Shelf Life | Zanele Kumalo

The inspiring multi-hyphenate creative entrepreneur talks great exfoliants, bad fillers, and self-acceptance.


Welcome back to Shelf Life, our exploration of the rituals, products and beauty beliefs of women we admire. Today, we visit Zanele Kumalo’s beauty routine. Zanele is a multi-hyphenate creative entrepreneur working on a tapestry of projects across music, art and lifestyle media. She’s held roles from the newsroom (editor) to the dance floor (DJ). Her straightforward beauty practice prioritises a balance between function and well-deserved me-time.

Answers have been edited for clarity & length.

How would you characterise your beauty practice?

I’m always accused of spending the longest time in the bathroom, and it has more to do with me using it as the only time (besides bed time) that I truly feel I have to myself. I don’t like anything too complicated in terms of what I use. I leave the exfoliators, masks and intensive, targeted products for the weekend or evenings where I feel they have the most impact. I guess that’s mainly functional and wellness orientated.

Current morning beauty routine:

Cleanser in the shower, spritz of hydrating mist spray as I dry the rest of my body, serum to lock in the moisture, an eye cream to slow the crinkling, then a moisturiser to seal the deal.

Current evening beauty routine:

I’ll do the same as in the morning when I shower, otherwise I’ll use a micellar water to wipe off any grime, oil or makeup.

Favourite product and how long you’ve been using it:

Dermalogica’s daily microfoliant – I haven’t used it in a while but it’s the best exfoliator I’ve come across yet.

Favourite Suki Suki Naturals product:

The Papaya Rose Hydrating Facial Mist cools my skin after a shower but leaves it feeling just as plump and luscious as when you’ve just jumped into a shower and smells so good, you get extra kisses after.

Something you’ve tried and loved:

I’ll say yes to any deep tissue or Thai massage. Oh yes, and reflexology.

Something you’ve tried and hated:

I once went into a skin clinic to try out a new treatment, which wasn’t ready for me to test out when I arrived. The therapist then asked me if there wasn’t anything else I’d like to try so my time wasn’t wasted. She pointed to my smile lines and asked if I might not be interested in trying fillers. I think I proceeded to get four to six injections after which I could feel these gel-like snakes under my skin that eventually must’ve dissolved into my blood system after a while. I’ll never do fillers again after that.

Something you had passed down to you:

Moisturise your whole body every single day.

Your earliest beauty memory?

The scent of perfume and lipstick or cologne that would linger after my parents went out. That and the more natural beauty routine of my mom using an egg as a face mask. And of course, the dreaded post-Sunday lunch tight hair plaiting to make sure the style would last until Friday. My scalp has always been sensitive so no styling technique will ever feel gentle.

What role does beauty play in your life?

It’s a reflection of how I feel about myself. I still have to unlearn the negative aspects of how that impacts my self-esteem though.

Does your practice have a goal?

It depends on what my skin is going through but when it’s happy my focus is on keeping it smooth, plump and glowing.

What have you learned about yourself through your beauty practice?

I’m still learning and unlearning. But faces, profiles and features like Victoria Fawole, Tamara Moeng and Ponahalo Mojapelo remind me that there are so many versions of beauty. Because while my brain was forming and my sense of self long after that, I only saw one version of beauty. Conventional prettiness is nice to look at but unusual features are so much more exciting.

What would you change about your shelf?

I need a new bathroom, never mind shelf.

What would you change about the world of beauty?

The standard of beauty is still too narrow and the custodians of beauty brands and media houses and related industries are still too conventional and predictable.


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