The beginning of my transition was the moment I decided to start being myself. I began expressing my gender identity through clothing and makeup when I was around 18, the age at which I started to feel less ashamed of what I was and what I would naturally gravitate toward. Before then, I wasn't out. Being trans was just a feeling in the back of my head that I didn't want to admit to, but recognizing this feeling was the moment my transition began. There's a misconception that a person's transition doesn't start until they transition medically, but that's not always the case. Not everyone can afford all the treatments involved, and some choose to never embark on the process.
I remember I had quite bad acne when I was a teen. I struggled emotionally with that. It took a major toll on my self-confidence and made me feel very paranoid. But I never really used male-gendered beauty products at the time. I was really into taking care of my skin as a teen, and male skin care just wasn't a thing back then — boys weren't encouraged to look after their skin.
I gravitated toward more gender-neutral products, because they were like a safe area for me that I could access. I liked St. Ives Apricot Scrub to wash my face at the time, and I loved any type of tea tree oil treatment.
Age 23 was when I started transitioning medically and taking estrogen hormones. But because I had quite problematic skin at the time, my face was really reactive to laser hair removal treatments. Getting it done was extremely painful on its own, but still having to shave, on top of wearing makeup, made my skin extremely sensitive afterward. And even though I didn't have that much hair on my face that I wanted to get rid of, the gender dysphoria that came with developing facial hair was really the biggest obstacle for me.
Because my skin was so delicate, I really had to be proactive when it came to calming my skin down as soon as possible after each treatment. A gentle sheet mask became a staple in my post-laser routine; I'd put one on as soon as I got back from my appointment. But wrapping some ice in a towel and putting that on my face worked just as well. I also think Sudocrem is great to use as well when your skin is irritated — don't be afraid to cover your face in this product after laser. But it can be heavy, so a light aloe vera gel can suffice as well. I also always made sure to keep these products in the fridge for a little while before I applied them to the skin. The goal was to try to get all of the heat out of my skin as quickly as I could so my face didn't become overly sensitive as it healed. I also tried to skip shaving for a few days afterward as well to avoid further irritation.
In addition to the skin sensitivity, during the hair-removal process, I struggled a lot with razor bumps — mainly underneath my chin. And obviously having Afro-Caribbean hair, I was more prone to getting ingrown hairs. And if I tried to remove them, they would get worse at times — either becoming inflamed or leaving a scar once the bump healed.
For the scarring, microneedling was one of the best solutions for me once my skin had fully healed. The treatment produces collagen, which pushes the depth of scars up, so my skin appeared more plump and the scars were visibly reduced. I also like microdermabrasion treatment, which made my skin look more glow-y and clarified. But if I couldn't get to a dermatologist's office, I'd use brightening products with retinol to get rid of any dark spots — I love the retinol products from Murad — while a good physical exfoliant helped to prevent ingrown hairs. I just had to be really diligent about using SPF in tandem with any retinol products, or else the hyperpigmentation could have gotten worse.
Those issues aside, one thing that I do really regret during my hair-removal process was getting electrolysis. This is where a dermatologist basically inserts a epilator device into the skin to zap the follicle, which stops the hair from growing back, unlike laser hair removal, which doesn't get rid of hair permanently. The treatment left me with a couple of scars on my face, something I feel a lot of black women struggle with after going through the procedure, just because of the way our hair naturally curls.
In terms of just my skin, it was always very oily. It took a while to see any change after starting hormone therapy, but eventually I noticed that my pores became less visible, and my skin got softer, more supple, and fuller. The hormones truly cleared up my skin — my acne just stopped. My face filled out a lot also, and I put on a lot of weight. It's almost like my body just did what it did in puberty all over again.
Since I worked as a DJ and hosted parties in my early 20s, I was pretty much always at events. Needless to say, my skin care routine was not up to par as it is now. I mainly just used Clinique's 3-Step Collection for oily skin. But after using it for awhile, I did find that it was quite drying. So I kept the Liquid Facial Soap from the line, and moved on to Mario Badescu's Oil Free Moisturizer and Drying Lotion, which controlled my oil but didn't strip my skin.
Last February, I got facial feminization surgery. The procedure can take many forms, but for me, it was basically the removal of hormonal bone — anything that had formed while I was going through male puberty, which obviously I didn't want to have gone through. I had my frontal bossing, also known as the brow ridge, filed down. I had my chin re-shaped and I had my eyebrows raised as well.
At first, my skin wasn't that sensitive, but as the healing process went on, I started to get really swollen — making things like getting my eyebrows waxed excruciating. But I did find that steaming my face with tea tree or CBD oil really helped to calm it down.
For this specific procedure, it can take up to a year to see the final result. So I'm still seeing changes in my face even now, 12 months after surgery, like my eyes look slightly different to me. They've always been almond-shaped, but I feel like there's a definite kind of finesse that I can feel when I look in the mirror.
Today, I've found a skin regimen that works perfectly for me! I go to Dr. Joney De Souza's skin care clinic in London, where I do both microneedling and microdermabrasion as needed. I also wear SPF avidly, just to kind of make sure that there's a barrier between the world and my skin. For my everyday skin care routine, I use products from Zo Skin Health. Right now I'm working on exfoliation, so I love the brand's Enzymatic Peel. I'm also obsessed with Korean beauty, so a sheet mask is a must. My favorites are from Dr. Jart's Rubber Masks line. After that I put on a serum; I'm currently using Advanced Night Repair from Estee Lauder. But one thing I've been really bad with is using eye cream. I just find it really unnecessary — I know one day that's going to bite me in the a**.
Looking back at my whole journey, my best piece of advice for women who are transitioning is to indulge in self-care. If you can, take some time off work after you've had a painful procedure or treatment — have at least a day full of self-care. Get that Netflix on and just do all of the things that make you happy.
As told to Bustle's Fashion & Beauty Features Editor, Kayla Greaves.