Bryony Gordon on running, the beauty trends and the importance of a routine

'Beauty can be used against women, but it can also be used by women to empower themselves and others'

Bryony Gordon
(Image credit: Mental Health Mates)

'Beauty can be used against women, but it can also be used by women to empower themselves and others'

Welcome to Beauty Bytes: a place where I chat to celebrities about all things beauty – from their favourite products, to their biggest beauty disasters. Plus I grill them on everything from their social media habits to their all-time favourite meals. You know, all the important and essential things that we need to know about.

Journalist, author and mental health advocate Bryony Gordon is an all-round badass in our eyes. Her work has been incredibly important in normalising the discussion of our mental health – in the first episode of her podcast, Bryony Gordon's Mad World, she famously spoke with Prince Harry about his own experiences, and has just released a second series to help get people through lockdown.

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In 2016, Bryony founded Mental Health Mates, a network of support groups for anyone struggling that has now partnered up with BECCA Cosmetics. So, naturally, we thought now was the perfect time to catch up with her about all things beauty and beyond...

LA: What would you say is the worst beauty trend you’ve ever attempted?

BG: Oh my god, we’ve only got 45 minutes! The worst beauty trend I’ve ever attempted… I think maybe in my twenties, I was very into a slutty smokey eye, do you know what I mean? And when I say slutty, I mean I would just pile on the eyeshadow and eyeliner, and it was a smokey eye because I was drunk or partying. I’m 39, so when I was in my twenties I don’t remember there being beauty trends. But when I was 18, I got alopecia and a lot of my hair fell out. I went to this amazing woman called Lucina Ellery, who provides extensions for people who have alopecia or trichotillomania, or cancer patients who have lost their hair, and they don’t pull at the scalp. She offered this service where you could have coloured streaks, and I think for a long time I walked around with a couple of pink and purple streaks in my hair, which looking back was a bit shit.

LA: What about the best beauty advice you’ve ever been given?

BG: I guess less is more. It’s really interesting, because I was so obsessed with looking wonderful for most of my adult life; I would layer on the make-up, the foundation. It’s only really as I’ve got more comfortable in my own skin – such a cliché, Lucy! – I like make-up, I love make-up, but I’m not reliant on it in the same way that I was. And I think I’m better for it, do you know what I mean?

LA: Definitely. I think there are lots of people who have also really enjoyed looking like a potato for the last few weeks [during lockdown] and it’s going to have changed their relationship with make-up.

BG: I always look like a potato because I work from home, so I don’t really put any make-up on. I put on the basics, like the BECCA Under Eye Concealer and Skin Love, but then that’s it. I’m quite low-key, which is why I’m loving working with BECCA because they’ve got that whole ethos of you glow from within. I always look like a potato but I’ve also really enjoyed the people who have been like, I’m just putting make-up on and getting dressed up because it makes me feel good. I’m like, go for it!

BECCA Under Eye Brightening Corrector, £21, Space NK

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LA: That’s what it’s all about. Sometimes when you have a break from make-up, when you put it back on you’re like – oh, I feel great! This is amazing!

BG: Oh my god, yeah.

LA: What about the best product recommendation you’ve ever received? Is there something someone has put into your hands and you’re like, I can never live without this again?

BG: So, Sali Hughes put the BECCA Under Eye Concealer into my hands way before Mental Health Mates started working with them. I’ve got pots of it all over the house. I love something that makes me look less tired because I’m quite a tired person. Even before I had a child I was quite a tired person, so that’s a make-up must. I have to quite begrudgingly mention – and I’ve really tried [to live without it] but I think it’s amazing – the Drunk Elephant C-Firma Serum. I’ve tried loads more of the best vitamin C serums because I had this thing about Drunk Elephant, don’t know what it was, but I had a six-month break from it. I’ve just gone back to it and I’m like, this is the thing that works, this is amazing.

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum, £67, Cult Beauty

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LA: That’s when you know you’ve found a ride-or-die.

BG: Yeah definitely. Also Carmex lip balm. I’ve got 15 pots of it lying around, it’s the best. I think I might actually be addicted to it.

LA: What’s in your make-up bag right now?

BG: Ooh, an eye cream I was looking for. Obviously the BECCA under-eye concealer and then their Light Shifter Brightening Concealer, really like that. Then, I don’t really wear foundation, I wear the Erborian CC Cream. Then I’ve got a Fenty Beauty Match Stix that I use as a highlighter, and a Bobbi Brown Lip and Cheek Pot. And that’s it! I don’t have any mascara at the moment, tell you why, I started getting eyelash extensions because I’m so low maintenance. Getting eyelash extensions is quite high maintenance I appreciate, but what I meant was I didn’t have to put barely anything on and I could just go out. But now, being in lockdown, going to get your eyelashes done is not essential so I need to order myself a mascara.

LA: Do you have a go-to mascara?

BG: I’m always rubbing my eyes – don’t do this, it’s bad – so I use a tubing mascara otherwise I end up looking like a panda. The last one I had was a Kevyn Aucoin.

