Sean Garrette’s resumé is stacked. Rihanna hand-selected him as Fenty Skin’s first-ever global ambassador in 2020. Then, this year, Dior came knocking and appointed him its U.S. skincare expert. (Fun fact: Garrette actually wrote about wanting to work with both brands in a journal back in 2016. Manifestation, baby!)
The New York aesthetician has developed a cult following thanks to his no-nonsense advice and highly sought after treatments. (He currently boasts a cool 90.5K followers on Instagram.) But perhaps his biggest calling card remains his own exceedingly velvety visage—even newborns can’t compete.
Garrette’s glow overtakes my laptop screen during a recent Zoom chat. My pupils take a few seconds to adjust to his otherworldly countenance, as though they can’t quite register that skin this radiant exists. “Tell me everything!” I blurt out, practically begging. Lucky for me, Garrette’s pretty used to this reaction by now and happily obliges. (You’re going to want to take notes for this one.)
First things first, how would you sum up your approach to skincare?
“My skincare philosophy always starts with the skin barrier. There was this huge boom around chemical exfoliants and a lot of my clients and followers were damaging their skin barriers, so it made me really passionate about teaching people the importance of the skin microbiome and the importance of nourishing and repairing your skin barrier after treatment. My skin philosophy is always less is more, but I’m not a less is more person [laughs]. For me, less is more is about the frequency of the things you’re using, so not using a retinol every day, not using a chemical exfoliant every day. Having a good balance of resurfacing products and treatments mixed in with hydrating and barrier-strengthening products. Sunscreen is also a huge, huge thing for me. For so many of my clients, just changing their routine to hydrating products and adding a sunscreen has changed their skin immensely. I think it’s about starting with a simple routine and adding in treatments slowly that can help with the concerns that you’re having.”
What are the most common skin mistakes you see people making?
“Definitely over-exfoliating. It’s like we think that we can exfoliate our problems away [laughs], which is not something that really works. Not cleansing properly is also a huge, huge thing. I notice with all my clients, I need to teach them how to cleanse their skin especially when it comes to removing makeup. With makeup, you really want to do a double cleanse and sometimes even a triple cleanse. Start with a micellar water then go in with an oil or balm and then do a traditional cleanser depending on how much makeup you’re wearing. If you’re not getting all the makeup and residue and debris from your skin, you’re not going to be able to really experience your treatments fully. And lastly is proper sunscreen use. Whether you’re the fairest on the spectrum or the darkest on the spectrum, SPF is really an important step in everybody’s routine, but I don’t think people use enough sunscreen and they’re not reapplying it. About every two hours, you need to be reapplying that SPF, especially if you’re going to be in the sun.”
I’m looking at you and I’m hypnotized by your glow. Do you mind taking me through your morning and evening regimens? Tell me everything!
“My routine now is a little chaotic, because I’m still testing almost every Dior skincare product, and I have my favourites but it changes, honestly, monthly. In the morning, I keep it as simple as possible, so I don’t do a traditional cleanse in the morning. I usually do a micellar water like the Dior Purifying Micellar Water. It’s super light, hydrating and calming on the skin. Then I’ll do a hydrating toner or an essence, some kind of antioxidant serum, a hydrating serum, a light moisturizer and sunscreen, and that’s pretty much my morning routine. At night, I like to add my treatments in, so twice a week I’ll do a retinol and twice a week I’ll do a peel or something exfoliating. I also add more of my richer creams and use serums that have more growth factors, peptides—those things are really going to help stimulate collagen and plump the skin.”
I mentioned glow, which is what everyone is after. What do you think we mean when we say we want glowing skin and how can we actually get it?
