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Interviews

How Jessica Monzalvo’s Mexican Roots Shaped Her All-Natural Skincare Brand

by Leslie Ambriz

@jembyjem

• By Leslie Ambriz

Some of Jessica Monzalvo‘s favorite childhood moments were spent creating DIY face masks with her grandmother. Now, the makeup artist turned beauty founder is honoring those special memories with SKIN by jem, an all-natural skincare line that pays homage to Monzalvo’s Mexican roots. We sat down with Monzalvo to chat about the inspiration behind the brand, her skincare routine, and the importance of Latinx representation in the beauty industry.

LA

What was the moment that sparked the idea for SKIN by jem??

JM

SKIN by jem was born in May of 2020 — it was a pandemic brand idea. I felt that the only thing that was getting me through the pandemic was self-care, and the way that I express self-care was through skincare. I started to think about my fondest skincare memory, and one that stuck out was when my grandmother and I would do our self-care moments. She would make her DIY face masks and would spread it all over my face, we would lay down, listen to music and just have this moment together. And I was like, ‘That’s what self care is.’ So when I thought about translating that to skincare, I was like, ‘I want to do a face mask that is inspired by that moment, and that also embodies my grandmother.’

LA

What were some of the masks and remedies that you would create with your grandmother?

JM

One that I can recall was an oatmeal honey mask. She would grind the oatmeal, put some honey in it, mix it up and then just apply it on our skin. She would also cut up potatoes and put them on your temples, because she said it would relieve pressure in your head and [help with] migraines. She would also put them over your eyes, because they also help with inflammation and darkness. So we would just sit there with these fruits and veggies on our faces.
jessica monzalvo

LA

Your Mexican roots have inspired the work that you do and the products that you’ve created. Outside of the remedies that your grandmother taught you, is there anything else specific to Mexican culture that inspired you?

JM

In the Hispanic culture, cooking is such a big part of our culture. The ingredients that we use are just so different. That’s what I love about world cuisine — you’re always going to find different herbs and spices and roots that make a culture their own. When I was thinking about the products for SKIN by jem, incorporating things that I grew up with into the products was always at the top of my mind. For example, Papaya Glow has papaya seed oil in it, and papaya is just…if that’s not one of the most Mexican things, I don’t know what is! Same with Strawberry Dreams —it has hibiscus, and there’s no Hispanic child that hasn’t had a cold glass of hibiscus water. It was just really finding the healing properties of each element and how they could be incorporated into a product.

LA

How do you personally take care of your skin?

JM

I think one of the things that makes SKIN by jem super special is that we try to focus on self-care more than skincare. We want you to feel good because, ultimately, how you feel shows up on your skin. I think that when you are emotionally balanced, you do things for yourself that make you feel good. In my case, every Wednesday, I have to go for a hike. Every day I have to drink at least 34 ounces of water. These are just minor goals that I set for myself, but I know that if I do these things, it makes me feel good. I think that when you feel good on the inside, it definitely shows on the outside. For my clients, I think that it’s so important that we do a whole skincare routine before we even do the makeup, because I truly believe that your makeup will only look as good as your skin does. When your skin looks really nice, you don’t need to do too much. If it’s not acting appropriately for that day, that’s okay! There are so many tools out there that can help you tackle those little things. Again, I feel like it really all starts with how you feel on the inside.

Whether it’s your skin healing, or whether it’s your healing…whatever that journey might be, it all takes time.

LA

What are some of your staple skincare products?

JM

I mean, of course, all three of the SKIN by jem products. For my cleanser, I use Glow Recipe’s Blueberry Bounce Cleanser. It’s one of my absolute favorites for a daily cleanser. If I’m feeling my skin is breaking out or it’s a little dull and needs some exfoliation, I love Pacifica Pore Warrior Soft Scrub. That one’s really great. After I cleanse and exfoliate, I’ll use our Rosa Clay Mask. I like to combine Papaya Glow Oil with Flora and Bast CBD face oil. Literally everyone in the world needs to own that. It’s so amazing. Sweet Chef Ginger Tumeric Tonic that has been such a lifesaver for texture. I really can’t live without a retinoid —I use an over-the-counter retinoid and I mix it with Papaya Glow so it’s not so strong and I don’t get a lot of purging happening. I’ll finish my routine with Erno Lazlo Multi-Task Eye Serum Mask, Flora + Blast Barrier Building Hydrosol Primer, and Milk Makeup Sunshine Skin Tint. For internal stuff, I love Spill Botanicals CBD oil. I do a few drops in my water in the morning, and that keeps me chill all day long.

