Beauty doesn’t just have the power to transform how we look, but how we feel about ourselves. We speak to four women about the beauty item they rely on for strength, self-care & courage
“The skin cream that made me learn to love myself again”
Sandie Roberts, 52, is a model and disability advocate (@the_searchforsilverlinings). She lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and has three grown-up children
Staring in the mirror at my reflection, I felt deflated. My skin was grey and devoid of the glow and bounce it used to have.
The year before, in 2019, I had been diagnosed with the neurological condition, functional neurological disorder (FND), after suffering months of debilitating symptoms, such as loss of sensation in my legs and severe dizzy spells.
After being admitted to hospital several times, and spending weeks at a specialist rehab unit in early 2020, I was told it was unlikely I’d ever walk again, and had to come to terms with becoming a wheelchair user.
I felt worthless and out of control of my body and my life. All of that showed on my skin. The strain and stress I’d been under had left me looking older than my years.
When I saw someone on Instagram sharing their skincare regime, a particular product, Prai 24K Gold Wrinkle Repair Creme, piqued my interest. I couldn’t stop what FND was doing to my body, but my skin was something I could control, and I was desperate to feel happier when I looked in the mirror.
The next day I went to my local Boots store and bought the cream. That evening, for the first time in ages, I took time to cleanse and tone my face carefully, before applying it. Just the act of looking after myself felt wonderful. I went to bed that night with not just soft skin that smelled amazing, but feeling a bit more like myself. I continued using it and noticed my skin was looking brighter, feeling smoother and was getting its glow back.
With time, my mindset about my disability also changed. I realised I could carry on feeling miserable or I could embrace and celebrate the new body I had.
I chose the latter, and have gone on to forge a career in modelling and advocacy. This means I have a very public profile. I’m on social media daily, attend events and have even appeared on TV. It’s important to me that my skin looks good, so three years on, I still love that same cream, which did so much to lift my spirits in those dark days after my diagnosis.
Caring for my skin was my first step towards feeling more accepting of who I am now. Today, I look in the mirror and love the woman looking back at me.
“The red lipstick that gave me the confidence to launch my own business”
Natalie Quail, 32, lives in Hertfordshire with her husband and is expecting her first child. Natalie is CEO and founder of SmileTime (smiletimeteeth.com)
My heart pounded with anticipation as I waited to enter the Dragon’s Den in June 2021. But I knew there was one final thing I needed to do before I faced the dragons – apply my favourite lipstick. Smoothing it over my lips, turning them a bold, vibrant red, I instantly felt more sure of myself. It was like putting on a suit of armour before going into battle. As I strode into the den, I believed in myself.
My parents run their own chain of dental practices and I grew up understanding the importance of a great smile. So, it’s perhaps no surprise lipstick has long been one of my make-up staples. Over the years, red lips have become my signature look, making me feel attractive and confident. I’ve tried many, many lipsticks, but Clinique Pop Reds Lip Colour + Cheek in Red Hot is my favourite.
A few years ago, I left my career as an international tax lawyer to launch my own oral cosmetics business, SmileTime, which was why I was facing the dragons that day. It was daunting leaving a successful legal career to strike out on my own, but my red lipstick was part of my confidence toolkit when I made that leap.
As a lawyer and now as a CEO, I believe appearance matters. I want people to look at me and see someone who projects confidence and competence, and who can be trusted. Before important meetings, video calls and TV appearances, my lipstick is always with me for a quick touch-up. It takes seconds to apply, but to me makes all the difference.
In Dragon’s Den, I won interest from two of the investors, although when it came time to thrash out the details, it didn’t work out. But I forged some great connections and it was fantastic for my business, which is thriving – SmileTime is now even stocked in Boots.
I’m now expecting my first child. I’ve had a good pregnancy, but there have been days when I’ve felt tired and drained. I know that even when I have less time to spend on make-up because I’m busy with my little one, applying my favourite lippy will help make me feel like ‘me’ again. It will definitely be going in my nappy bag when the baby arrives.
“The eyebrow pencil that helped me during chemo”
Debbie Healy, 47, works in accounts and lives in Fife with her husband and two teenage daughters
In July 2020, for the second time in two years, I heard the words no one wants to hear: “I’m so sorry. You have breast cancer.”
Sitting in the oncologist’s office, I was shocked. I’d already successfully battled the disease in 2018, having a mastectomy of my right breast followed by radiotherapy, and had assured my young daughters that cancer was in my past. Now it had returned in my other breast and this type was, the doctor told me, more aggressive.
