Skin Expert Sean Garrette Just Wants You To Get The Damn Sunscreen
The esthetician and skin care influencer shares what inspired him to dive into the skin care industry.
In They’re Lit, Elite Daily highlights the men, trans, and nonbinary creators in the beauty industry who are busting through antiquated gender boundaries and proving beauty is, and always will be, for everyone. In this installment, esthetician and skin care influencer Sean Garrette reveals the deeper reason behind his platform, his complex relationship with beauty and fashion, and more.
The minute he appears on my computer screen, I know I’ll immediately do whatever Sean Garrette tells me to do with my skin. The glow atop his cheekbones travels up his temples and across his forehead. It’s radiant, smooth. But it’s natural. Later, I learn exactly what this skin “look” is: velvet skin, which Garrette remembers hearing from Dieux Skin co-founder Charlotte Palermino. “I was like, yeah, that's the perfect description, not glass skin, but velvet skin — skin that just looks soft, hydrated, healthy,” he tells me. “I love that trend. I hate anything matte ... I like things to shine and move and come to life.” His complexion surely radiates life, even through a tiny digital box and even through Zoom’s invisible filter that usually makes everything appear... blah.
A glow can only get you so far, though, and Garrette’s certainly isn’t what truly brought his growing social platform to life. (Although, it surely helps.) Rather, the real vitality is in his approach — in the way he talks about skin care. He’s never harsh, but he doesn’t mince words either. He’s straightforward, informative, and inclusive. And it’s on those pillars, and later with formal esthetician training, that he built his social media platform.
“When I first started my platform, it really was focused on educating Black people and people of color on how to properly take care of their skin ... And so many Black estheticians don't really have the platform to build an audience like I have,” says Garrette. “That was always my goal — to just educate that audience — and as I grew, my audience grew. When I actually started seeing clients in New York, I had just as many white clients as I had Black clients, which made me really happy because I wanted [my platform] to be for everyone, but I also wanted to include people who look like me in the conversations they were left out of for so long.”
Considering the severe lack of Black dermatologists in the U.S. and the pervasive medical biases BIPOC individuals face, especially in dermatology, Garrette’s platform isn’t just refreshing; it’s absolutely crucial for Black people and people of color, who face an inexcusable amount of systemic hurdles when it comes to accessing proper clinical skin care, capable skin care professionals, and skin care education. The good news? Garrette’s educational platform is only growing. Ahead, he shares with Elite Daily how his journey with skin care began, where it’s going, and what it’s revealed about him.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Elite Daily: How old were you when you first became interested in skin care?
Sean Garrette: Honestly, as early as I can remember. I've always been obsessed with beauty. I used to be obsessed with hair. I grew up around all women my entire life, so my aunts were all hairstylists and nail artists. I come from a very artistic family — a lot of them were painters. It's what inspired me, because I used to draw a lot when I was little.
ED: Did you always know you wanted a career in skin care?
SG: When I was really, really young, my dream was to be a fashion illustrator ... I've always been obsessed with clothes and fashion. I remember I was 16, obsessed with John Galliano, Dior, Christian Lacroix, and Givenchy Haute Couture, that was my world and what I really wanted to do. But it was a part of my obsession with beauty. And I think my obsession with beauty comes from the art of being able to transform yourself and to become whoever you want to be.
Growing up as a little Black, gay, queer kid, I didn't really have the agency to be who I wanted, to paint my nails, to wear my hair longer, or to wear the clothes that I wanted to wear. I didn't have that luxury. So, for me, fashion was always a form of escapism, and later on, beauty became that, too — a way to transform and make myself into what I saw and felt like I was inside.
ED: Is there someone in particular who really inspired you to engage with beauty?
SG: My mom was the beauty icon for me. In the '90s, my mom had long hair, and she chopped it off and bleached it blonde. That’s why I've been blonde for the last 10 years. I thought my mom was so gorgeous. I was always hyperaware of beauty and how it can transform you. I would say, at around 8 to 10 years old, I had my first skin care routine. My mom got me a cleanser, and I was always in her medicine cabinet trying things on: her makeup, her Noxzema face wash.
ED: What made you decide to start building your social presence and get formal esthetician training?
SG: I was working at different makeup counters, and I was freelancing as a makeup artist. And when I started working in the spa realm, every spa I worked in was [filled with] all kinds of cis white women, so I never really thought it was possible for me to be an esthetician. I saw a few Black women working in the spa, but they were always doing nails or hair. I never saw a Black male esthetician working on skin and having a successful career doing that ... Whenever I would do a makeup consultation or application, I would always preach about skin care, and my clients were always like, "Girl, just do it. You care more about what I'm using at home than what you're putting on my face right now." So I started my Instagram, just talking about things that I genuinely love — chemical exfoliants, cleansers I loved, sunscreen. There was really no one on Instagram at the time talking about the benefits of Black people using sunscreen and how important that was.
When I got a little following, I had moved from L.A. to Atlanta, and I swear I just got a sign from God, like, "Go to esthetician school." I was kind of lost: I had moved back home and didn't really know what I wanted to do. I knew I loved beauty. I knew I didn't want to work in fashion anymore. So I was like, "How am I going to make my mark?" Since the day I enrolled in esthetician school, it's been nonstop. Skin care and beauty have been my life. I was able to open my own [esthetician] practice and do so many incredible things. It's really been a journey for me.
ED: That’s so wild. And the journey is still going! Walk me through the moment you were contacted about becoming a Fenty Skin ambassador. What was going through your head at that moment?