LA: Let’s say that the house is on fire – all of the important stuff is safe – what is the beauty product you would grab, if you could only save one?

BG: Why are you increasing my anxiety! I’m joking. Do you know what I’d grab, I’d grab my Light Salon LED Mask. Does that count? I got sent one eight months ago, and I was like, what the fuck is this? I’m a bit obsessed with it now. It also doubles as a Halloween mask. I find it really relaxing at night, 10 minutes before bed, it genuinely calms me down. I read in bed with it and I’m out like a light.

LA: Kind of helping you wind down.

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BG: Yeah, totally! Actually a lot of my beauty routine is like that. At night it helps me to wind down and then in the morning it’s like, come on, let’s go! It’s all about looking after myself, because I need reminding to do that. I’m a recovering alcoholic and addict and I have a history of depression, so naturally my brain doesn’t want me to look after myself. People talk about beauty as a kind of vanity or something, but for me, it's a really important anchor in my day to remind me that I am worth looking after.

LA: It can be a bit of a distraction too, it’s nice to have that routine.

BG: I do think there is something very relaxing and lovely about that process of putting on make-up and taking it off. Weirdly, I almost enjoy taking make-up off as much as I enjoy taking it off.

LA: You know that you’re an adult when you actually look forward to washing your face in the evenings.

BG: So much – at the moment I feel like I’m doing a public health duty, washing my hands and my face!

LA: Yes, very important. That links nicely into my next question, which is how do you take care of your skin? Do you have a day and night time routine?

BG: Yes, so skincare is the thing I’m quite obsessive about. It’s one of the things I enjoy doing. So cleanse and tone, then I put on my C-Firma and an eye cream. At the moment I’m putting on some OSKIA cream over the C-Firma and sun cream, I like using the Sarah Chapman Skinesis one. And in the evening I have a rotating daily routine.

Sarah Chapman Skinesis Skin Insurance SPF 30, £52, Feelunique

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LA: Oh I love this. I like where this is going.

BG: So, one night I’ll put on retinol. I’m not someone who has loads of make-up I have those basics, but then I have quite a lot of skincare stuff, I treat myself so I’ve got the 111Skin Celestial Black Diamond Retinol. Then on the next night I put on the Alpha-H Liquid Gold, and on the third night I put on the 111Skin Meso Infusion Clinical Overnight Mask. Then I start the whole thing over again.

LA: Very good.

BG: I look about 12 years old.

LA: That is the dream. That’s all anyone wants.

BG: Again, it’s a reminder [to look after myself]. When I was in my active alcohol addiction, I would just fall asleep without taking my make-up off, drunk, off my face. So for me it really is a reminder of how far I’ve come. I can afford to pay for these products myself and I take pride in doing it, sitting at my dressing table and slathering them on. It may not seem like much but for me it’s like wow! You’re not going to bed with god know’s what on your face, you’re going to bed with a cleansed face. Obviously I cleanse as well, I use the Dr Dennis Gross Alpha-Beta Cleansing Gel and the Pixi Glow Tonic. Then sometimes if I feel like I’ve stripped my skin too dry I’ll use a Fresh one with the rose petals floating in it. Someone said to me, sweep it over your face during a flight, I was going to Thailand, and I thought, oh yeah, that sounds like something that supermodels would do. Sitting there in economy sweeping it over my face, annoying everyone!

LA: That’s a mood; if you’re enjoying it, it’s fine. Tell me more about the partnership with BECCA and Mental Health Mates.

BG: I’m so excited! This little thing that I started up four years ago to help my head and to meet other people like me has come to this. It’s quite mad. I’m quite a big advocate of body positivity and all about you being enough. We’re grateful for partnerships because we’re a small company, but when BECCA came to us I thought, this is perfect because I have genuinely used BECCA Cosmetics since I was in my early twenties. Because they totally have my ethos of glowing from the inside out, it isn’t super theatrical make-up. I love the fact that it’s cruelty free, covers all skin tones, it’s completely inclusive. It’s the perfect brand and I was so thrilled when they came to us. It totally is in line with that ethos.

I love the other partnership with Barbie Ferreira who was in Euphoria, which was amazing; she’s a real kind of icon. I love the modelling, the faces are all so inclusive and diverse, and that’s really important. It’s so wonderful to be supported by a brand that wants to support everyone. I am aware that, especially at times like this, the way that big companies behave matters more than ever, the corporate responsibility. BECCA and Estée Lauder have been amazing in the last couple of weeks supporting things like Beauty Banks. That’s really important because beauty can be used against women, but it can also be used by women to empower themselves and others. That’s what BECCA is doing.

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BG: I really don’t like when people say beauty is frivolous and women who do it are vacuous, I don’t think that’s true at all. For many of us it’s a multi-layered thing; for me it’s about looking after myself, it’s not about looking good for other people, it’s about feeling good for myself, and I think it’s so important to have partnerships with brands like BECCA that do that. Now more than ever we want to see brands thriving. I hope that makes sense!

