“I’ve known since I was seven that I wanted to be an actor. It was during my summer vacation—my mom was working with Scorsese and my dad with Alfred Hitchcock. That was crazy in itself. But I was really lucky that with my parents—wild, independent, somewhat hippie progressive actors of the seventies—there was no false narrative in the story of how to become one. There was no paparazzi, false-glamour life. Being an actor felt like a practical craft. You worked hard and you went to work like other people went to work. For me, the reality of growing up in Hollywood was the opposite to the idea of growing up in Hollywood.
My first audition was at 11. I was 15 when I got my big break in Mask. It wasn’t about the size of the role, it wasn’t like I was a lead, but it was the first moment where I thought of myself as an actor professionally. In some ways I felt like a mini adult because I was around so many adults, but brilliantly my mom would only let me act if I promised to stay in school, played one sport, and at some point in my high school years I had to be a part of student body government.
Citizen Ruth was a real watershed moment for me. I had just done Jurassic Park, which was a very successful moment in a career for a young girl. I was at a moment where I could choose one narrow path towards success, or I could choose a path that wasn’t just about artistic choices, but also about social justice issues. But it was only this year where I really felt like I could fully support myself [financially] through acting. I was taught that being an actor was a sacrifice, and being an actor meant you might not make a living. Being financially independent while doing something we love is not a story we’ve been sold as women. I’m really interested in that story changing. There have been a few pioneers who told a different story—Louisa May Alcott wrote a feminist anthem for girls and women, and I actually didn’t learn until we were making Little Women what the book held in itself—but my experience, even being raised by a fierce, independent, feminist, actress mom, was that if you play by the rules, you can get lucky enough to do what you love for a living. And that was everything.
Beauty is a huge part about being an actor because it’s such a defining conversation. What is beauty? How are you free of it? How are you not considering it? How do you reveal it?
Beauty is a huge part about being an actor because it’s such a defining conversation. What is beauty? How are you free of it? How are you not considering it? How do you reveal it? My skin has always been extremely sensitive—very reactive to the sun, to products. My face goes through a lot between having to wear a lot of makeup and traveling, so I know when something is consistently helping my skin or consistently hurting it. For the last two years I’ve used True Botanicals Nourishing Cleanser and then I keep it really simple. My morning routine is washing my face and using the Pure Radiance Oil. That oil has become my foundation. If I’m using makeup, I use just a little bit of concealer when I need and a lip and a little mascara. I spent too many years thinking that I had to hide my skin. The quicker I moved away from foundation that suffocated my skin, the healthier and happier my skin became.
My nighttime routine is the same except that then I use the True Botanicals Renew Serum and the Vitamin C Booster, adding the C powder to the serum. You can literally take a dab of the serum and put the vitamin C in it. And I can feel it, it feels so good. I’ve tried so many different masks and they’re all so full of chemicals. Masks, particularly overnight masks, break me out. The True Botanicals night mask, first of all it goes right into the skin, it doesn’t get in the pillow, it’s not in your hair, it’s really easy. And then I wash it off in the morning and I feel great, like I’ve had 12 hours of sleep. And then I have a mask I love from Eminence, which is a probiotic mask, but that’s more like once a week. It feels activating—I really, really like it. It feels like you’re nourishing your skin and waking it up, like taking acidophilus. I have a moisturizer that I use if I have to wear more foundation or something because of specific film lighting. It’s from the Face Place—they have a collagen moisturizer that I’ve been using for twenty years. I’ll use the moisturizer and add the radiance oil to it and use that to help float the makeup so it’s not going into my pores, to kind of protect it.
My origin story with True Botanicals is that I wrote them a love letter saying, ‘I’ve got to let you know I’m using your oil as my foundation. I’m in love with your products, I love how you’re helping the planet with the packaging, I just want to know you guys because you’re amazing.’ Literally. That was a year and a half ago. We were shooting Big Little Lies season two and I was using the Pure Radiance Oil as my foundation on set. I found the oil through the makeup artist working on the show, because I was using another face oil and it felt slick and perfumey. Suddenly over three months, the makeup artist was like, ‘Hold on, your skin looks beautiful. Your pores are looking smaller, and when you come in the morning your skin looks rested even though you tell me you haven’t slept.’ Literally the only thing that had changed was the oil. Then I started using the cleanser and then I reached out.
