PUT IT TO THE TESS

Tessa Thompson Is Done With Perfection

We spoke to the actor about her beauty philosophy, her new role with Giorgio Armani Beauty, and the products that are saving her skin. 
portrait of tessa thompson for armani beauty
Courtesy of brand

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You would never know it, but Tessa Thompson is among the many Black women in Hollywood who have had issues in the past with finding makeup artists that can work with their skin tone. "I came into the industry at a time when there wasn't a ton of variety in terms of foundation shades especially," she tells me over a Zoom call. She's cheerful and engaging. Her hair is pulled into a low bun, likely courtesy of her longtime hairstylist Lacy Redway, who, to my delight, is in the next room. Thompson has an ease about her that exudes refinement and cool at the same time. It's something you don't come across terribly often. A person is usually either cool — like Rihanna or Mick Jagger, or elegant — like Diahann Carroll or Grace Kelly. Thompson is both.

It is fitting, then, that Giorgio Armani Beauty would tap the actor as its latest ambassador. Thompson will appear in campaigns for its Luminous Silk Foundation and Lip Power lipstick. Armani lives at the intersection of polish and edginess, and Thompson has been using its products for years. "It's the first brand that I worked with in a professional space," she explains.

She was introduced to the brand's line of foundations early on in her career, and they were one of the few that she found had a match for her skin tone. "I would take little bottles of foundation around in case somebody couldn't find the right color," she says. "For one of my first big red carpets, the artist that I was working with at the time loved the brand and used them exclusively. That red carpet I wore Armani." And it's not just red carpets. Thompson wore Armani makeup for many projects during her career, including her role as Charlotte Hale on Westworld.

"So many characters have been impactful to me and have represented seven years of my life working and telling stories — Armani is a part of that," she says. We spoke to the actor about her makeup journey, her skin- and hair-care routines, and what she's looking forward to in 2022.

ALLURE: Your story about not being able to find a foundation match is so interesting to me. I think a huge misconception about skin of color, is that if you're on the lighter end of the spectrum, you're definitely going to have options. People don't think about undertones, those actually matter.

Tessa Thompson: They matter so much! There are so many times that I'd look red or I look orange. My undertone is yellow. I think another misconception is this idea that you can find your shade in one bottle. For so many women of color, depending on the part of your face, you need different products. Armani is very conscious of that [with its base products]. If your foundation color is 7.5, the corresponding concealer is actually a little bit lighter than what is in the bottle. And so both of those together should work for most of your face.

Courtesy of brand

ALLURE: Right. A lot of people don't realize that a lot of Black people have yellow undertones — it doesn't have to always be red! 

TT: And certainly when I came into the industry, there were a lot of artists that didn't really understand that. They would want to paint you one color; a color that also had the wrong undertone.

ALLURE: Everyone has their unique way of applying foundation. How do you like to put on yours?

TT: I think makeup should enhance what exists. I put my foundation on with my fingers, although sometimes I'll use a sponge. I don't like to wear a ton of foundation in my everyday life. I wear so much makeup when I'm working, that it's really nice to give my skin some time to breathe.

Typically, I like to use moisturizer and then mix a little foundation into it and make a little cream. That's what I'll use all over my face. Sometimes, I want to cover up areas of hyperpigmentation, so I'll go in with a little foundation. Sometimes I'll cheat and buff it in with a little blending brush, like one that you would use for eye shadow so it's really, really blended.

ALLURE: I feel like makeup is taking a step back into the more natural realm anyway.

TT: I love no-makeup makeup. It's been really inspiring to work with artists that operate that way. They don't and to come in and cover my skin. They help me understand that the skin I'm in is beautiful and fine just the way it is. 

Armani Beauty Luminous Silk Perfect Glow Flawless Foundation

Giorgio Armani Fluid Sheer Glow Enhancer

There used to be such a premium put on perfection, and I think you'd have to ask: Who sets those parameters for what is perfect and for what is beautiful? I find it really inspiring. We're getting to a place, in beauty especially, where brands are understanding that what is actually good for the consumer is to feel like they're okay as they are.

ALLURE: We gotta talk about skin care — it's what makes those tinted moisturizer moments possible! I'm wondering what your routine is like.

TT: I recently learned that if you're going to change anything in your regimen often, your cleanser is the most forgiving thing to swap out. Which was good news to me, because I'm sort of a product fanatic. 

I also used to think that if you break out or your skin is oily in any kind of way, you don't want to use too much moisture or oils. When I thought that that was true, my skin was really dry and unhappy and actually broke out more.

Biologique Recherche Lotion P50

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Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar

Over the pandemic, I got so into making at-home masks. I would take goat yogurt and put turmeric in it. It stained my fingers, which was fine because I had nowhere to go. I would use that as a mask, which was amazing. I have also newly discovered how incredible apple cider vinegar is. [ed note: it's got a ton of antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties] It's amazing for your hair, for your skin — I recently had a bunch of mosquito bites, it helped with that. I also use it as a toner sometimes.

My favorite toner that really changed my life is the Biologique Recherche Lotion P50, which a lot of people use. It's a tremendous, tremendous beauty product, and really changed the texture and tone of my skin.

ALLURE: You work a lot with Lacy Redway on hair — what's something you've learned from her over the years?

TT:  I've learned so many things from Lacy. She really taught me to listen to my hair. Obviously, we do amazing styles — we've put my hair in a seven-foot-long latex braid — so we like to play with extensions, wigs, and all those things. But in terms of my own relationship with my hair, it's really about letting it do what it wants to do and giving it moisture.

I used to want to wear my hair out, but I wouldn't like the way it looked. Lacy helped me understand that picking a very simple product, not adding too much of it, and letting it air-dry will give me my best hair days.

ALLURE: What are you looking forward to in 2022?

TT: Well, obviously, this partnership with Armani. I'm really excited to get to play with makeup and get to also play with the brand. Even in terms of creating characters, that's something I'm really inspired to do.

On a personal note, I launched a production company, Viva Maude. This past year was our inaugural year. I'm excited to really lean in and continue to produce. I think of the roles I've played where I've been able to be seen in the fullness of my humanity. As a woman of color, I'm really bolstered by the idea of creating opportunities for other women of color to feel like that.


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