“I’ve always been very in between being American and Filipino. I was born in Manila, where I live now, but my family moved to the United States when I was six. I grew up in Orange County, California and later worked in LA.
I have always, always been into beauty. As a kid, I loved going to the department store and painting my entire face. In high school, during career day, I told everyone that I was going to have a beauty brand. Part of that came from seeing my mom put makeup on, but also because my family has been in the entertainment industry my whole life. In the Philippines my godmother was an actress, my aunt was a beauty queen, and even my brother was an actor—he’s an interior designer now, but I jokingly call him the Joey Tribbiani of my life.
In college, I’d post photos of me and my bunny in my bra on my blog. It was a weird time for the internet. [Laughs] American Apparel hired me because I had some sort of internet presence, and they wanted somebody who knew how to navigate social platforms. It was a whirlwind experience. I still remember when I came into work the first week wearing purple eyeshadow, and, in front of everyone, the CEO told me to wipe it off… But I learned so much, especially about staying true to a vision and having a really strong identity as a brand.
Around 2013, my now co-founders and close friends Bea and Eric started an apparel line called Charlie. Their eyewear really took off, and so they approached my cousin Georgina Wilson, who was the host of Asia’s Next Top Model, to partner with them on a spin-off brand. She was in charge of making a marketing plan, but Georgina had no idea how to do that, and so she tried to convince me to come on board. I never imagined that I would move back; I was so deeply into my life in America, but I agreed. To this day, moving back was one of the biggest risks I’ve ever taken—but it’s paid off.
We started off with just sunglasses through Sunnies Studios, and whenever we shot a Filipina in our campaigns, it was always a struggle getting the right lip. Historically, Southeast Asian women have been so underrepresented [in beauty]. There’s a subtlety to our tones that companies didn’t get right—nudes looked ashy, for example. So for our campaigns I would mix these perfect lip colors on set using different lipsticks. When people saw our campaigns, they were constantly asking, ‘What lip products did you guys use?’ That’s how our cosmetics brand Sunnies Face was born.
We tested over 300 different samples of colors for Fluffmate, our matte lipstick and hero product. In the Philippines we are quite a melting pot, and we needed to have colors that suited that entire spectrum. I remember I was so nervous to launch, but when we did, the response was unlike anything I had ever imagined. I mean, people were waiting for eight hours to get lipstick! We had put in an order that we thought was going to last six months, and at the rate that people were buying, we were going to run out in three weeks. We had to restrict the amount people could buy because they were buying like 100 lipsticks and then reselling them for triple the cost. It floored me. Even to this day, I’m like, ‘How did that happen? That was wild.’
I’m not that person who has a 15-step routine. My skin’s pretty low maintenance in that way.
I don’t wash my face in the morning because I like to keep the natural oils on my face. Instead, I go straight into the Cocokind Barrier Serum. It’s really inexpensive, and it makes my skin feel so hydrated. Then I use the Sunnies Face Dream Cream. My skin soaks it up like a sponge. I’m obsessed with the serum-gel formula, which is great for sensitive skin, too.
As a mom and as someone who runs a business, sometimes I don’t get much sleep and my face wakes up quite puffy. I love freezing green tea bags and using them to depuff. The caffeine constricts blood vessels, and I find they work better than any of those expensive eye products out there. Also, it’s quite sustainable: If I make a green tea for breakfast, I’ll chuck the tea bag in the freezer for later.
I’m currently using our Sunnies Face Sunsafe for sunscreen. It’s completely changed how I view sunscreen; putting on SPF used to be such a chore, and now I find it such a pleasure. It’s invisible, fragrance-free, and it’s factor 50 with a broad spectrum.
At night, cleansers are the one thing that I mix up depending on how my skin is feeling. I have a makeup remover from Sunnies called Face Erase, and I really love that so much, but sometimes, when I’ve worn a full face of glam, I love using the Tata Harper Nourishing Cleansing Oil to dissolve my makeup. I also love Avène’s XeraCalm A.D Lipid-Replenishing Cleansing Oil because it’s great for sensitive skin, and iS Clinical’s Cleansing Complex has been a constant repurchase for years. I love the slippery, mucus-like texture of the formula. If it’s been a mild day, the Biologique Lait U Cleansing Milk [note: discontinued] is my go-to. It feels nourishing and cleansing all at once.
