Medicine Cabinet Confidential with Self Magazine’s Beauty Director, Annie Tomlin

The editor takes a deep dive into her beauty bins and our selfie-obsessed culture.

By Emily Rekstis


In the second installment of this series, we’re catching up with Annie Tomlin, SELF magazine’s beauty director. As a top magazine editor and beauty expert, Tomlin can answer pretty much any question when it comes to makeup or skincare—the lady is a treasure trove of product recs and hair hacks—but what sets Tomlin apart is that she also sees the bigger picture when it comes to how we feel about how we look. Here, the longtime beauty editor shares how she actually gets ready in the a.m., her impressive nighttime skincare routine and why, as a culture, we should be motivated more by “self-care” than selfies.


What’s your general philosophy when it comes to building a beauty routine?

I try to take a holistic approach. When I think about my beauty routine, it’s not only about products or treatments—it also incorporates stress reduction, sleep, diet, and other lifestyle factors. I tend to focus most on skincare, because if I slack in my routine, my complexion becomes…”challenged,” shall we say. In general, I try to stay consistent and to look at my beauty routine as part of an overall self-care routine (as opposed to doing it solely to look a certain way).


Can you walk us through your morning and evening beauty routine?


In the morning, I wash my face with Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser , which I like because it’s gentle and it doesn’t leave my face feeling tight. I layer a vitamin C serum underneath a hyaluronic acid serum (currently MyChelle’s version) and then it’s a moisturizer with sunscreen.


I wear foundation from either Kjaer Weis or Giorgio Armani but I put it only where it’s really needed—usually my chin and around my nose, where I get a little red. For concealer, I use Glossier’s under my eyes and BareMinerals Blemish Control  if I’m having a breakout. I know I should use a brush, but I usually use clean fingers to apply. For cheeks, I like Honest Beauty cream blush , and then a not-too-shimmery highlighter at the tops of my cheekbones and over my under eye concealer. Then it’s mascara and maybe some lip balm, and sometimes I use a brow gel—but these last three things are optional.


For hair, if I’ve washed it the night before, sometimes I wake up and my waves are on point. Other times, they’re haphazard, and in that case I add a few curls with my Sultra curling wand, which I’ve had since 2009 and is still going strong. I like to think this all takes five minutes, but realistically, it’s probably closer to 15 or 20. I definitely take more time to get ready at night. As soon as I’m home, I cleanse my face and neck twice: once with a cleansing balm to remove makeup, then another time with cleanser. And a few nights a week, I’ll use my Clarisonic. I use micellar water to remove any eye makeup. Twice a week, I’ll do a mild at-home peel followed by a clay mask to help dredge my pores. Before bed, I apply Kypris oils—one that calms and hydrates, plus some more concentrated ones to help keep my skin clear—and an eye cream. In the winter, I’ll add a moisturizer, but if it’s the summer, the oils are enough for me.


I prefer washing my hair at night, so I do that and wrap an Aquis towel around my hair before going to bed. I keep hand cream and shea butter at my bedside table. All of this stuff stretches over a couple of hours, but aside from the bath/shower, it probably takes 15 or 20 minutes.


What are your all time favorite products that you’ve always used?


Kiehl’s Avocado eye cream is a consistent favorite. I try tons of eye creams, but I always rotate that one back in. It’s just so creamy and hydrating. I’ve been using Dr. Dennis Gross’s Alpha Beta pads for a long, long time—probably 12 or 13 years? I like Malin + Goetz eucalyptus deodorant; that’s another one that I regularly buy. I also like Oribe’s shampoo and conditioner for blondes because it keeps my color bright.


How do you keep all of the products you test for your work organized?


New York City apartments are small, so I’ve become ruthless when it comes to deciding what to keep. I won’t keep more than three shampoos and two body washes in the shower, for instance. That probably sounds excessive, but this week alone, I was sent 12 different shampoos to try—so it can be tricky to winnow them down. Otherwise, I sort items into one of four plastic bins and try to use everything up quickly. I hate to waste things, so if I know something doesn’t work for me, I see if a friend or family member wants it.


What’s your favorite thing about working in the industry?


Tomlin with Honest Beauty founder Jessica Alba
Tomlin with Honest Co. founder Jessica Alba

I’ll share two things. I love being an editor at Self because our readers are so smart, and they approach beauty from a holistic perspective. They’re interested in the overlap between beauty and wellness and in defining beauty on their own terms. We have an informal saying at Self—”Come as you are”—so I aim to make our beauty stories as welcoming, informative, fun, and positive as possible.


The other thing, and I don’t think I truly realized this until maybe the last year or two, is that the beauty industry is filled with so many brilliant, creative, dynamic women in positions of leadership. There are so many opportunities to be mentored, mentor, and achieve. In the beauty industry, a female CEO is not unusual at all.


How did you discover your love for beauty?  


annie2I was always fascinated by how, culturally, we like to pretend that how we look doesn’t matter. And beauty certainly isn’t the most important thing, or even in the top 10 list of important things—but it has an impact on how all of us move throughout this world. It always has. I love being a beauty editor, but I’m simultaneously hyper-aware of the complicated issues that involve beauty. Self-care and visual self-expression can be so much fun, and it can help us feel confident—so in most ways, feeling beautiful is a positive thing. But when we make value judgments about people based on their appearance, or we go into a downward spiral because we don’t feel pretty enough, that’s obviously a problem.


Ideally, I hope girls and women can find their self-esteem largely from their character and accomplishments, not just in how “pretty” they are. Especially in the age of social media, which puts an outsized emphasis on appearance, I worry that young women in particular might associate their worth with the number of followers or likes their photos receive. And I talk with young women who are absolutely terrified of aging, or they’ll point out “problems” because they don’t look “perfect” in a selfie. That’s not good.


So while I’m always intrigued by the science behind a new skin cream or lipstick, I’m endlessly interested in exploring the more personal aspect of beauty.


Follow Tomlin’s envy-inducing adventures as a top beauty editor on Instagram.

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