On December 1, Keke Palmer took to Instagram to make a deeply personal confession: “Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome has been attacking me from the inside out my entire life,” she revealed to her 10.2 million followers, "and I had no idea.” She explained that she’d struggled with cystic acne since she was a teenager. And in searching for the proper treatment, she found herself battling with medical professionals just to be heard. Ultimately, the musician and actress would be diagnosed with the hormonal disorder PCOS, which manifests in women through weight fluctuation, excess hair growth, and acne. But reaching that conclusion was a difficult journey, Palmer says.
“I tried EVERYTHING,” she captioned the make-up free selfie. “I did Accutane TWICE. It took ME taking a personal look into my family that has a history of diabetes and obesity, to understand what was ACTUALLY happening. Unfortunately doctors are people, and if you don’t ‘look the part’ they may not think that’s your problem. I came to a doctor in tears once, and all they offered was a measles vaccine.”
It was practically kismet that Palmer, who released her latest EP “Virgo Tendencies Pt. 2” earlier this month, would be part of the development of an acne-targeting beauty product. She has partnered with Olay to debut two of the mass brand’s newest offerings, which will enter stores in 2021: the Cleansing & Renewing Body Wash and the Rinse-Off Body Conditioner, both of which contain Retinol—an ingredient known to regulate skin cell turnover and reduce inflammation. But as Palmer describes below, treating the dermal surface is not her only approach to loving her skin: combating stress, advocating for herself, and making time for her favorite aesthetician in New York City helps, too.
What prompted you to open up about having PCOS on Instagram?
Even though it took me so long to discover that that was the problem, I realized a lot of people still don't have the ability to go through three different specialists in one week to get to the understanding that I have. I felt like PCOS is a silent killer in terms of self-esteem and infertility and a bunch of things that people don't even know that they're struggling with. At 16, when you're having irregular periods or acne problems, you're not thinking about having kids. You're not thinking about whether it's connected to something greater. You don't realize that until you get into your 20s and you maybe want to start having kids—that's usually when people realize that they have PCOS. What I was trying to do was just make people aware that that could be a condition. Whether they have uncontrollable acne or they're unable to control their weight—these are all things that are hormonal conditions. And it's hurtful because a lot of people just assume you have bad hygiene or you're overeating—no, this is a problem that you could just be born with. Or something in your diet is triggering it, and you had no idea.
Did the decision to release this Instagram message coincide with the unveiling of your Olay Body collection? Timing-wise, the two worked out perfectly.
It's more so one of those things where a brand and the connection to the talent are just so in tune. When I started with Olay last year, it was all about finding body wash that was just as good as the one you're using for your face. And so it's no different with the new cleansing body wash and conditioner that's coming out in 2021. It contains retinol, which is also something that's usually used on the face. But a lot of people suffer with acne on the body, so you have to use good body wash for that, too. I think it's just their brand: it's inexpensive, it's available everywhere and they're giving people a product that's not just cute and fun, but also has some ingredients that help you to feel like you're really helping yourself.
I was just reading an article where you had talked about teaching yourself how to do your own makeup to make yourself comfortable and make sure that you weren't five different shades. I'm wondering how you did that—did you watch YouTube tutorials?
I'm sure I watched some YouTube tutorials throughout, but I was very lucky to work with so many makeup artists growing up. I was able to take a professional's advice straight from the horse's mouth. I would just watch people do my makeup,. I'll be honest—MAC, definitely during the periods of 2007, 2012, I think, were huge in the professional makeup industry. And the skills from people who are trained to understand about makeup there, trickled down to a lot of young women such as myself. That school of thought when it came to color and finding what worked for me, that also was a big influence as well. But trial and error is always the unfortunate, real way.
That's how it always goes with makeup.
And everything else in life. I'm starting to realize everything has to be designed to us specifically: diet, skin regimen, makeup, everything. We have to really do trial and error.
What are some beauty tips and tricks you learned from makeup artists growing up that you still use today?
