A version of this story originally appeared on the Strategist U.S.
Earlier this year, when we talked to drag queen Shea Couleé about the things she can’t live without, she said that another queen — Farrah Moan — has become a sort of skin-care guru within the community. “You can ask her about any product and she’ll be able to tell you all about it,” Couleé told us. “I think Farrah single-handedly got the entire cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race season nine into Good Genes.” When we reached out to Moan about how she became her sisters’ skin-care savant, she told us that inexperienced (and even some experienced) drag queens can be “completely clueless when it comes to skin care because they’re spending all their time trying to get their hair and makeup right. If I’m really, really obsessed with a product, I tell at least 10 or 12 people about it.” But nothing gets her blessing until she tries it. “I started buying a new product every week and I never stopped — spray tans, sunscreens, body moisturisers, body butters, exfoliators, and so much more.” Below, Moan shares 18 skin-care products that she says she’s recommended to more than a dozen people, from cleansers to acids and exfoliators to serums and oils to face and body moisturisers to sunscreens.
Drag queens wear so many layers of makeup to get the right look. When I say that we wear a lot of makeup, what you picture is probably not even half of what we apply. There is no way you will get it off with one cleanse unless you use something absolutely insane, like Dawn dish soap. That can ruin your skin’s microbiome, so I would never recommend anyone use it. A lot of queens tell me they hate taking off their makeup because it’s such a chore. So I tell them to buy this. I stopped dreading taking my makeup off when I found this cleansing balm. It annihilates makeup. Everything melts off so quickly. Most of us double cleanse and this makes the second wash so much easier.
After the balm, I tell everyone to follow up with this. The two products pair very well together. Sometimes a scrub is necessary — and if someone is looking for one I recommend the Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Cleanser — but a good cleanser should get everything off and clean your skin without requiring exfoliation. You should never scrub your skin until your face is raw. I tell girls, especially newer queens who don’t know all the ins-and-outs yet, that if they have to scrub their face to get their makeup off, they need a new product. A little goes a long way with this — that’s also important when you have to take off your makeup every night. It lathers really nicely and makes skin so clean without leaving it feeling tight or stripped, which is a problem with a lot of cleansers.
Acids and exfoliators
It’s true, I did get the entire cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race season nine into this product — and from what I’ve heard, most still use it. I got into Sunday Riley products in 2016 after watching a YouTuber who worked in product development. She broke down the science of every ingredient. It’s a very expensive product, but it’s so great for drag queens. The acids in it really help with razor burn on your neck and face, which is paramount when it comes to what we do. We shave almost every day when on tour or performing a lot. Some are lucky and don’t experience quite as much irritation. But I tell those, like me, who have sensitive skin and get razor burn easily to try this. It’s formulated with lactic acid. It is strong, though. I always recommend some excellent sunscreens along with it because Good Genes will make you more susceptible to sunburns.
These are also very strong — I can only use them twice a week. I recommend them to queens who have a little more experience with exfoliators. I got a lot of girls I’ve been on tour with to use them. I even got my mom into them. The peels do an amazing job at smoothing the skin’s texture. When I shave my neck, I get really bad ingrown hairs and razor bumps because my facial hair is very thick and grows quickly. These completely destroy the bumps and make me much more comfortable because they eliminate any itchiness. I also use them to reduce irritation around my bikini line. When I tell my girlfriends to do that, they say, “That’s crazy. I would never put any acids in my bikini area.” And I’m like, “Okay, keep itching and burning then.”
This is probably the product I’ve recommended the most, even more than Sunday Riley. I can’t give a number of people I’ve told about it, but it’s definitely more than a dozen or two. I honestly recommend the toner to everyone, but specifically to people that complain about the texture of their skin. Your makeup doesn’t apply seamlessly if your skin is rough, so proper skin maintenance is the key to good makeup. This toner has alpha-hydroxy acids and hyaluronic acid — it’s more of a hydrating toner with just a little bit of chemical exfoliation. That makes it great for people who don’t know how to properly exfoliate because it’s easy to over-exfoliate. Over time, I’ve noticed a drastic improvement in the texture of the skin on my face and neck. I’ve heard similar feedback from people whom I’ve recommended this to. I recently bought five bottles because it started to go viral on TikTok, so it’s harder to find now.
Serums and oils
I also got all of the season nine girls into this. Shea still uses it. Sasha Velour still uses it. We drag queens try to use more oil-based makeup rather than water-based because if your skin has enough oil on it, it won’t want to produce more. I swear this makes your makeup look less oily throughout the day. It makes foundation go on so nice and feel more comfortable. It will heal any little dry patches you may have. It’s one of the best primers for heavy makeup, which is why I tell a lot of queens about it.
Amanda Lepore recommended this to me when we were on tour together. Her skin is always so moisturised and beautiful. I asked her what she used, expecting her to say Sunday Riley, but she told me she’s pretty loyal to this. So I went out and bought it. I’ve since recommended it to anyone who wants to try something like Sunday Riley but at a cheaper price. I also recommend it to queens who have never used an oil before but want to try one. It doesn’t have retinol in it, so it’s a really good place to start. A trick I love telling queens who have to shave a lot is to drop some of this in their shaving cream. It completely changes the whole experience.
