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How Beauty Can Help Your Mental Health

4 Women — From Sarah Hyland to Renée Rouleau — Share How They Heal Through Beauty

Image Source: Design by Priscilla Brinshot

Everything was looking like it was on the up and up for Djimbi Djevdet. She had just gotten married and was finishing up her postgraduate certificate in education, when suddenly she fell unbearably ill. For months, a stream of medical tests left her in and out of the hospital, unable to walk four weeks out from graduation. Until, finally, a diagnosis: fibromyalgia, a disorder that leads to widespread, debilitating pain.

First came a cloud of depression. Then, a glimmer of hope: "While I was in the hospital, and to distract myself from the pain, I started watching YouTube makeup tutorials," Djevdet said. "It appealed to me as something I could do sitting down. Once I got home, I started practicing and found an obsession with brushes — the key to any makeup application — and realized most were simply too expensive. After extensive research, I realized there was a real niche for affordable, high-quality brushes."

This was in 2012. Flash forward seven years, and she's now the CEO of Makeup Addiction, a beauty line of not only makeup brushes, but also eye shadow palettes, highlighters, and lipsticks. The brand has expanded to 27 countries and 60 retailers worldwide, marketing most of its efforts via word of mouth on social media (which is a battle of its own, but more on that later).

Now, if you think using makeup or skin care as a means of coping with depression or anxiety sounds frivolous, you're probably not alone. Yet, in a way, beauty is exactly what saved Djevdet — and she's not alone, either.

How Beauty Has Become a Catalyst For Self-Care

Self-care, by Oxford definition, is "the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one's own health" — and this includes your mental health, too. Most recently, and especially in the age of vicious news cycles and Twitter sh*tstorms, people have connected self-care with using a face mask, taking a bath, or, as in Djevdet's case, playing with makeup. It's not for vanity purposes; rather, pouring your efforts into a set beauty routine has become its own form of self-care.

For one, it can bring people some much-needed calm. "I see many clients who use [beauty] rituals to manage a variety of mental health issues," said clinical psychotherapist Matt Traube, MFT. "Regular habits can be a great coping mechanism to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. It can increase self-esteem and give a sense of self-worth. Some people who experience depression can feel fatigued and unmotivated to engage in their regular activities. By putting on makeup or engaging in a skincare routine, they can feel restored and better overall."

“Some people who experience depression can feel fatigued and unmotivated to engage in their regular activities. By putting on makeup or engaging in a skincare routine, they can feel restored and better overall.”

Many also use it to regain control over their lives, Traube says. That particular scenario was the case with actress Sarah Hyland, particularly after her multiple kidney failures.

"When I went into rejection, I lost a lot of control in that situation — and I'm a control freak," she recently told POPSUGAR. "Not being able to control something like that with my health was really hard for me to absorb. That's when I decided to take control of the things in my life that I did have power over, and that's when I started to get into skin care. I didn't really have a routine before. I was 26, and I was like, 'My body is going through all of this crazy drama right now, and I have no idea what to do other than to keep it the best shape that I can right now with the tools that I have.'"

The Many Ways Beauty Can Help You Cope

Celebrity aesthetician and skincare expert Renée Rouleau and her husband, Florian, on their wedding day.
Image Source: Design by Priscilla Brinshot

Beyond "feeling like you're taking care of yourself," as Traube puts it, beauty can also become a means of coping with difficult situations. For Renée Rouleau, celebrity aesthetician and founder of her eponymous skincare line, it's what got her up in the mornings. Then, before losing her husband and partner of 22 years to a rare form of pancreatic cancer six months ago, it became the one element she had to put on hold.

"Doctors don't usually give expiration dates with cancer diagnoses anymore, but he got six months," she said. "What was hard is that Florian was the COO of [Renée Rouleau Skin Care]. We were a team. His mindset was all about preparing the company for his absence. That was him, both professionally and personally. For me, I freaked out knowing I was losing not only my best mate in life but a leader in our company and somebody who took care of a side — the operations and the logistics — that I don't work that much with. I panicked. Luckily, we have a great team I could count on, and they encouraged me to spend quality time with Florian. And so, I did. I worked from home a lot and worked as much as I needed to, but I also knew I had to be a nurse for six months. I had to be a caretaker. The beauty of having advance notice of someone's death is you get to focus on not having regrets."

After Florian passed, along with grief came a new kind of panic: jumping right back in. "Because I had neglected work — I had never worked less those six months than my entire 22 years of my company — I thought my business was going to fold. The reality is, nothing changed. I dove myself back into work full-time. I've had people message me on Instagram when they see I'm traveling for work, saying, 'Oh, aren't you supposed to be grieving'? and it's like, 'Florian would want me to live my life.' There's still a lot of turmoil in my emotions, but I owe it to him to move forward.”

