Issa Rae has graced the HBO screen since 2016, with the arrival of her wildly successful show Insecure, now slated for an anticipated fifth and final season. Through breakups, hookups, “wine downs,” and career woes, Insecure has represented something long missing from TV: the multiplicity of Black women’s stories. Even though Rae’s namesake character is approachably down-to-earth, the actor and co-creator’s signature radiance is out of this world. “She is an everywoman with a Hollywood sheen, a glowed-up, doe-eyed version of you and your friends,” Yohana Desta writes in V.F.’s June cover—and the accompanying photos illustrate the point.
Makeup artist Joanna Simkin, who started working with Rae right before the premiere of Insecure—Rae still on the fringe and soon to change the world of TV comedy forever—is always happy to let her skin be the star. For the V.F. cover, shot in natural light at a Hollywood Hills residence secluded by a jungle of foliage, Rae’s beauty look was, in Simkin’s words, “tonal, brown, and yummy.” Working with shades that have undertones of red and purple, Simkin added warmth to Rae’s face by way of a dynamic, monotone palette. Evoking the “everything-bronze energy” of makeup muses like Jennifer Lopez, Simkin above all played up Issa’s natural beauty with a sleight of hand she likes to call “expensive skin.” That is—an even, flawless complexion, seemingly sculpted to perfection but without a visible trace of makeup. “You just get the illusion. [The skin] glows and reflects,” says Simkin. “You look like you get thousand-dollar facials weekly!” Fortunately, a Rae-level glow can be achieved with a few of Simkin’s well-chosen favourites, including powerhouse serums, head-to-toe oils, and a dewy highlighter balm for the finishing touch.
Hyper Skin Hyper Clear vitamin C serum
First comes skin care. “Vitamin C is a great way to even out the complexion,” Simkin says of the tried-and-true antioxidant with a brightening effect. “Basically it helps dark marks heal, so if you have any damage to your skin”—whether hyperpigmentation or blemish scars—“the vitamin C will help that fade.” This formula’s 15% concentration is a really nice dose, she adds.
Dr. Barbara Sturm hyaluronic serum
The other classic in Simkin’s skin-care arsenal: hyaluronic acid. Dr. Sturm’s hyaluronic acid serum is “an amazing hydration booster,” says the makeup artist. Not to be confused with active acids, this ingredient (naturally occurring in the body) “just literally ups the water content in your skin and keeps the hydration there.”
Supernal Cosmic glow oil
“Everyone makes face oils,” Simkin says, recounting the perpetual trial-and-error that has led her to continually restock Supernal’s version. “I’m obsessed with it.” At night, it’s perfect as the last step in your skin-care routine; by day, it leaves skin “glowy without looking greasy.” She points out that people with acne-prone skin can counterintuitively benefit from a well-formulated oil. “Your skin produces oil as a reaction to feeling too dry, so it goes into overdrive,” she explains. If you supply the right kind of nourishment, “you’re just going to be hydrated. It’s amazing to see.”
Black Girl Sunscreen kids sunscreen lotion SPF 50
“My number-one most important skin-care product is sunscreen,” says Simkin. “No matter your complexion, you have to wear sunscreen every day.” Unlike some mineral-based formulas that can leave an “ashy or purple cast,” she cautions, “Black Girl Sunscreen is literally designed to disappear into the skin. I can use it on every photo shoot. I mean, I put it on Issa that day! We were shooting in blinding sunlight. You don’t see it at all.” Simkin’s pro tip: Buy the kids version.
Shiseido Synchro Skin foundation SPF 30
Simkin is a fan of this foundation, as much for its “creamy and luscious” texture as for its skin-like finish. The coverage is “not too light, not too heavy, doesn’t dry too flat, and can work well with minimal powder.”
Danessa Myricks Beauty balm contour
The blendable consistency of this Danessa Myricks product is the best way to avoid the telltale “brown stripe,” as Simkin calls what can likely be seen in an Instagram contour tutorial gone wrong. The ultra-creaminess of the balm “honors the dimension that’s already there,” she says, but it lends more of a natural transparency than other sculpting formulas. (Plus, creamy textures can be more forgiving for those still getting a feel for placement.) “It’s beautiful over bare skin, too,” she adds.
Danessa Myricks Dew Wet hydrating and highlighting balm
Simkin keeps this clear balm close at hand. “I literally just tap it over the cheekbones, bridge of nose, brow bone, cupid’s bow—anywhere the light’s hitting,” she says. What sets this formula apart from traditional shimmery highlighters is the fact that “you’re not getting a glitter reflection—you’re getting just moisture.” For those aspiring to a celebrity glow without a glam team on hand, this product is a convincing shortcut, she adds: “Your skin can look like that.”
Naturals by Gina B Kiss My Ash body balm
Rae’s skin envy doesn’t stop at her face. “People are always like, ‘Oh my God, look at her arms, look at her chest,’” Simkin says. Because Rae tends to be sensitive to smells, the makeup artist is very selective when it comes to body-care products, and this body balm is only lightly scented with natural lavender and lemongrass. Hydrating without feeling too rich, “it’s great because it gives you this luminous skin,” she explains.
Nuxe multi-purpose dry oil
This dry oil is a favorite because it goes on featherlight, without a worry that it might stain clothing, says Simkin, who blends a few drops into the Kiss My Ash balm for an all-over application. The effect: “Just reflection and moisture.”
This article first appeared on Vanity Fair and was written by Kayla Holliday