Over the 9-5 grind, Joanna Simkin, left a job in marketing and PR at Carol’s Daughter to create her own dream gig. With no “book” or prior experience, she left for LA to become a makeup artist. Now, back in New York, Simkin has become an established pro and can often be found painting faces for celebrity clients, like Issa Rae, and fashion elite (InStyle, Teen Vogue, and Allure editors often see Simkin before fancy fetes). Below, Simkin explains her hustle, how she makes time for daughter and why she can’t live without an Asian bath towel.
How’d you break into the beauty business?
I worked in marketing and PR for beauty till 2009, I was over New York and working for others. I left for L.A. and I had a good Roledex. I think my PR and marketing skills helped me to establish myself. Twitter was becoming a thing. I was connected with producers, directors, hairstylists from my previous job and we were all following each other on Twitter. I saw that as an opportunity. Even when I was making no money, doing a video for an artist no one knew of, I’d talk about it on Twitter. Perception is reality. That was a huge stepping block for me. Most people do makeup for years and have an amazing book- I didn’t have that but I had contacts and I knew how to market myself. I looked like I was busy so I just started getting booked- it was a bit of smoke and mirrors. I always loved playing with makeup and I got a counter makeover one day when I was 19. I was at Bobbi Brown and it was so natural and fresh. Then I got Kevyn Aucoin’s workbook and he was doing these amazing transformations. That book was like the OG YouTube tutorial- it was groundbreaking. I’m pretty self taught. I’ve taken classes on film and television makeup. Everything in theory is fun but it needs to be put on action. I can be told about different lights but until you’re on a set, you really don’t know.
How do you juggle a busy jet-setting job and making time for your personal life?
Working is such a struggle, balance is an illusion. I think you do what you can. There’s lots of balls in the air. I love being a freelancer. My daughter, Noelle, is two and a half. She’s such a personality- she cracks me up everyday. She’s up from 8am-8pm and I want to see her for more than an hour. I do a lot of travel though so sometimes, I won’t see her for a few days but other days, like today, I won’t have work till 1pm. It allows me to spend the whole morning with her. I do a lot of celebrity press, it’ll be early call times at a hotel. I wake up super early but those days wrap at noon and then I’m done and have the whole day to spend with Noelle. I’m exhausted but I do have help. My nanny comes over so I could sleep for a bit and then I hang out with the baby. I do a lot of red eye flights since traveling to LA takes the entire day. I try to be back by the morning so I can see Noelle. I won’t lie, there are lots of sleep-walk days .
I do get to set my schedule so it gives a certain amount of flexibility but as a freelancer, you don’t want to say no to good work. A good rate or good client, it’s hard to turn down too much. Whether you work for a boss or a celebrity, you have to be somewhere doing something. Freelance has its ups and downs and it’s hard to plan stuff. Even taking a vacation, I have to do it and know I might have to turn down great work that week.
Tell us about your current skincare routine.
It’s so hard to do makeup on bad skin, I really believe that skin has to be in order first. I never had pimples as a teen but now at 37, I am breaking out. I am dry while traveling but oily other times. I don’t like to fly with makeup on- especially on a red eye. I use makeup wipes to clean my skin as soon as I’m settled in my seat. I have been using Arcona triad pads ($48; amazon.com), it cleanses, hydrates and tones. Airplane air is very dry so I use Arcona magic white ice ($42; amazon.com), it’s a lightweight moisturizer but it takes away any tightness. I also use face oils on the plane, I love Rodin Olio Lusso ($170; amazon.com). It really absorbs and boosts moisture.
