Family heirlooms: beauty secrets passed through generations

We asked friends of THE FACE to share beauty hacks they learned from their families, which help them stay connected to their roots. Forget TikTok hacks – pass us the almond oil.

The beauty industry never fails to find new, contradictory ways for us to fix” ourselves. Exfoliate with retinol and AHAs, but protect your skin barrier with ceramides and hyaluronic acid. Perfect the art of a bouncy blowout, but beware of heat damage. Love yourself, accept your flaws, practise self care, but have you thought about shelling out a couple of grand to remove the buccal fat from your cheeks?

There’s little wonder why the industry’s earned a rep for being shallow. But beauty doesn’t have to be an impossible pursuit for perfection. When you zoom out from beauty standards on runways, TikTok or the pages of magazines, and peer into the homes of real people, the exchange of beauty secrets between generations becomes an act of bonding and cultural preservation – and, often, these pass-downs are affordable, practical, and probably already in your kitchen cupboard.

From the mothers braiding their daughters’ hair to the big sisters sharing hard-earned eyeliner wisdom, beauty behind closed doors can be an intimate way to connect to your family, culture and heritage. Besides, your grandma’s decades-long hair hack will most definitely beat the latest influencer fad.

That’s why we reached out to a few friends of THE FACE to find out the beauty secrets that have been passed down through their families, across continents and cultures, providing tried and tested alternatives to mainstream beauty products. Turns out you don’t need a 40 quid lash serum, after all.

Rahel Stephanie, founder of Indonesian supper club Spoons

A treasured beauty practice that has been passed down from my grandmother and mother is the use of candlenut oil to promote strong hair with a deep, lustrous black colour. This time-honoured tradition is deeply rooted in our Indonesian heritage, and is a testament to the strong ladies in my family.

As a child, I was sensitised to Eurocentric beauty standards that often prioritised lighter hair and fair skin. Like many young girls, I spent countless hours watching Disney princesses with long, flowing locks of golden hair, dreaming of having hair like theirs. At the time, I resented my mother’s insistence on using candlenut to darken my hair, feeling as though it went against everything that I had been conditioned to value.

However, as I’ve grown older and gained a deeper appreciation for my cultural heritage, I’ve come to realise that the beauty practices passed down from my grandmother and mother are something to be cherished. Despite the pressures to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards, I now have an appreciation for beauty in the diversity of hair textures, colours and styles. I’ve learned to embrace my deep black hair as a symbol of my unique identity.

To create candlenut oil for hair, you’d begin by toasting the candlenut seeds until they turn a rich, dark hue. We then grind them into a fine powder using a pestle and mortar or a blender, which yields a deeply nourishing oil that is then applied liberally to the hair and scalp. After allowing the oil to work its magic for several hours or even overnight, you’d wash it out using a gentle shampoo to reveal strands that are silky-smooth, thick and gleaming.”

Róisín Tapponi, film curator, critic and founder of SHASHA Movies

I always wear heavy eyeliner, which is a practice I inherited from my grandmother, who recently passed. In her final years, I would do her eyeliner when I visited her. She had very hooded eyelids, and I would smear them with thick kohl. This is something I imitated from pictures I saw of her when she was much younger, in Baghdad.

Kohl is an ancient eye cosmetic used in South-West Asia and North Africa. I am Assyrian, and it is particularly associated with us or other Indigenous groups in the region, such as the Amazigh in North African territories. I wear eyeliner on the top and bottom lids, smear it, and then apply dark eyeshadow. I guess everyone wears eyeliner, but for me it has always been a way of connecting with these traditions.

I run a streaming service called Shasha Movies, which is the independent streaming service for SWANA cinema that you can watch globally with English subtitles. Through Shasha Movies, I am actually distributing a Moroccan film about the importance of eye makeup. It is Izza Génini’s Pour le plaisir des yeux (1997), about the culture and seductive uses of kohl in Morocco. You can watch it online soon on shashamovies​.com!”

Jyoty, DJ

For me, it has to be applying almond oil on my lashes. Rather than using a lash serum or getting extensions, I learned in my teenage years that using my index and thumb to massage a drop of almond oil on my lashes makes them grow thick and strong. It’s the best kept secret.

Funnily enough, it wasn’t quite passed down to me by my mother – I read it in a book about Indian Beauty Secrets. But when I checked with my mother whether this was true or not, she replied with a, yeah, of course,” like it was just commonly known information.

I don’t really think anything of it when I apply the oil, but when people complain about their lashes and I tell them the Indian secret, that’s when I feel more connected to my roots.”

Ghadir Mustafa, A&R at XL Recordings

Ever since I was young, my mum used to make different blends of oils, mixing sesame oil, cloves, coconut oil – all different kinds of oils. Then you’d drench your hair in it and braid it when you’re at home to protect your hair and keep it growing and strong. She’d also make masks from natural stuff, like egg, avocado, banana and honey – natural proteins, basically. I’d keep that on my hair for a couple of hours, wash it out, then soak it in oil, braid it and then go to sleep.

That’s something that I still do. I oil my scalp every night, but the mask is more bi-weekly – a wash day kind of thing. My mum still makes the blends for me. I buy different products, but I still fall back on the stuff mum makes. It’s cheaper and, with Black hair, the less stuff you put in it the better. You’ve just gotta let it do its own thing, so I think the natural stuff my mum uses to put in our hair is healthier.

When I was younger, I couldn’t understand why the process was necessary. I just thought my mum was being extra. But now that I’m older, and I’ve damaged my own hair and done all these crazy things to it, I know that it’s useful. I’m asking my mum to tell me the secrets!”

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