LA: Yes you’re right, that is what it’s all about. It’s nice that it’s a brand that reflects all for the things that you stand for. Next question, how do you look after your hair?

BG: The thing I do for my hair, I see a guy called Daniel Galvin junior, who has basically nourished my hair back to its full blooming health over 15 years I think. Again, he’s like you already are beautiful, we’re just going to help you shine. Because I have alopecia I was so used to going in to hairdressers and feeling quite shamed. The attitude wasn’t always great, but he was completely different. So that’s really all I do, and then I wash it probably once a week. I shouldn’t be confessing that.

LA: No I think that’s great if you can get it to that stage where it only needs washing once a week. Everyone in lockdown is like, I can wash my hair so much less, it’s great!

BG: Yeah! I get my highlights done and get it cut every couple of months and that’s it.

LA: How often do you work out and what’s your favourite way to exercise?

BG: I work out about three or four times a week and my favourite way to exercise is running. I also have a personal trainer that I do strength training with called Seb, who’s brilliant. Obviously I can’t do that at the moment! But that’s basically what I do, running and weights.

LA: You’ve spoken quite a lot about how running helps your mental health as well as physical, which I really like.

BG: Yeah! I don’t run for my physical health, I run for my mental health and the way it makes me feel. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently; I think it’s really important to remind people that exercise is for absolutely everyone, not just the people who are really good and fast at it. I’m an incredibly slow runner and a larger lady, I’m a size 18-20. When the lockdown was announced I was training for my third marathon, which has obviously been put on hold, and for me it’s one of the things that has transformed my life and my head for the better. When I started exercising for the gains and not the losses, the way it made me feel rather than losing weight or inches around my waist, was the moment that I truly started to love it. I have to force myself to do it some days – I don’t always want to go out for a run, but I never regret going.

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LA: Especially now, getting that mood boost is so important.

BG: I feel [better] when I start my days with a bit of exercise. Yesterday morning I got up and ran 10k with my family, my daughter on the scooter, and then I was so much more productive as the day went on. I don’t do it every day but for me it’s about knowing I can. I’m not super healthy, but that is non-negotiable in my week.

LA: Do you have a signature fragrance, or a few go-tos?

BG: I just smell of fabric conditioner I think, Lenor. Is that a classy thing to admit? I don’t wear perfume!

LA: It’s a smell we all know, so it’s a good one! What about your three most-used emojis?

BG: Let me open up my phone and check – the laughing one, one with the hand over your face, and a heart. Obviously the hand over the face I use rather too much!

LA: What is your favourite book?

BG: How could you ask such a question! I couldn’t name you one favourite book – I could tell you a book I’ve just finished, which I liked a lot? I read obsessively, I’m an obsessive reader, so I probably get through about two books a week. The book I finished last night that I thought was fantastic – as did the Booker Prize judges because it won last year – was Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo. I read a book last year that has really stayed me, which was called The Overstory by Richard Powers. It’s a book about trees. The thing that I’ve discovered recently, which I’m rather late to, is Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. She’s just released a new one called Olive Again. Honestly I read so much I find it difficult to name one book when there are so many good ones!

LA: What would your last meal be?

BG: A burger. A double burger with loads of cheese on it, and bacon.

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LA: Your favourite TV show to binge-watch?

BG: At the moment I’m binge watching This Country, I love it – I’m actually interviewing her for my podcast, which I’m really excited about. Television, I go through phases, but I’m also watching something called The Outsider, which is a really grim Stephen King adaptation. I love that kind of stuff, love a bit of Stephen King.

LA: What about a favourite movie?

BG: Oh god, I’m not going to lie I don’t watch movies that often. I think the last movie I saw was Star Wars or something. I do like a Star Wars, though. What did we watch the other day? I love a Marvel movie. Thor Ragnarok.

LA: What about favourite Instagram accounts to stalk?

BG: Do you know what I’ve really got into this week? The GaBa Podcast guy, Adam, do you follow him? Amazing. There are just the most incredible meditation things, and I’m not good with meditation but he just makes it really gripping and enticing. He does lives three times a day and it’s brilliant. Fearne Cotton just had him on her podcast, Happy Place, and it’s funny, it’s moving and it’s not wanky, do you know what I mean? It’s very knowing but it’s also really beautiful and irreverent. It’s difficult to describe!

LA: What does the word ‘wellness’ mean to you?

BG: To me personally it’s all about my mental health, really. Exercise and AA meetings and staying grounded. It’s not green juices for me, but that’s fine!

Lucy Abbersteen
Beauty Contributor

Lucy is a freelance beauty editor and contributor at Marie Claire, and has written for titles including Glamour, Refinery29, Popsugar, woman&home and more. She was previously Marie Claire’s junior beauty editor. During her career, she’s covered everything from backstage beauty at fashion week to interviews with famous faces like Drag Race royalty and Little Mix. As for her beauty ethos, she’s a big advocate for not having to spend a fortune on beauty products to get good results, and when she’s not got beauty on the brain you’ll find her reading or hanging out with dogs.