As the new face of Olay, the 'Abbott Elementary' star discusses her evolving approach to beauty.
Minutes after my interview with Quinta Brunson wrapped, she made television history. At 11 a.m., I got on a call with the Buzzfeed alum-turned-stand-up-star-turned-TV-phenom and by 11:30 a.m., Brunson’s brainchild Abbott Elementary had scored seven Emmy nominations. Brunson's noms for outstanding comedy series, lead actress in a comedy, and writing for a comedy series (she penned the series’ pilot) make her the first Black woman to be up for three comedy awards in the same year.
On the set of the mockumentary-style comedy, Brunson wears many hats: she’s the show’s creator, executive producer, writer, and star, playing Janine Teagues—a second-grade teacher at the show’s eponymous elementary school. If you’ve been online long enough, Brunson’s face has become an omnipresent fixture on certain corners of the internet. She’s been memed, gone viral, and is the source of soundbites that are still in heavy rotation to this day (I channel Quinta every time I say "He got money!" in earnest on a date). But in spite of all that she has going on, she always makes time for skincare in her day-to-day, hence the latest title she’s adding to her resume: the new face of Olay.
Ahead, Brunson breaks down the unskippable steps in her skincare regimen, her relationship with retinol, and her evolving approach to beauty.
Was a beauty partnership something that you ever imagined when you were first starting out, like back in the Buzzfeed days?
“Oh my God, no. Olay is a brand that I've been using all my life. It's such an iconic brand—my mom used it, then I used it and I’ve just always had it in my bathroom. It's a little bit of a dream come true. When I got the call, I was like, ‘What?’”
Do you remember what kinds of products your mom had on her nightstand and in her medicine cabinet?
“My mom always used an Olay moisturizer. Like, always. She always had one in the cabinet—it was the Active Hydrating Cream in the white jar with the black top and the pink packaging. She also always loved Olay body washes. Those were the two products that I always saw in our bathroom. So when I got older and started buying my own products, the first thing I went to go buy was Olay moisturizer because I trusted it.”
What are some skincare products that you can't live without today?
“I cannot live without a moisturizer. It’s just become so important to me. And Olay’s latest campaign for Retinol 24 + Peptide has become a staple to me very quickly. I'm using the entire line, including the nighttime moisturizer, which I really like. I don’t love going to bed and laying on my pillow with my face feeling sticky or over-moisturized. This moisturizer is very light, but it does the job. I don't feel dry—I feel like my skin is moisturized.”
In terms of retinols, have you always been a retinol girl? I feel like they can be intimidating.
“Retinol is very new to my life. I hadn't used it or been interested in it until recently. I live in California and the weather here is pretty harsh. I’d realize it every time I would go back home to the East Coast and feel the humidity and the warmth of the summer there. My skin naturally felt more hydrated and looked better there, but California weather would suck all the life out of my skin. It wasn’t just the weather, I also work a lot. And not just on set, but working in the writers’ room, working in production meetings, and every other facet of production. It’s so much that I started to notice my skin getting kind of tired, so I went to a dermatologist and asked about what I can do to help keep my skin fresh and he mentioned retinol.
So I went to get a retinol product—the brand will remain nameless—and it was so intimidating. There were all these rules on how to use it like, 'Use one time this week, two times next week, three times the following week.’ I felt like if I did the wrong thing, my skin would have a violent reaction. That was just a lot for me, personally. I'm incorporating beauty routines into my very busy work life and having to worry about the specific steps of a product was honestly too much. So it was exciting when this line came into my life because it's a very easy retinol to use. It doesn't feel overwhelming to me. I can just use this line every night and see the benefits immediately. When I wake up, my skin looks refreshed. I especially love it for my under-eye bags. I have big eyes and I get bags underneath them as soon as I get tired. I really feel like retinol, specifically the eye cream in this line, is helping with that.”
Does prepping your skin for a day in the writers’ room look different than prepping your skin for a day on set?
“I keep things pretty consistent. I love a face wash at night and I wash my face again in the morning, apply a serum, apply an eye cream, then apply a moisturizer. Lately, I've been using the Olay brightening line in the morning and that's pretty much what I go into the writers’ room with. I might add a little bit of a mascara or use a nice eyebrow pencil, but I keep it so simple for the writers’ room. And then when I go to set, I truly am just prepping to have a bunch of makeup put on my face, so I just make sure my face is absolutely clean. I just moisturize it and show up, then let the makeup artist do her thing.”
As you've transitioned from comedy clubs and stand-up to incredible viral online skits to now taking over network TV, how has your relationship to beauty evolved?
“Well with stand-up, I would always try to tone my makeup down [on stage] and when I would go out and party, I'd do more with my makeup. I'm not a huge makeup wearer and that was a little bit of an adjustment once I started doing more press and events. I remember telling a makeup artist that I don't like a lot of makeup and she said, ‘I understand that, but when those harsh lights are hitting you on a red carpet, you just need a little bit more coverage—everyone does.’ I wanted to be the person who defied that, but then I saw a picture of myself and I looked like a White Walker.
So it's been about learning what's appropriate and what makes me feel most comfortable in each setting. To that point, I feel super uncomfortable if I have to go to the writers’ room with a full face of makeup on from set. I just feel like I'm sitting there looking ridiculous, so I'll wipe my face off so that I can feel more comfortable. My relationship to beauty has become all about comfort. It's not necessarily about the trends or the Instagram makeup looks—it's about what makes me feel most beautiful in the moment. I want that journey to be a part of every woman's world because trends will go in and out, but how we feel about ourselves should always be positive and confident.”
You’ve mentioned that your mom was a teacher. Do you find that your character Janine’s approach to everyday beauty is reminiscent of hers?
“My character, not so much. I would say the closest character to my mom's presentation is the Barbara Howard character (played by Sheryl Lee Ralph). My mom is a woman who always had her makeup and makeup done exactly right. She was always in command of her space and her classroom. Janine is more reflective of the younger, more modern, a little bit less put together girl. She’s finding her way. Janine was 25 years old in the last season and she’s finding what her womanhood and beauty looks like. In the first season of the show, people have come to love Janine's sense of style and hair and makeup, but it's something that I'm so interested in playing with. When you're 25, which is young to me now, you're still growing up and figuring out what your look will be. And I think it'll be cool to watch Janine do that throughout the show.”
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