SG: It was insane, and it was such a weird time in the world. This was back in late April 2020, so we were knee-deep in the pandemic. I had completely shifted my spa business online and was doing virtual consultations and things like that with my clients. I got an email from Fenty Beauty, and I thought, "OK, maybe they just want to send me makeup. Whatever." Then, they were like, "Hey, can you jump on a call really quick?" And they were like, "Actually, we're from Fenty Skin." They had me sign the NDA and were like, "We're really interested in having you be a part of this."
I went through this whole mini audition process. And the whole time I was doing it, I knew I was going to get it. It felt so right and aligned with what I always wanted, and it was another full circle moment for me, because when Fenty Beauty initially launched, I was praying that Rihanna released a skin care line because I wanted to be a part of that. Four years later, here we are.
ED: Incredible. Once you got the gig, what did that process look like?
SG: It was completely different from anything I've done before. I really loved working at Fenty because I got to learn a lot about the business that I just wasn't aware of, about how brands operate campaigns. I got to work alongside the product development team and learn about what ingredients you can't use in the U.S., and what you can and can't use in the EU. It was a learning experience and almost like a bootcamp for me to prepare me for the things that I want to do in the future.
ED: You alluded to this before, but beauty has long been an industry dominated by cisgender white women. Because of that, did you have any fears about breaking into beauty?
SG: Yeah, and honestly, I still do. I've always felt like my career is never secure. I know I work so hard, and my team works so hard, but sometimes, you do feel like there's always going to be that moment where the diversity and inclusion wave is going to wash away. Even some creators last year felt like there was a hyper spotlight on uplifting Black creators, and then a year later, a lot of those initiatives fell off. But when I joined the skin care influencer world, I wasn't really nervous because I knew what my message and my goal was.
ED: As you’ve built your platform, what have you found to be the most common misconceptions surround skin care for people of color?
SG: Even when I was at esthetician school, there's a lot of misinformation. To be honest, there is a medical bias when it comes to people of color in the medical industry. There are a lot of myths that darker skin is more resilient, it doesn't get inflamed, you can't get sunburns, you don't need sunscreen, you don't get skin cancer — all of those things still happen to Black people and people of color, but it looks different on the skin.
It really was a challenge when I left school, because I had only seen what skin diseases and disorders looked like on white skin. I never saw what sunburn really looked like on dark skin until I started working in the industry. I had to educate myself. And I knew that if I didn't know [what to look for] after spending so much time training, the everyday person probably didn't know how to identify those things. I talk a lot about inflammation in my content, because a lot of people with darker skin are constantly inflaming their skin, and that's what's leading to the hyperpigmentation.
It's [so many of] these kind of barriers put around people of color, because if you're not included in the conversation, how would you know if certain things work for you? If you're not represented in medical studies and clinical trials with skin care brands, how would you know that those [products] are for you? You automatically feel left out.
ED: What was the hardest part of building your platform?
SG: I would say the hardest part was being treated the same as my white peers. I still deal with that today. I've always had to prove myself. Even today, I have to prove that I'm actually a good esthetician or that I know the [information], when, for years, [beauty brands have] been paying white influencers to talk about skin care products they have no idea about ... I remember my first brand deal, I got paid $50. And I was like, "Are you... This cannot be life. This cannot be real."
It's the fact of having to prove that I'm worthy of being included in campaigns and things like that. I mean, I think I've put in the work the last five years, so I don't struggle with that as much. I have a really, really good team. But I'm not the only one, and I shouldn't be the only one. I know that a lot of my peers who look like me and create content like I create content are still suffering with the same thing. And I think that's why it's not just about [working with] Black influencers. It's about having Black people and people of color behind these brands.
ED: As both you and your career have grown, what's something surprising you learned about yourself?
SG: Personally, I think [it was] my need to be successful. That was something that was very important to me because, when I was younger, I felt so ignored and overlooked. My family was always like, "You're a f*cking star." But I never believed it, because in school and in media in the '90s and early 2000s, you didn't see Black, gay, queer people being celebrated. Now, I just find the beauty in myself, and I kind of understand why, at such a young age, I felt the need to be so successful and driven, and to be in a place in my career where I could almost be revengeful. My success had always been my revenge to people who made me feel like I wasn't worth what I knew I was inside. And so now, I'll be 30 soon, and I'm in such a better place, at peace, where I'm just happy being me. I’m happy reaching the people that I have, and I don't have that need to get back at the people who made me feel a certain type of way.
I also think it's easier to get to that place when you see the things that you can do in the world. When you feel included in things and you feel celebrated and validated, that's really important, especially in the beauty industry. And it's why people push for inclusivity of people with disabilities, different gender identities, and different ethnicities — because everyone should see themselves in media. If it's a beauty campaign, it should celebrate all beauty. We all have a need to be validated in some type of way. When you feel validated and you feel affirmed, it makes you move a different way in life.
ED: That gave me goosebumps. Before we sign off, name one beauty trend or skin care trend you think is a total scam.
SG: One trend I hate... there are so many. I hate the trend of people using an exfoliant or The Ordinary Peel, and then micro-needling over that. If you want to never have skin again, do that.
ED: Oh my God, I'm seeing it all over TikTok and I hate it.
SG: One more: People telling you that you can use coconut oil or carrot oil as sunscreen. They have a special place in hell. They need to stop.
ED: Who thought that was a good idea?!
SG: Who formulated that in their brain? There are so many things that have a natural SPF factor — so does mud. Are you going to cover your face in f*cking mud and walk around? Or are you going to use formulated sunscreen?
ED: Just get the sunscreen.
SG: Just get the d*mn sunscreen. Let it go.