louis pisano
I Swear by This

Louis Pisano Breaks Down the Beauty MVPs He Can’t Live Without

Including a retinol that won't burn your skin off and a foundation that'll literally last you through the night.

Welcome to I Swear by This, an interview series where we chat with our favorite fashion and beauty insiders about the beauty products they use down to the last drop. This week we asked writer and activist Louis Pisano to share his selections.


Writer and activist Louis Pisano's relationship with beauty started off a bit rough. "I had a really bad acne problem," he tells me over Zoom. "Cystic acne, to be specific. I remember getting pulled out of school by my mother once a week to go to a dermatologist." Pisano also spent part of his childhood in Japan, where the beauty ideals included having very pale, white skin. "I wasn't in any sort of environment where I was made to feel beautiful or intelligent," says Pisano.

Looking at Pisano now, it's hard to believe that he's ever felt insecure. He credits his leap in confidence to his enthusiasm for fashion ("my skin might be a mess, but my look is on point—they can't come for an outfit") and a move from Italy to Paris, where he found the people to be more accepting. "For once in my life, I felt like I wasn't constantly criticized or belittled," he says. "I surrounded myself with people that were just really supportive of me and who I am. I started to feel accepted for the first time in my life."

As he grew more comfortable in his skin, Pisano's relationship with beauty improved. Below, he breaks down all of his skin-care, hair-care, and makeup must-haves that don't just help him look good—they make him feel good, as well. Keep reading for the uber-hydrating hand cream that keeps ashiness at bay, the foundation that'll last through an all-night dance party, and the retinol that's gentle enough for sensitive skin.

Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

"Listen, I have a lot of stress—I argue with a lot of people on the internet. I was involved in three days of mess on the internet, I looked in the mirror, and I said, 'Absolutely not.' I was like, 'Let me get on some retinol.'

"Obviously stress isn't the best thing for your skin, so I'm always keeping an eye out for products that'll help tone down the effects. I was following [beauty influencer] Sean Garrette, and he posted about these Paula's Choice products. I'm still not that great with skin care, but when I discover products that work from people that I respect, I just stick to it. My skin's texture is a bit rough, and this, plus Paula Choice's Clinical Niacinamide 20% Treatment, have both helped slowly smooth out those bumpy areas and minimize the look of my pores."

Paula's Choice
$30

Ceramic Slip Cleanser

"I'd been using the same cleanser since I was a kid, and I wanted to upgrade to something a little bit more adult. It takes everything off because I don't like to do all that double-cleansing stuff. I just put it on my face, rinse, and everything just comes off."

Sunday Riley
$35

Luna Retinol Sleeping Night Oil

"I was using another retinol product, but it was a little bit extreme for my skin—I don't know, I could just feel something weird happening to my skin after putting it on my face. So then I found this one from Sunday Riley—it's not too intense, and I feel so relaxed after I dab it on. It smells so nice, too—kind of like incense. It's very calming and soothing to me."

Sunday Riley
$55

Pro Filt'r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation

"This foundation really makes me look like I'm glowing. It's been tried and tested—it'll stay on through those really late nights when I go out, then I go to an after-party, come home at 9:00 AM, and then have to hop on a Zoom call. I still look fine, even though I've been up all night."

Fenty Beauty by Rihanna
$36

All Natural Infused Lip Mask, 5 Pack

"I don't know if this is a thing, but because I talk a lot, I feel like my lips are always chapped. So I definitely throw these on at all times of the day. It kind of fills in those little cracks, plumps up, and de-flakes my lips."

KNC Beauty
$25

Herbalist Hand Cream

"My friends would probably say that my biggest problem is ashiness, but I just feel like my skin dries out really, really fast. So I started using this cream—I use it on my hands, my elbows, everywhere. It's thick in the best way possible and keeps me from getting ashy in the middle of the day."

Bjork & Berries
$21

Pink Oil Moisturizer Hair Lotion

"There's a Black-owned beauty store right around the corner from my apartment—it's owned by this nice lady from Nigeria. I get almost all my hair products from there, including this lotion. I stay getting my hair bleached and colored, so this has definitely saved my life. It moisturizes my hair and prevents dryness."

Luster's
$16
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