Sometimes I use a physical exfoliator—Tatcha’s Rice Polish is great for days where my skin feels a bit grimier—but I love using chemical exfoliants. During the pandemic, I did a deep dive on the cult-following products I hadn’t tried yet, and Biologique’s P50 was at the top of my list. I haven’t looked back since I bought it. It leaves my skin buttery smooth, and the morning after I use it, my skin looks poreless and tight. It’s true what they say though: It smells awful—but it’s awful in a way where I’m like, ‘There must be things in here that work really well.’
I use the Cocokind Barrier Serum and the Sunnies Face Dream Cream at night, too, but if I need a richer cream, I like Drunk Elephant’s Protini because it never feels heavy on my skin. I’ll normally top that off with the Caudalie Beauty Elixir Face Mist. It’s a must, especially during the summer and when I’m traveling. Lesse’s Regeneration Mist is also great.
I’m really close with my dermatologist in Manila. Her name is Dr. Victoria Belo. I go to her for all of my treatments. Specifically, I’m a laser fanatic. If there is a new laser in the market, trust me, I’ve tried it. I do a lot of PicoSure, which is kind of like a mini Fraxel. I’ve done Softwave. I’ve done Ulthera. For post-treatment recovery, I use Avène’s Cicalfate+ Restorative Protective Cream.
I’m a big advocate for dry brushing; I don’t drink coffee, but a quick dry brush before my shower wakes me up like nothing else. In general, I love any ritual that promotes lymphatic flow and drainage because during my pregnancy two and a half years ago, I came down with Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which paralyzed half of my face. Gua sha, and doing a lot of lymphatic exercises, has been incredibly healing for me. I love the particular shape of my gua sha from The Beetox Method for sculpting my jaw.
For facial lymphatic treatments, I go to April Bodie in Melbourne. She has a technique where she literally stretches out your mouth. I also love working with Bee Czarnota, the founder of the Beetox Method. I swear she has healing powers. When I’m in LA, I go to Ricari and Face Gym.
RAMSAY HUNT SYNDROME
Ramsay Hunt is a facial paralysis caused by shingles. Shingles is basically the dormant chickenpox virus that lives on in your nervous system and is awakened when your immune system is compromised, like when you’re stressed or pregnant. In my case, it was both—hello to my 2020 experience. The virus attacks a facial nerve which can leave half of your face paralyzed. Statistically, if you contract it while pregnant, your chances of your recovery are quite slim. Or so I’ve been told.
When I came down with Ramsay, I thought, ‘How am I going to face the world with a face that isn’t the same one that I had pre-pandemic?’ In a way, the pandemic let me hide. I was in Australia—my husband and I have been in a long distance relationship for over a decade—and we were in lockdown for 160 days and I just didn’t leave the house. Although that was hard, it also let me heal and come to terms with my paralysis, which was really, really difficult emotionally and mentally. I’ve had three years to accept it and be OK with it, and I’m in a good place now.
As trite as it sounds, putting on makeup made me feel really good in dealing with Ramsay. I love no-makeup makeup, but I really also love a cat eye, a feathered brow, a glossy cheek, and a really beautiful matte lip that’s blurred out. I’m all about warm, peachy nudes—a tonal kind of beauty.
I start off with either the Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r Instant Retouch Primer or the Sunnies Face Perfector. For foundation, I switch between Makeup by Mario’s SurrealSkin Liquid (in shade 6W), Saie’s Slip Tint (in shade Three + Half) and Fenty Beauty’s Pro Filt’r Soft Matte Longwear Liquid (in shade 5 Light Medium). I top it off Kosas Revealer Concealer in shade 05 and Sunnies Face Skin So Good Multistick in Cashew.