“When people say they want glowing skin, it’s usually about two things: Either they want smoother texture or they want really hydrated, bouncy skin, and that really goes back to your skin barrier. So when you’re adding things like hydration, peptides, growth factors, stem cells and ceramides—those things that are going to help nourish the skin—that’s what’s going to give you that glow. It’s not really about putting an oil on your skin or illuminating products, because those are kind of topical, superficial things. All I have on now is a moisturizer, but my skin is glowing and looks healthy because of how I take care of my skin barrier for the rest of my routine. And then targeting texture also has a lot to do with it. So if you’re someone who’s dealing with uneven texture, adding something like mandelic acid in your routine or lactic acid, will help smooth the texture, and then you want to add in hydration, and that starts from your cleansing step. So if you’re using a cleanser that’s too drying, too stripping, that’s going to take all the hydration in your skin, so the water, which is what gives skin that plumpness. So you want a gentle hydrating cleanser, then go in with something like a super hydrating essence like the Capture Totale Intensive Essence Lotion. And then you want to sandwich the hydration with a rich cream. That’s what’s going to give you that glow.”
So it’s more about hydration rather than heavy-duty peels?
“Right, it’s not really about the peels, though you definitely want to add in a good amount of exfoliation, but again, it’s all about balance. So if you’re having issues with texture, then adding a retinol once or twice a week, exfoliating once or twice a week, that’ll help solve the texture, but then you want to add that hydration in to add that plumpness and that natural radiance. Antioxidants are another huge thing.”
I feel like so many people are afraid of putting too much moisture on their skin. They hear “rich cream” and they think “breakouts”
“If you’re someone who has oily skin, a rich cream to you might be a water cream. At Dior, we have the Hydra Life Fresh Sorbet cream, and that’s like a rich cream to someone who has oily skin, but it’s still going to give you that moisture and that hydration that you would need. For me, a Capture Totale would be a richer cream because it has rich oils. So it’s really about finding a product that fits your specific skin type.”
What’s your take on at-home skincare tools like gua sha stones, LED masks and the like?
“I love a skincare tool! I use LED almost every night; I fall asleep with it. My whole room at night is like red LED light [laughs]. I also use high-frequency if I have breakouts; I love an ice roller to depuff in the morning or over a sheet mask, I love microcurrent. I love a device! The key to those, really, is just being consistent, and I’m not always consistent with my microcurrent and things like that. But my LED, I’m pretty consistent with, and that also helps with the glow of the skin because red light really helps heal the skin and reduces inflammation.”
Are there any tools that would be better left to the professionals?
“I’m not into the home lasers, like the at-home IPL [intense pulsed light]. Same with microneedling. I’ve seen people get really bad staph infections from using at-home microneedling devices, so that I’d recommend only doing in-clinic. But then the rest of them are pretty much safe. Like microcurrent is so good to use at home. I love the Ziip device, and then a good LED mask. Those are good to use between spa appointments.”
And when you’re at the spa, giving someone a facial, what are your favourite toys to play with?
“Oh my God, I love this ultrasonic tool that sends ultrasonic vibrations into the pores; it helps lift any debris, blackheads, anything like that. It can be a little painful to use, but it’s so good. I love radio frequency, I love LED, I love microcurrent. In the spa, I do pretty much the same things I do at home, just using a more medical, powerful device. But my favourite thing to do in the spa is peels. That’s what I work pretty much all of my clients up to. Usually, I do three to four hydrating, lightly resurfacing peels and I work my clients up to a larger peel to either help treat their acne or help lighten their hyperpigmentation.”
So we’ve talked about products and tools, but how important would you say lifestyle is to the state of our skin?
“I really don’t like to comment on people’s lifestyles because mine’s horrible [laughs] and it seems to not affect my skin. I eat sugar, I probably drink too much alcohol, I go to bed at 3 a.m. every night. So listen, I cannot preach to anybody about lifestyle! But I will say the things that save me are that I am an antioxidant freak—I take antioxidant supplements—I love a green juice, I love taking my multivitamin, my B12. So I try to maintain the inside of my body and get internal hydration. Drinking water won’t necessarily make your skin more hydrated topically, but when your body is dehydrated, it definitely does show on the skin. So I try to do the things, but I really just make my skincare work really hard, because my lifestyle is a mess. Sometimes, I go out, I don’t wash my face—it’s not the end of the world. But for the rest of the week, I make sure I’m on point with my skincare. I hate when aestheticans and skin professionals make skincare feel like this bootcamp, regimented thing. Beauty is meant to be fun, it’s meant to be explorative. It shouldn’t feel like a chore. Life is too short—it’s just skincare.”