If you’d told me then, as I came to terms with the news that I would need not just another mastectomy but chemotherapy, that a small eyebrow pencil would become an important weapon in my cancer armoury, I’d have laughed.
Soon after beginning six months of chemo, my hair, eyebrows and lashes fell out. Being bald didn’t really bother me. I even decided against wearing a wig, although my children found it hard as it was a visible reminder I was ill.
However, my face didn’t look like me without eyebrows. They gave it structure and framed my eyes. Every time I looked in the mirror, I was reminded of what I was going through and how me and my family’s lives had been turned upside down again.
In late 2020, I attended an online workshop run by the charity Look Good Feel Better. The workshop taught women with cancer how to confidently apply make-up and we were sent a bag of beauty products. In it was an IT Cosmetics Brow Power Universal Brow Pencil in Taupe. I’d never used one before – I’d never needed to – and felt a bit nervous to begin with, as I didn’t want to end up looking fake.
But with some practice, I perfected drawing on eyebrows and the boost to my confidence was amazing. I looked like me again. I couldn’t believe this small item of make-up had made such a difference to how I felt. At a time when so much was being done to me, and decisions made for me by others, this was something I could do for myself, and that felt empowering.
I decided against reconstructive surgery after my second mastectomy in February 2021 and instead have a “bag of boobs” (as I call my different breast prostheses), which I slip into my bra when I feel like it. I take the drug Tamoxifen, and will for around a decade, which means I am in early menopause, but my body is cancer-free and I am so grateful for that.
Although my hair has grown back, I still use my eyebrow pencil every day, because I now like giving my brows a more defined look. That pencil is a reminder of what I came through, and how small things can make the biggest differences during the hardest times of life.
“The hairspray that gave me confidence as a young mum”
Tracey Woolley, 51, lives in Essex and owns a beauty salon. She is also an entrepreneur (freshfacepillow.com), with a grown-up son
Like many people, my life has had ups and downs, but one constant since I was a teenager has been my favourite hair product, Wella Silvikrin Hairspray. I started perming my hair aged 11 and since then the hairspray has been my pride and joy. I’ve always loved giving it volume and shape, and at only 5ft 1in, people joke that they see my hair before they see me, thanks to my liberal application of hairspray every morning. My family still laugh about the time I took 11 cans of it on holiday once.
I had to grow up very quickly when I became a mum aged just 15. In July 1986, when I was 14 years old, I discovered I was almost six months pregnant with my first boyfriend, John*. It was a massive shock. I’d lost my virginity to him and we loved one another, but foolishly didn’t use contraception. I just didn’t think it would happen to me. Although my parents were understanding, I felt I had let them down. John, who was also a teenager, and I agreed we were going to keep the baby and be a family.
Packing my hospital bag as my due date approached, I popped in a can of Silvikrin hairspray along with the tiny nappies and baby grows. It was such a daunting time of my life. As friends carried on as normal, going to parties and having crushes on popstars, I was choosing a cot and preparing to give birth. But maintaining my hairstyle helped me feel connected to who I was; a teenage girl who wanted to look nice, as well as a mum-to-be. It gave me the confidence to believe I could handle whatever lay ahead as this new chapter of my life began.
On 7 November 1986, I gave birth to my son Danny, who weighed 7lb 9oz, with my mum and John beside me. My age didn’t affect the fierce love I felt for Danny, and I was determined to be the best mother possible. John and I stayed together until Danny was four, then separated. Although we’d had happy times, it was too much for such a young couple.
I went on to raise Danny as a single mum, working in retail then insurance, before training as a beauty therapist and opening a salon in 2005. Last year, I became an entrepreneur after launching my anti-ageing product, Fresh Face Pillow. Working in public-facing roles, then branching out on my own, took confidence. Looking my best has helped me believe I can achieve whatever I set my mind to. Even today, I keep a can of Silvikrin handy for a quick confidence and glam boost.
Danny, now 36, and I are very close and we see each other regularly. From those days when I was finding my feet as a young mum to forging a career and making a good life for Danny and I, to now being in my fifties and feeling proud of how far I’ve come, my hairspray has been with me every step of the way.
Undergoing treatment for cancer?
If some of the side effects are affecting how you feel about yourself, a Boots Macmillan beauty advisor can support you and give you free beauty advice. Visit boots.com/macmillan/feelmorelikeyou
Words: Eimear O’Hagan
Photography: Matt Monfredi
Make-up: Lauren McCormack
Hair: Chad Maxwell
Styling: Anna Woodham
*Name has been changed