First of all, I'm not a big fan of the cakey, cakey, cakey, cakey. You don't need to get coverage like that. You can literally spot-treat for coverage. That, to me, is the biggest thing—and mixing colors and tones when it comes to brown skin. Because brown skin has a lot of undertones, and you really have to look and understand, okay, what are the undertones of my skin? It took me years to realize I was a bit orange and a bit yellow, along with the brown. So that means you want to consider those shades when you're choosing your makeup color. If you're a little bit more red then, okay, you need to kind of go more with something that has a little bit more of a red in it, so you don't get too ashy or too washed out by wearing a color with yellow tones.
I say this to everybody when it comes to skincare in general: everything is an opinion and no one is you. So it doesn't matter what I'm saying, this is just my experience, and what's worked for me. I urge people to try things out, learn what's good for your skin. Because if you spend all your time buying up everything that everybody tells you, then you're going to end up being really disgruntled and disappointed, which has happened to me a lot. But when I started doing my own research, and took the advice that actually resonated with me, then it became a little bit easier. Just take it easy on yourself and be patient, because I was orange many years until I got my stuff right. It happens.
I think it happens to a lot of people. I definitely have been there.
And you just feel like a failure, you know what I'm saying? But you get back on the horse, you start riding again.
Walk me through your skincare routine.
My skincare routine for my face is very, very plain. I wash it with a gentle cleanser—I have a vitamin C cleanser from my aesthetician's shop. Right now, I've been not doing too much on the face, because I've been really concentrating on my diet and trying to watch how my skin reacts to things I've been eating, as opposed to the products. With the body, I use my old-school Olay body wash. They're sending me my new one with retinol. I'm excited because it's going to really upgrade my nighttime routine, okay? I'm gonna go in there and do my cleansing, and then do my body conditioner, you know, and the retinol is going to work overnight. It's just another thing working for me. So I'm giving my body that that's self-love too. And then also, I always wear my same pajamas, honey. You know, I always tuck my shirt into my pants and I feel so cuddly and ready to go to bed.
So you experience acne on your body as well as your face.
I do, because of my body hair. My biggest source of my acne comes from how the PCOS gives me more androgen and creates more testosterone—manly-like hormones. So I have a lot of hair on my body that clogs up my pores and that's what gives me all the acne and dark spots. It's the same on my face as it is on my body.
Do you have any favorite, go-to beauty products?
There's one lip that I love from Dior, that I use all the time. And in a perfect world, it's the only thing that I would put on my face. It's their natural lip—it's almost like their chapstick and it has a light pink tint. I absolutely love it. It's honestly basic. I'm really a minimalist at heart, even when it comes to doing my makeup. I just like stuff that's chill, that works, and that's not too much of a hassle.
What's your favorite form of self-care?
Working out. I struggled a lot with anxiety and depression, and I started becoming aware of it at 17. I went through many different ways of dealing with it: When I was younger, I used to journal a lot. And then when I got older, started smoking some ganja. But it changed over the years where I feel like the thing that helps me most is working out. It lowers my cortisol levels. It gives me a way to release and focus on something outside of myself—I kind of just zen out. It's become a real source of comfort for me, especially while I was discovering my PCOS. It's really been a way for me to feel in control of my life.
What's your ideal spa day and where?
My ideal spa day is at this place called Haven—and I'm sad I'm giving my secret up—because Haven is the best. It's in New York, and my lady Marisol, she's absolutely amazing. She does my facials. She's literally the best. She just gets it right. She cares for me. I remember crying in her office, and she's like, we're going to get your skin right. We're going to help you. She's from Poland, and that's really cool too because growing up in Illinois, I was surrounded by a lot of Polish people. My first crush was this boy named Joshua Siwicki, and that last name is so Polish. I just really love her energy and everything about her.
The relationship with an aesthetician is an emotional one.
Girl, it's a real link. Are you kidding me? You become my auntie.
What's the best bit of beauty advice that you've ever received?
To accept yourself as you are. This is the thing: all these things we're talking about, they're fun, right? The makeup is fun. Skincare is fun. But at the end of the day, no one's going to make you happy with you other than you. So the biggest piece of advice is to love everything about yourself, because it's on you. It's through that loving of yourself that you become more capable of helping yourself. When you get mad at yourself and you're so fixated on changing yourself, being too hard on yourself, it becomes so difficult to make the things that you want better for yourself happen. Give yourself some grace. Love yourself where you are, and for who you are. Everything else, we'll get to it when we can.