Okay, I have a few rapid fire questions to end with. First up: Yes or no to cleansing in the morning?
“Yes but no [laughs]. So yes to doing something in the morning routine. So with Dior, I wouldn’t use La Mousse in the morning for me. I would use either our cleansing milk or our micellar water. So something gentle and light to remove sweat and excess skincare you had on overnight, but you don’t need a full cleanse in the morning.”
Are you team physical or chemical exfoliation or both?
“I’m for both, especially for my male clients, physical exfoliation is very important. Men’s skin tends to be a bit thicker, sometimes a bit oiler. If you have a beard, like for me, I get a lot of dry skin if I’m not on top of my routine for my beard. I love a chemical exfoliant after shaving but to lift the hair up, I love a physical exfoliant. But even for people who don’t have facial hair, a gentle, physical, mechanical exfoliant is really great for skin smoothing. I would do physical once a week if that, and I would do chemical twice a week.”
If someone gets a pimple, what should they do and not do?
“If you have a blackhead, so something that’s not coming to a head, salicylic acid would be the best for that or a sulfur mask. I’ve kind of become a sulfur mask ambassador. It’s such a great ingredient for people who have inflamed, acneic skin. If you have a whitehead, I’d recommend a benzoyl peroxide spot treatment, or sulfur would work as well. And then at night, to make sure you don’t pick it, a pimple patch will really, really help.”
I know you’re a fan of a moisture sandwich but are you also a fan of slugging?
“No, not really. I just don’t like the texture of it. I like a sleeping mask, which is kind of a scam, but I don’t care—everything’s a scam. So after my moisturizer, I put on a sleeping mask. I don’t like slugging because I have very expensive sheets [laughs], and it can ruin your sheets. I tried slugging with different things, and my skin just didn’t love it, but I’ve seen it work for a lot of people, so I’m not anti-slugging, it’s just not for me.”
What are your top three favourite skincare ingredients of all time?
“Well, removing sunscreen from the conversation, I definitely would say mandelic acid, azelaic acid and retinol. Mandelic acid is a great gentle exfoliant. Everyone can use it: My most sensitive clients use it, my most advanced clients use it. It also helps with hyperpigmentation and it’s great at smoothing texture. Azelaic acid has antioxidant properties. It’s also great at calming inflammation, it helps with redness and also helps with skin smoothing. And then retinol is the gold standard ingredient for helping with anti-aging, fine lines, wrinkles. So those are my top three.”
Top three favourite skincare products of all time?
“Paula’s Choice BHA Liquid Exfoliant. That’s like a cult-cult favourite, holy grail. I think that product built my page, honestly. Capture Totale Intensive Essence Lotion is one of my favourite, favourite products. And I’m really obsessed with the new La Crème from Dior. It’s really good. It’s a rich moisturizer that has a lot of antioxidants that come from the Rose de Granville. It’s definitely a favourite. I use the cleansing milk and the micellar water every morning. And I also really love the Capture Totale serum. I can’t just do three! Oh, and I love the SkinMedica TNS serum. That’s one of the serums I use every single day, and it’s a growth factor serum. It’s got peptides and stem cells to plump the skin. It’s changed my skin. I love so many things. In the past five years, I’ve tried so many products, but it’s really about me finding the ingredients and the formulas that work for my skin, because there’s a million great products. I’ll say something is my holy grail today and then another great product will launch tomorrow and that’ll be my holy grail in three months. It’s ever changing in beauty.”
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