I have a love affair with our entire lip range from Sunnies Face. From our Fluffmatte range, I’d say my signature color is Vacay, which is a peachy nude pink. It’s particularly close to my heart because for years I couldn’t find a wearable peach for my skin tone. We have an exciting new lip product called Fluffbalm. It’s a lip balm and lipstick hybrid, and it’s perfect for daily wear. I especially love it in the shade Perfect Pink.
I grab Saie’s Super Gel in Starglow for highlighter. I love how glowy and dewy it makes my skin. For bronzer, I’ve been using Benefit’s Hoola Bronzer since I was 14 years old, and it’s never failed. I also love Chanel’s Healthy Glow Bronzing Cream in shade 392 Soleil Tan Medium Bronze. And Glossier’s Cloud Paint—the peachy Beam and the brownish Dusk—was one of the first products that made me love a new approach to blush.
To curl my lashes, I use the Kevyn Aucoin Eyelash Curler, but I have no loyalty to any mascara to be honest. Obviously, I’m partial to Sunnies’s Lashlift, but when I want something a bit more dramatic, I use Maybelline’s Sky High. For eyeliner, I use the Revlon ColorStay in Black Brown. I’ve been using it since I was in high school, and I don’t think the packaging has changed in 20 years.
I have to be high maintenance in a salon chair so that my hair can be low maintenance in between visits. That’s my philosophy.
When I’m in LA, I make sure to see my stylist Mina at Easthaven Salon, and I never color my hair with anyone other than Anna-Lee Fiorino at Chaz Dean Studio. She does the most perfect color—trust me, I’ve tried many different colors and cried many times in many, many salon chairs. I have really dark hair, and she retains its softness while lifting the color. I will literally fly to see her.
Anna-Lee takes you outside and sees where the sun naturally hits your hair, and she’ll paint that in. I’ve looked at the huge, thick book she has for me, and it has countless calculations from over a decade of seeing her. She really approaches hair with such a science and an artistry that I’ll never cheat on her… again. I cheated on her once during the pandemic and I was so sad. I went to her apologetic, like, ‘I couldn’t leave the country. I needed to do something, and I made a mistake.’
In between visits, I try to wash my hair every other day. I use either Sachajuan Ocean Mist Volume Shampoo or the Philip B. Peppermint Avocado Shampoo. I honestly hardly ever use conditioners; I can’t even remember the last one I bought. To style it, I use the Dyson Supersonic hair dryer and GHD Curling Iron.
I stopped wearing fragrance for quite some time while pregnant and breastfeeding, so I’m only semi-discovering my love for scents again. I like unisex ones the best. I always come back to Tacit from Aesop because I love how fresh and clean—and not overly sweet—it smells. I also love Another 13 from Le Labo, and for the evenings, White Suede from Tom Ford.
BODY AND WELLNESS
When it comes to wellness, I subscribe to it all. I don’t necessarily take supplements, but I love all of the Moon Juice tinctures. They really work for me. When I take Ting in the morning, I feel my brain wake up, and when I take Magnesi-Om at night, I feel my brain calming down. Magnesi-Om also helps regulate your digestive system, which I really appreciate.
Indulging in toothpaste has become one of my ultimate adult luxuries. The Aquatic Mint flavor from Marvis has the perfect balance of a yummy fragrant mint mixed with a pleasant crisp sweetness. I can’t recommend it enough to make your brushing experience that much more pleasurable.
Speaking of pleasure, I recently invested in Filipino-based sexual wellness company Jellytime. They have amazing toys and personal lubricant. I’m a big believer in changing the conversation around sexuality, especially in a more conservative country like the Philippines.
In the shower, I love Dr. Teal’s Eucalyptus and Spearmint Body Wash and European Spa Source’s Eucalyptus Showerspa Mist, which is game-changing for a spa-at-home feel. I’ve been using Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap since I was in high school, and I love how the peppermint makes my skin tingle.
I’ve tried to wean my body off of lotion because I don’t want my skin to be so reliant on that—and I actually don’t think your body necessarily needs it—but sometimes I like Avène’s XeraCalm A.D Lipid-Replenishing Balm.”
— As told to Daise Bedolla
Photographed by JM Tubera in Manila on March 25, 2023