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Gabrielle Union Interview

Gabrielle Discusses Adult Onset Acne and Shares Her Tips for Clear Skin

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Gabrielle Union at the BET Network Inaugural Ball.
Bennett Raglin/Getty Images

This interview took place just days after actress Gabrielle Union turned 40. She was born October 29, 1972 in Omaha, Nebraska but looks like she's in her late 20 or early 30s.

Union will be starring in a new BET network original movie called Being Mary Jane in which she plays a successful TV news anchor dealing with family, societal, as well as her own beliefs about her life as a single black female. Union is also the brand ambassador for Neutrogena, a role she has had for nearly 10 years. We spoke with Gabrielle about how she manages to look so young and have such amazing skin.

Multicultural Beauty: How do you feel about turning 40?

Gabrielle Union: You know what? I think when I was 20, the idea of 40 just sounded old and boring, and you know, Oh God! But now that I’m 40, I feel really young and still naive and still open and with a huge zest for life, and learning, and exploration, and adventure.

I’m lucky that Hollywood has created this idea that 40 is the new 20. And it also helps that when I was 20 I looked twelve. I’m 40; I’m still kind of young looking. And I have a mom who is 66 whose skin is still snatched [editor's note: that means it looks great] and it’s an Omaha snatch—not with any goat’s placenta or plastic surgery. My mom is letting life take it’s natural course, but she still has amazing skin. So hopefully between genetics and Neutrogena, I’m going to be OK. (Laughs).

MB: You look like you’re in your twenties. Have you noticed that you have to do anything differently with your beauty routine as opposed to when you were in your 20s or 30s?

GU: When I hit my early 30s, I hit that first…actually it was a second wave of hormonal issues. I got adult onset acne along my jaw line, like overnight. It freaked me out. I never had problem skin my whole life, not even as a teen. It was like, whoa, what is this? As an actor I was in the middle of production. I was like, what can I use right now that can get rid of this quickly? That’s when I discovered acne products with salicylic acid. I was fortunate that my skin responded immediately to the salicylic acid and my acne cleared up within the week. So it was ideal. I’m also not a morning person, so that’s when I discovered that aromatherapy does work for me. I found that I could definitely use and became obsessed with [Neutrogena Oil Free Acne Wash] Pink Grapefruit cleanser and scrub. It makes your whole bathroom smell like pink grapefruit. You can’t stay in a pissy mood when your bathroom smells like pink grapefruit, so I’ve been using that the last eight years. I’ve also recognized that my skin doesn’t respond well to harsh toners, so [I use] a mild toner.

How to Banish Summer Breakouts

I live between LA and Miami, both warmer climates. People overuse their air-conditioners. They keep it so cold, so going between the warm weather outside and the arctic (laughs), my skin was kind of flaking and peeling. So I started using the [Neutrogena] Rapid Repair moisturizers. The one that I’m addicted to now is the Rapid Tone Repair Moisturizer. Not only does it kind of keep [your skin] even and makes your skin bright, it also has anti-aging properties for fine lines. It’s kind of like a one-stop shop. It works quickly and it doesn’t leave your skin greasy, which I like. So those are my must-haves.

Rapid Tone Repair has been kind of new and improved. It just came out. It’s the one that’s the be-all end-all. There’s a nighttime one that you can use and there’s the one for all-day. It is dope. It helps with any sort of any uneven skin tone, any kind of discoloration from skin blemishes (from picking at the face) dark spots, and it treats them and attacks them. I’ve been fortunate that ever since I started using salicylic acid I don’t have breakouts. I don’t really have the dark spots, but I have had uneven skin from sun exposure, so it’s been kind of amazing and it works. We all [look for] 'the magic cream' and the whole thing. This is the closest thing to overnight success.

MB: When you became a Neutrogena brand ambassador, were you already using the products, and is that how you came to partner with them?

GU: I sort of lucked out that my little sister’s dermatologist recommended Neutrogena for her skin. We had it in our house when she was a teen and I was in college. We went on a trip together and I forgot my stuff, so I started using her Neutrogena cleansing bar and I liked it. So when I first started acting and people started asking me what is your skin care regimen? I said, ‘Oh I use Neutrogena and it works for me. I like it and it’s been in my family, my family uses it’ kind of thing, so they already knew I was a happy consumer. I guess it was kind of an industry marriage. I’ve been an ambassador for ten years now.

MB: What is your skin care routine?

GU: [Skin care] became part of a lifestyle transformation around that time. I woke up with a jaw line of cystic acne and I recognized that I wasn’t drinking enough water. I wasn’t being diligent about my food, my exercise, and my sleep. I made a lifestyle change. Around that time I started drinking a gallon of water, and from that point on just the water alone, for skin, hair and nails, doing that made a big difference. It also kind of helps to keep your body regular and functioning at optimal speed. So that was the first thing. But it was also being a little more diligent about my food and not eating processed foods. You’re young and certainly when you live on your own, prepackaged food is kind of ideal. It’s fast, but it’s not always the best thing for your body, your skin and your hair. If you’re vain, prepackaged food is not for you. Same with fast food, it’s not always ideal if you’re vain. (Laughs). It’s when I kind of fell in love with Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and the organic section at Lowes Foods, and just being a little more conscious of what I was eating and cutting down on crap. I also cut out soda and juice. Unless it’s a fresh pressed juice, I don’t drink juice. I just drink my gallon of water a day. More than anything, I find it a lot cheaper. I remember my mom always saying ‘no, have water’. I remember thinking then that my mom was so cheap. It’s easy to have a grape juice phase because you’re not paying for anything, but when you’re older, your like ‘Grape juice is four dollars for a carton. I’m not getting no grape juice!’ Then it was more of an economical thing, but now it’s for health.

Tips to Keep Skin of Color Beautiful

If you’re worried about weight and being healthy, there’s so much sugar and empty calories in soda. You can cut out hundreds of calories a day just by sticking with water and eliminating sugary drinks, whether that be super-sugary coffee drinks or tea drinks or soda or juice, you can save yourself a lot of empty calories. All of that kind of went into my overall sort of lifestyle change. I’ve just been sticking with what works, so for me it’s been the pink grapefruit cleanser and scrub and the toner. Then most recently I switched to the Rapid Tone Repair Moisturizer and the night cream and the all-day moisturizer. Then when I’m going to be out in the sun I use the Helioplex sunblock spray. I don’t want to take chances. I don’t like to get too much sun because my skin can change quickly and I get moles and freckles. I have to be super-diligent, and also when I’m filming I can change skin tone shade quickly. Then when you’re at the beginning of filming a scene, you’re one shade, and now you’re different, so I make sure I’m diligent about making sure that I’m protected when in the sun.

Sun Safety Tips for Women of Color

Get more beauty tips in part two of my interview with Gabrielle Union.

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