At home, I give myself a facial nearly everyday. I use Micellar water to take all my makeup off- I love versions from Bioderma ($17; amazon.com) and Garnier ($7; amazon.com). I steam my skin twice a week. I like the Murad daily scrub AHA/BHA exfoliating scrub ($24; amazon.com). It’s not very grainy- some scrubs can be too harsh. This chemically exfoliates and gives skin a fresh feel. Sometimes, I use Eminence Stawberry Rhubarb exfoliant ($32; amazon.com), it’s like a white powder and I mix it into my cleanser. It turns any face wash into a scrub. It has lactic acid so it helps brighten a lot. If I have very oily areas, I’ll dab on a bit of witch hazel. Then, I use Vitamin C – I love the Philosophy Time In a Bottle ($63; amazon.com), it comes with an extra shot of vitamin C to activate it. It makes me feel like a chemist, it might be psychological but I feel like the activation part really makes it work. Vitamin C is great for daytime and brightening. At night, I use face oil- it makes skin look supple when I wake up. I have been using a dark spot corrector from Illuma ($40; amazon.com), I like to put that on dark spots to brighten them. It can be so tough to find a good sunscreen. For darker complexions, it can give that white castor make it look purple and iridescent. I recently got the CoverFX clear cover sunscreen ($83; amazon.com) and I am so obsessed with it.
Skin really plays a big part of the makeup beat. I have been using a Lancome sheet mask from Genefique ($105; sephora.com). It’s so hydrating and makes skin so smooth. I use that on clients for special events. I also like to apply Klorane eye patches ($24; klorane.com), I do eye makeup first on women and this gives a treatment and catches shadow fall out. It’s very pampering. When celebrities fly, I try to massage their skin, especially around the orbital bones. It can help relieve puffiness. I try to massage upwards to give a bit of lift to the skin. I always use La Mer lip balm ($60; lamer.com)- its so hydrating but lipstick won’t slide off. Just blot it lightly before putting on lipstick. Then, I like to use Kiehl’s utlra facial cream ($28; nordstrom.com). It’s hydrating without being greasy. It’s a nice base for makeup.
For an instant glow, I love Becca Liquid Skin perfector ($24; amazon.com), it’s a miracle product. They make tons of colors. I love Moonstone for light skin, rose gold is great for medium complexions, deeper tones can wear topaz. I like to apply it all over and spot powder where you need it, like the t-zone to remove some shine. It gives a 3D glow effect. I mix it with foundation and tinted moisturizer even.
What’s your beauty indulgences?
My splurge is laser hair removal, it’s the best thing ever. I get facials once a month now, I don’t know why I didn’t do it before. It has really helped with my skin, my pores. I try to get a massage every two months. I try to exfoliate my body. I’ve gone to Korean spas, they do really aggressive yet amazing scrubs that totally retexturize your skin. It’s so satisfying seeing your dead skin fall off. I create my own version of this exfoliation at home. They sell these loofah bath sheets online ($6; amazon.com) I use my body wash and rub the towel over my body and it makes my skin so smooth, it’s like newborn baby smooth. This it’s especially great for prepping skin before a spray tan.
Since having my daughter, how has your ideals of beauty changed?
I am super conscious of not saying anything derogatory, like saying “I look fat.” I try to make sure I take compliments when my husband gives them instead of rejecting them or playing it off. My daughter is biracial- she has amazing curly hair. am so cognizant of how beautiful her curly hair is and I always tell her that. There’s also a stigma of white moms with black kids and not knowing how to treat hair. I work in beauty, black beauty and work with amazing hairstylists who do black hair. I called hairstylist Lacy Redway (editors note- read Lacy’s story here) to talk about natural hair and how to care for it. She advised me to co-wash Noelle’s hair and that was life changing. Her curls were so springy and bouncy after. At a young age, I’m showing her how to care for herself. Your beauty totally affects self esteem but it comes down to how you perceive it. I try to make it a care point, like we talk about detangling hair so it won’t hurt and get knotty. Even in the morning, she picks out her hair accessory. It’s an expression of individuality – even at a young age. Yesterday she wore 3 random bows. I let her own how she looks, and give her the tools so she feels her best. My mom was a hippie and she might have brushed my hair but beauty was never a big deal. My mom was always low maintenance but I wanted to know more about beauty growing up so now I try to each my daughter to love her hair and herself.