5 min read
It’s Deeper Than Skin™
It’s Deeper Than Skin™ is a compilation of interviews featuring diverse multicultural individuals each carrying unique aspirations and desires yet bound by a common passion to create a more joyful, diverse and inclusive space for us all. They inspire, empower and help transform the way we think and feel about beauty, culture, ancient traditions, diversity, mental health, societal standards and more. Through these multifaceted lenses, we learn to celebrate our uniqueness and are reminded once again that our beauty is deeper than skin.
Meet sisters Sarah and Safiyah who share how they found a new passion in still life photography @ttse_photography whilst creating skincare content on Instagram all whilst pursuing studies at Med School/ Biomedical Sciences and how their Guyanese grandmothers influenced them to explore the benefits of Ayurvedic Botanicals.
The amazing sisters inspire us to lean into discovering our fuller selves and exploring our creative sides in what may at first seem like an unnatural path.
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
We are Sarah and Safiyah, two sisters from Orlando, FL who created The Top Shelf Edit, a skincare-focused photography and product review page on Instagram. We are both currently full-time students, as Sarah is a first year medical student and Safiyah is pursuing her undergraduate degree in the biomedical sciences.
Tell us about your skin journey and how would you describe your current state of skin?
We’ve both experienced acne and associated hyperpigmentation over the last ten years, but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that we started to do heavy research on how ingredients work to curate proper routines that would be effective for our concerns, which helped immensely improve the condition of our skin. While we still have occasional acne and mild hyperpigmentation today, our focus has shifted toward maintaining oil balance and skin defense/strength.
What is your current skincare ritual?
It definitely varies from day to day as we test out different products to review on the page, but for Safiyah, dousing her face with a mist and using a gua-sha is a must, while for Sarah, her retinoid is what the routine mainly revolves around.
Which beauty products are non-negotiable essentials in your beauty routine?
An efficient cleanser, a sunscreen that has no white cast or greasy feel, and our favorite, a “one-and-done” treatment that covers all of the extra stuff we want—brightening, resurfacing, hydration, etc.
Do you have a favourite Sachi Skin product?
The Triphala Pigmentation Corrector has stolen our hearts!
We love everything about The Top Shelf Edit? What inspired you (and Sarah) to start the account?
We were inspired by some of the early Instagram skincare accounts that were sharing product reviews in the form of shelfie, texture, and still life product shots, so we dusted off our dad’s old Nikon and decided to try it out for ourselves, together.
What are some of the difficulties you face when juggling between your medical studies and creating content for The Top Shelf Edit?
We both have demanding and sometimes conflicting schedules, and because school is our top priority, we find ourselves having to occasionally say “no” to projects, which can be tough to give up.
How do you manage between them?
When we do find ourselves with some free time on our hands, we try to pre-shoot photos for the Instagram page to be used throughout the week. We have an ever-growing list of topics we want to cover, so we refer to that when we hit a figurative wall. When working on photography projects for brands, we stick to a strict schedule and divide the production phase and editing phase between the two of us. It’s quite often that Safiyah is busy designing a set in our home studio while Sarah is writing out notes in the same room, and vice versa!
Your photography skills are also incredible. How has having a social media account helped you develop your photography and creative skills?
Thank you! We had never explored our creative sides before The Top Shelf Edit, but once we got started, we wanted to learn everything about equipment, lighting techniques, editing, staging, and more. Through improving our photography and editing from YouTube tutorials (specifically in the food photography sphere!), we began to develop and adapt to our own unique style. Now, we know what we like, but more importantly, we know how to execute our vision.
We can't help but notice that you are one of the very few Hijabi Skin influencers. How receptive do you feel the online social community has been to Hijabi Skin Influencers?
The skincare community has been very welcoming towards us. When we first started, we were hesitant to share more about our personalities, culture, and religion, but as we connected with people around the world from all walks of life, we realized that this online community truly shows up for people. The narrative has definitely shifted over these last few years to celebrate skin and the people behind it, and we are honored to be a part of the community at this incredible time.
Do you feel the beauty and skincare industry is inclusive?
The beauty and skincare industry is only very recently starting to become inclusive, so we feel that it still has a long way to go. There’s always more room to improve!
If you could make one change happen in the beauty industry what would it be?
We would love to see greater focus in the product research and development stage on skincare issues for people of color. In our studies, we found that the references for defining the vast majority of skin issues revolve around a small subset of skin tones, but the way in which those same issues present in POC can be very different, which can lead to misdiagnosis, misinformation, and even further irritation/damage. Seeing diversity in marketing campaigns is wonderful and necessary for moving forward, but we would really love to see change happening behind the scenes as well.
Tell us something that people may not know about you?
We both enjoy cooking and we’re major foodies!
Growing up, what skincare traditions or customs did you practice?
We loved to mask—we would use peel-offs, charcoal, exfoliating masks and more. Our grandmothers, who are from Guyana, influenced us to explore the benefits of tropical and Ayurvedic botanicals in those mask rituals, so we’d often mix turmeric, aloe, honey, marula, and more to make our own modern-meets-traditional concoctions. And they kind of worked!
I had no idea your ancestors were from Guyana. Tell me a little more about your ancestral heritage. I am genuinely intrigued especially how your grandmothers weaved their Ayurvedic heritage and Guyanese way of life?
Truthfully we’re not entirely sure how our great and great-great grandparents ended up in Guyana exactly as many of those stories are unfortunately lost. It seems they were desperate to leave India and thought indentured servitude would give them at least a chance at greater opportunity in the West.
Our grandparents and parents were born and raised there in a melting pot of Asian, African, and European ideals, and in the later years of mass emigration to the US (mainly during the 80’s and 90’s), they saw an opportunity to move here, worked hard, obtained educations for themselves, and raised us. While we’ve never been to Guyana, and our parents haven’t gone back since they left, our mixed cultural/traditional practices have definitely persisted, from more ancient traditions probably learned from our family’s earliest days in India all the way down to our parents’ more recent Caribbean cultural interests and practices.
What have you learned in your skincare journey that you would like to share with others?
We have learned the importance of staying patient and consistent with a routine. We recognize that part of our presence on social media involves testing out and promoting new products, but when it comes to the advice we give our followers, it’s to give those products a fair chance by being patient with results and consistent with use.
Best skincare advice you've ever gotten?
The importance of minimizing a routine and taking a break. We’ve learned that less really is more, and sometimes, just washing your face and going straight to bed is enough.
Anything exciting coming up for you in the next few months?
We have some challenging photography projects coming up in the sense that they’re completely out of our comfort zone and personal style, but we can’t wait to get started on them!
Let's do some quick fire questions:
Coffee, Tea or Neither?
Sarah’s answer is definitely coffee, but Safiyah loves a good cup of black tea.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Oh, it’s tough to get out of bed in the morning sometimes! But we do it because we truly want to improve ourselves, our education, our skills, etc. from one day to the next.
What are you currently watching on Netflix?
Nothing on Netflix at the moment, but we’re quite enjoying Only Murders in the Building on Hulu.
What is on your current playlist?
A menagerie of Mitski, Leon Bridges, Temples, Hozier, The Black Keys—anything indie rock and we’re there!
Finish the sentence: I feel beautiful when.…
I’m in a positive headspace—after all, if you feel good, you look good, and if you look good, you do good.