This is really good for anyone with a lot of redness or acne. I think Glow Recipe jumped on the buzzy-word bandwagon by putting niacinamide in the name of the product. The ingredient has existed forever, but all of a sudden people are hyperaware of it. If you look at the ingredients of your favourite beauty products, I bet you’ll see niacinamide in some. It’s an incredible anti-inflammatory ingredient. My face has more of a pink complexion than the rest of my body does and I’ve seen a difference in the tone of my skin since I started using this. I tell friends with the same problem to go out and get this.
I use this daily. I keep it in my fridge so it’s extra cold when I apply it. It cools me down and because it has a lot of hyaluronic acid in it, it’s very hydrating. But I also use the mist for another makeup trick: When I powder my face, I apply this before applying a longer-wear setting spray because it adds the perfect amount of moisture so my face doesn’t look too powdery.
This has a very small amount of retinol. Sensitive skin can’t tolerate a lot of retinol because it can be very irritating, but this has just enough that sensitive skin can handle it. When you put it on at night, you’ll wake up in the morning with really refreshed-looking skin. A lot of queens get Botox and plastic surgery, so anti-aging isn’t much of a problem for us — we’re not so interested in retinol reversing fine lines and stuff, so most don’t really need a high concentration.
I used Sunday Riley’s Flora Oil until the brand discontinued it. This is the closest product to that in its current line. It has vitamin C in it. Every year, there are those trendy ingredients that people go crazy over, and this year there has been a major vitamin C craze. You don’t necessarily need it to have healthy-looking skin, but it does help with hyperpigmentation. I noticed a difference right away. I tell any girl who has sun damage and dark spots to give it a try. There are less expensive options out there, but this works fairly quickly and is very effective.
Face and body moisturizers
I’ve tried so many moisturisers and this is the only one that I keep coming back to. I was on tour with Kim Chi and she swore by it. Her skin looks like baby skin. It is so supple and beautiful. I bought this after she told me about it and I cannot get enough. Now I recommend it to anyone I talk to about products, which is what most of my conversations are about to be honest. All my closest friends started using it. But all the credit really goes to Kim Chi. The brand makes a product called the aqua bomb that looks exactly the same — same packaging, same colours, just different words — and if you’re not paying attention, you might grab the wrong one. The aqua bomb has so much water in it, so it messes with an oil-based foundation and will separate your makeup. It’s a nightmare. Pay attention to the packaging!
This has fragrance in it — a sweet citrus scent — but it is a very, very, very small amount, just enough to be pleasant but not overpowering. I can’t stand very fragrant body lotions. If you have sensitive skin, there’s also an unscented version that really helped my ex’s eczema. I did a campaign with Shea a while back and they wanted to take close-up photos of our hands. She asked me for some hand cream and I gave her this. She fell in love and I know for a fact she still uses it. I also know she’s since recommended it to a lot of other people.
I have tried every single self-tanner on the market. I’ve tried the flaky formulas, the crunchy formulas, the sticky formulas. I’ve stained everything in my house. I have spray-tan marks on my walls. I know self-tanners like the back of my perfectly tanned hand. This is the holy, holy, holy grail of spray-tan products. I used to love St. Tropez self-tanner and thought there would be nothing better, but this is. I’ve gotten every single drag queen I know who regularly self-tans or gets spray tans to use this — which, as you can imagine, is a lot. You spray it directly on your skin then blend it with a mitt. It dries in ten seconds, so you have to blend fast, but it looks the most natural: not too dark, not too light, not too orange. It fades beautifully and, best of all, it does not stain your sheets or clothes.
This is my most-recommended sunscreen. I have definitely made more than a dozen people use it. I have a lot of friends who hated sunscreen and refused to wear it. They thought all sunscreens were sticky or looked greasy or left a really unflattering white cast. But they all fell in love with this. It’s mattifying, completely invisible, and easy on the eyes. There is no better option for anyone who doesn’t like to wear sunscreen.
I rave about this sunscreen to anyone who has sensitive eyes like I do. A lot of sunscreens can burn the eye area, especially if you sweat and it drips into your eyes. I use this on my face pretty much exclusively. You have to wait three weeks for it to ship from Asia, but it is so worth it. I just got Shea and her boyfriend to try it because they’re going to Puerto Vallarta and wanted a good recommendation. I first saw this on TikTok. This one product developer has reviewed every sunscreen that exists and this one stood out to me because she applied it heavily around her eyes like it was a freaking eye cream. That sold me. It has eight different types of hyaluronic acid in it, so it’s extremely moisturising and glowy. People don’t want to wait three weeks to get it, but I swear, the patience is so worth it.
I buy the big jug of this and keep it at my front door. I tell everyone to do the same. People who are lazy with sunscreen on their body cannot have it easier than a giant 18-ounce bottle of sunscreen. Play has a bit more of a glow to it than the Unseen sunscreen, so I tell people to try this on their face if they prefer a glow-y rather than a matte look. But it really shines as a body sunscreen.
Before I heard of lip balm with SPF, I would just apply my facial sunscreen to my lips. But then it mixes with the stuff you’re eating and you get a weird taste in your mouth. Years ago, I picked this up at Sephora and have used it ever since. I don’t only recommend it to people, but also gift it to everyone in my life, from drag queens to family to non-drag friends. It’s flavourless, clear, and feels like adding Vaseline to your lips. I buy two or three tubes at a time.
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