LA

Tell us about your SKIN by jem products; what are the benefits of each one?

JM

Rosa Clay Mask is mainly composed of soft clays, which are going to help draw out all the impurities from your skin. They work like a magnet, so they attract a negative polarity and draw out all the dirt that’s inside the pores. Since I’m using soft clays, they’re not overly drying like some other face masks on the market so they work well with even the most sensitive skin. It also has colloidal oatmeal, which makes your skin soft and soothes redness. That was one of the ingredients that I, I don’t want to say I copied from my grandma, but low key, yes. It also has rose petal powder and crushed rose petals. The crushed rose petals are a mild exfoliant, and the rose petal powder is a natural astringent. When you wash it off, your skin literally feels petal-soft. 

Papaya Glow Oil has a combination of different carrier oils that go really well with oily and dry skin. There’s a crazy myth that if you have oily skin, you should stay away from oils. But when your skin actually lacks oil regulation, it produces more oil! When you use an oil on oily skin, it helps regulate the oils that your skin is producing. We use jojoba seed oil, which is one of the oils that resembles our natural sebum, sunflower oil, which gives you this really amazing glow, and Grape seed oil, which is really great for acne-prone skin. The key ingredient is papaya seed oil, which has natural enzymes that remove dead skin cells. It’s very mild, and it gives you this beautiful glow. 

Strawberry Dreams Facial Steam is such a bougie blend; it smells so amazing. It was created to give you that sense of being at a spa. Whenever I did facials before the pandemic, my favorite part of the experience was the steam. It cleanses the skin, promotes blood circulation, and makes you feel nice and relaxed. It has  jasmine green tea, which is detoxifying and soothing, strawberry leaves which are anti-aging, ashwagandha which helps when you’re taking long, deep breaths to relieve stress, and hibiscus flower is also super detoxifying.

LA

What does it mean to you specifically to represent the Latinx community — specifically, the Mexican community and Mexican American community — through this skincare line?

JM

Oh my God, it’s such an honor. This question brings up so many emotions because I was seven when we immigrated to the United States. I remember sitting in my first-grade class and literally not understanding anything. I remember the teacher being like, ‘Oh, can you pull out your workbook?’ And I got my crayon box. I looked around the room and was like, ‘Ooh, I don’t think that’s the right thing.’ At that time, there weren’t many Mexicans, let alone anyone who was Hispanic, in my school. So for me to now be able to embody and represent Brown girls, Mexican girls specifically, is just so special. If I can inspire anyone at all to want to do something that’s out of the norm for their career, then it’s just so special. It truly, truly is. At the end of the day, I feel like this project is done with love. I hope that people are able to feel that and see that. I think it’s so great to be able to pick up products that represent your culture.

This entire journey has been such a humbling experience. I truly don’t take anything that has happened for granted — everything that has happened is just such a blessing. Many people don’t talk about God, or they feel embarrassed when they do. But for me, growing up Mexican, it’s such a big part of our culture. Not to say that I’m a super religious person, but I’m definitely very spiritual, and at the end of the day, I feel like none of this was created by myself. I always feel like a higher power is guiding me and helping me through these situations.

LA

Where do you hope to see SKIN by jem in the next few years?

JM

I would really love to be in Sephora! That’s definitely one of my goals. I don’t know any Latina that doesn’t shop at Sephora. Ultimately, I just hope that we continue to be a brand that inspires our community. We want to uplift those who need that little bit of affirmation in the morning. We want to educate them on why it’s so important to take care of yourself so that your skin can look great. I think that we’re in such a crazy time of not only fast fashion but fast skincare, where we want results today. But if I’ve learned anything from this entire journey, it is that things take time. Whether it’s your skin healing, whether it’s your healing, whether it’s accomplishing a goal, whether it’s trying to develop a product, whether it’s becoming an entrepreneur. Whatever that journey might be, it all takes time. And I think that’s such an important message because although we want to run all the time, sometimes it’s really great to just slow down and walk out the journey.

LA

If you could sum up your skincare philosophy in one sentence, what would it be?

JM

Self-care is skincare.
jessica monzalvo

Pictured above: Jessica and her grandmother.