"There's still a lot of turmoil in my emotions, but I owe it to him to move forward."

The outcome of grief can wear more than one hat, however. Six years ago, April Peck, founder of new haircare brand Save Me From, was putting her kids to bed when she got a phone call from her brother in-law, a first responder in the small town where she grew up. He told her to book a flight home, quick, because her sister Patty had attempted suicide and was in the hospital. She died by the time Peck arrived.

"I don’t know why my sister took her life," she said. "I also don’t know if she suffered from depression or anxiety. Our father was a military man who wanted boys and treated us like them. We weren’t allowed to be anything but tough. We didn’t talk about our feelings, let alone our mental health."

What Peck did know, having founded and eventually sold the popular skincare brand HydroPeptide years before, was the beauty industry. And so, she sought to create a new brand — in a new category, through extensive research — with a mission to raise awareness around suicide prevention. With a love for wellness and Patty in mind, there was a lightbulb moment: hair.

Patty was the youngest sister of the family, and the one with "the thickest, most beautiful blond hair," said Peck. "I have a special connection in remembering Patty and my love for styling, French braiding, and curling her hair. Plus, our hair is one of the first places we turn to when we want to control an immediate change. Every stylist believes she is transforming someone’s life when she re-creates her client’s hair."

As such, Save Me From was born, which not only has products that claim to repair damage from root to tip, but also provides additional resources on its blog In the Lab about mental health and suicide prevention. "My hope is that I can make a real difference in saving lives," Peck said.

The Beauty — and Backfire — of Social Media

At left, April Peck tests ingredients for her haircare line, Save From Me; at right, Djimbi Djevdet of Makeup Addiction tests out new makeup.
Image Source: Design by Priscilla Brinshot , Design by Priscilla Brinshot

Of course, you can't talk about beauty without bringing up social media. The two terms are almost interchangeable, especially with the rise of Instagram influencers, Photoshop apps like Facetune, and the community on YouTube. It's easy to feel validated by your hair, makeup, or overall looks if you're getting a lot of "likes" or attention online — but it's just as easy to be brought down.

"I have struggled with depression throughout the years since creating Makeup Addiction, due to the nature of my business being totally based on social media," Djevdet said. "It’s virtually impossible to fully detach myself, as it’s integral to my business — whether it’s finding new content for our page or interacting with our followers and the 500-plus influencers that have been on our PR over the years."

Yet, because of this constant exposure, Djevdet found herself completely drained from comparing the success of Makeup Addiction to other beauty companies. "Every time I would open Instagram, I would feel anxious. I went through moments of extreme self-critique and not being proud enough of any achievements, and even feeling like a complete failure . . . so much so that I would spend days at home crying, not being able to get out of bed."

This, Traube explains, is the double-edged sword of the beauty world. "Many facets of real life do not exist on social media," he said. "When is the last time you scrolled through someone’s Facebook or Instagram and saw a picture of them with a large stain on their shirt and an unflattering look on their face? When we shape our beliefs about what is considered healthy or beautiful based on unrealistic images, we are in trouble. Many millennials understand this concept intellectually, but emotionally they can be perfectionistic and suffering. When the bar is set unrealistically high, the end result is often disappointment."

"Many facets of real life do not exist on social media. When we shape our beliefs about what is considered healthy or beautiful based on unrealistic images, we are in trouble."

Rouleau, on the other hand, uses social media — and did so frequently during her husband's final months, delivering health updates and memories on Instagram and Facebook — to keep his memory alive. "Florian wanted to know that he wouldn't be forgotten and that his life mattered," she said. "I did it to honor him but heal myself in the process because he was such a special person, and watching him, how he handled his diagnosis, it was therapeutic for me."

It also brought her together with a community of other people grieving their losses, where "hundreds of messages" trickled in with every share. "I found that his story really moved people and helped them rise above the darkest place they are in or have been in for a long time," Rouleau said. "I think anybody who has a story to share, they do it because they know if they can inspire one person and it can change a life, then it's worthwhile. I know it's what he would want."

At the end of the day, nobody can tell you the right way to take care of your mental health — that's your decision to make. If that means building a brand from your love of beauty, spreading the love on social media, or simply taking care of your skin at night, that doesn't make you vain. It makes you bold.

For Djevdet, she has since turned off Instagram notifications, muting certain pages that tend to be triggering, and has found solace in a handful of motivational books. While her beauty company is still bustling on- and offline, she's continually working on her own inner calm. "My favorite book that has changed my perspective in life is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle," she said. "It has taught me to enjoy living in the here and now and being present at every moment. I cannot change the past nor can I change the future, so I might as well live in the present. And no matter what life throws at me, I know I will be OK."