Makeup is tricky because there’s a lot of really good makeup that doesn’t have a clean alternative. Kosas is great, they’re a really clean company. IT Cosmetics is really working to have a clean brand so I use their concealer. I’m such an old school person when it comes to mascara. I’ve used L’Oréal’s Voluminous mascara forever and it has never made my skin sensitive. I can go on any movie set and people will use this very chic blah, blah and my eyes will get so irritated.
I’m in love with the new Marc Jacobs lip liners because they have staying power and look really natural on film, like you’re not wearing lipstick. Somebody told me that La Prairie’s not making their blush anymore, and I loved that blush. I also love Stila’s blush. That’s used for film a lot because it has staying power. The tinted lip balm with CBD from Milk has really nice colors. I like Plushberry. It’s nice, it has staying power, it has CBD in it.
I use coconut oil to take my mascara off. I’m so sensitive to eye makeup—I get really allergic and itchy. Coconut oil has also been really wonderful for my hair and I use it as a mask. If you can be comfortable having oily hair for a while, and needing to wash it out a few times, then it is amazing. I just love oils so much. My amazing hair designer Frida Aradottir, who’s an Icelandic goddess, just designed Little Women. She had all of us in wigs and she’d take our hair and use the opportunity to cover it in the most delicious oils. She’d wrap it before putting the wigs on so it could condition all day long.
To wash my hair I use MOP, Modern Organic Products. It’s their pear shampoo, which is for babies. It’s gentle and I just love that scent because it’s like smelling my babies when they were infants. Jonathan Gale is my colorist and he has spent 30 years working with companies to try to find a way to care for hair—even how to bleach it—naturally. He’s put products on my head, covered me in tin foil, and set me in the sun to lift color without using chemicals. He also makes a beautiful hair oil. It’s organic with aromatherapy.
For other hair lines I’ve been interested in companies that look to empower young women with self-love and identity. I’m such an admirer of Vernon François. My daughter met him through Cleo Wade and they had this lovely day together. He’s doing such beautiful work in the world of styling and design, and he’s changed the whole narrative around hair. He’s like, ‘Isn’t it amazing that people call it hair by identifying through skin color or religion or race as opposed to hair?’ He has some beautiful products for my daughter and her specific curls. She is a mix of white, black, Native American, and she is learning all these textures and gifts her hair can do. I just appreciate the narrative around empowering women to see their hair as an aspect of identity and self in a beautiful way.
[My colorist]’s put products on my head, covered me in tin foil, and set me in the sun to lift color without using chemicals.
BODY + FRAGRANCE
I love aromatherapy and started studying it when I was 17. I regularly travel with lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus, and grapefruit oil. Grapefruit oil is really wonderful for anxiety, but it’s also wonderful for restoring balance when you’re jetlagged. My favorite fragrance brand, Happiness Abscissa, was made by a group of doctors and chemists. They were working with aromatherapy in changing dopamine levels and giving you an endorphin release and that’s really exciting, seeing [aromatherapy] in the world of science.
My nighttime ritual is a bath—I can’t go to sleep without one. Bath products are where I really get homespun. I will do a bath with Epsom salt, depending. In terms of rebalancing alkaline in the body, I do lots of apple cider vinegar baths. They’re so good for your skin and really important in helping women level our pH. I used a lot of Dr. Hauschka early on. Now I look for a lot of organic essential oils and I make cocktails with them. My bath recipe includes lavender, sometimes jasmine. If it’s a morning bath, sometimes I’ll put rosemary in it, or coconut oil. Bergamot, chamomile, having a little care kit of your essential oils is a great thing for bathers. I used to use Young Living, and now it’s shifted to Doterra. Doterra also makes pure organic peppermint oil in these tiny gel seed balls to pop in your mouth as an alternative to Altoids. They’re amazing.”
—as told to ITG
Laura Dern photographed by Joshua Aronson on October 3, 2019.