “lifeless”ness with which she’d been struggling — and then she compiled all of the products that helped her do it into a public Google Doc to easily share with family, friends, acquaintances and eventually, the internet at large.
Viera-Newton eventually parlayed all that skin research into a gig as a beauty writer at New York Magazine’s The Strategist and continued to expand on her skin education by enrolling in esthetician school. This month, she brings her obsession to print with “Let’s Face It,” a skin-care guide designed for beauty obsessives and novices alike. Touted as a sort of “‘Salt Fat Acid Heat’ of skin care,” the book delves beyond the basics, but maintains an air of accessibility.
Fans of Viera Newton’s Strategist column will recognize the writer’s same conversational, just-your-BFF-giving-you-good-advice tone and wit on the pages of “Let’s Face It,” accompanied by colorful, playful — yet thorough and scientifically informative — illustrations by Laura Chautin (who also happens to be Viera-Newton’s childhood best friend).
The idea is to take the confusion and intimidation out of skin care while offering plenty of in-depth info about how to approach it. “I think a lot of people find skin care intimidating or they assume that a routine must require a ton of steps and products in order for it to be considered ‘legitimate,” Newton tells Fashionista in an interview ahead of the book’s launch. “I really wanted to emphasize that the beauty of skin care is how adaptable it is. You can create a routine that works for your schedule, lifestyle and budget, whether that be two steps or six. You’re in control of your routine, no one else.”
In anticipation of the debut of “Let’s Face It,” Viera-Newton took some time to discuss the book, how 2020 changed our relationship to our skin-care routines and what most people get wrong about skin care. Read on for the highlights of our interview.
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Tell me about your professional background, how you first got interested in skin care and how you came to write for The Strategist.
I’ve struggled with eczema and acne my whole life, so I’ve always been super cautious about what skin care I use. Growing up, I would buy products to treat my acne but they’d strip my skin and irritate my eczema. Then I’d get prescribed products to manage my eczema flare-ups, but they’d break me out like crazy. Because of this dichotomy, I became obsessed with finding skin care that could help with my specific skin type. I started investigating ingredients, formulas and products.
Skin care became a real passion of mine — I would spend hours on Reddit forums, reading skin-care blogs and watching YouTube videos about how ingredients worked. I was the friend that everyone texted for skin-care advice and tips. One day, I compiled a list of my favorite products into a Google Doc with descriptions of how they should be used and what they were and sent it to a few of my friends. It got passed around and eventually ended up in the hands of an editor at The Strategist, who published it in July 2017. I’ve been their beauty writer and ‘resident skin-care obsessive’ ever since.
What is it about skin care that appeals to you and keeps you continuously interested?
There’s so much innovation in skin care and the science is constantly being reviewed and updated. I feel like I’m always learning something new. I also love the skin-care community as much as I love skin care itself — it’s filled with people who are so thoughtful, smart and eager to help others. I’ve made some of my closest friends through a mutual love of beauty.
What can fans of your Strategist column expect from your book?
I think people can expect a similar tone. I’ve always wanted to write in a way that’s non-intimidating and that felt like a friend. But ultimately, The Strategist is a shopping site and people visit it when they want to buy something new. And with “Let’s Face It” I really wanted to create something that could help people deepen their understanding of the products they already own. After finishing this book, a reader might realize they already have a product with wonderful illuminating ingredients, so there’s really no need to go out and buy a new vitamin C serum.
Who do you envision buying, reading and sharing your book? Who were you most trying to reach with it?
My hope is both skin-care curious and beauty obsessives will enjoy this book. I worked really hard to ensure that the writing and illustrations were as accessible as possible, while still covering more than just the 101 basics. I do think a wide range of people can learn something new from it. The other day my friend texted me that her little sister has been reading “Let’s Face It” to figure out how best to treat her acne. But my mom also told me that my dad used it as a guide to shop for a new sunscreen.
Photo: Courtesy of Voracious
How important was it to get the illustrations right in the book? What was the process of having your writing illustrated like?
I’m so lucky that I got to work with my childhood best friend Laura Chautin on this book. I initially asked her to be a part of it simply because I adored her illustrations. But as it turns out, we have amazing professional chemistry as well. We’ve always had a really loving, communicative friendship and I think it really paid off when we were working on the book. We were constantly texting, on the phone, or on FaceTime and pretty much lived in each other’s brains for a year. I’m forever grateful for her because the illustrations really do make this book special. I know a lot of people are visual learners, especially when it comes to science, so getting the charts and illustrations right was super important to me.
Why do you think so many people got “into” skin care in the last year while quarantining?
I think it was a combination of people having much more time to spend on themselves and folks not wearing as much makeup. I truly don’t think I’ve ever seen myself totally bare-faced as much as I did in 2020. Because of that, I really got to know my skin and also feel more comfortable wearing no makeup at all. I think a lot of people had this same experience.
What skin question do you get asked most?
I get asked about hyperpigmentation and blackheads the most, definitely. That’s why I tried to include a lot of information about those topics in the book.
Do you ever feel worried recommending products or ingredients to people? Do you ever feel concerned that you’ll make the wrong call or someone will hate something you love? How do you handle that?
Definitely, and this is one of the main reasons I enrolled in esthetician school. I wanted to learn as much as I could about different skin types and conditions so I can be as thoughtful as possible when advising people on how they should approach skin care.
What are your favorite resources for learning about skin care?
One of the greatest perks of my job as a beauty writer is the access to brilliant dermatologists and estheticians. With this book in particular, I worked closely with Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, a board certified dermatologist, clinical researcher and brand founder. We would chat for hours on the phone about research, products, cosmetic chemistry and ingredients. She’s an incredible teacher and I learned so much from her.
What do a lot of people get wrong about skin care?
That more is more. But listen, I have zero judgement because I have certainly been there. It really took me some time to realize that just because a brand says a product is safe to use every day, doesn’t mean you should. The art of skin care is all about figuring out your skin’s quirks — what it likes and what it does. But sometimes it takes some trial and error.
“Let’s Face It” is available at booksellers now.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
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