Where does one start when speaking on the marvel that is Kerry Washington? In 2000’s Save The Last Dance, she cemented her spot in our hearts as Chenile, the teen mom who defied all stereotypes but felt so familiar and honest and who delivered a speech that Black girls around the world could be heard applauding her for. Her reign continued in film hits like Ray and The Last King of Scotland but her work in indie dramas like Life Is Hot In Cracktown and Mother and Child, proved that Washington was one of the most talented actors this business has ever seen. So, when she sauntered onscreen as Olivia Pope in ABC’s undisputedly iconic drama, Scandal, it didn’t take much for us to rearrange our Thursday night schedules for our girl Kerry. The Bronx native is, at once, warm and relatable but her aura is stunning. You sit up a little straighter when you’re in her presence, find yourself leaning in and being completely present when she speaks. Kerry Washington does not demand, she invites. And the invitation that she has given us not only through the stories she’s told onscreen but through the way she has shown up over the last two decades in Hollywood has been one that we have always graciously accepted. 

And one we will never decline.

21Ninety caught up with our favorite girl to talk Neutrogena, a brand that she has been the face of for almost a decade, and their commitment to recognize influential voices who are working to close the gap to skin health equity for the more than 68MM BIPOC Americans who face disparities in skin health education, access and products for all skin types and tones. The inaugural Neutrogena Heroes of Skin Health Equity initiative celebrates the work of individuals who embody the four core pillars of Neutrogena’s “For People With Skin” promise, its long-term commitment to advancing skin health for all: advocacy, education, expertise, and transparency.

Iman N. Milner: You’ve been an ambassador for Neutrogena for the better part of the last decade, what about this brand makes you willing to continue to stand by it and attach your name to it?

Kerry Washington: That’s such a good question. I love working with Neutrogena. I really respect the company and I trust the company. Just as a creative consultant with the company, I know how much research, development and scientific rigor goes into every single product we put out into the world. That really makes me feel good. The amount of passion, care, expertise and scientific tenacity that goes into launching a product is so inspiring to me. Every time we launch a new product, I am blown away by the level of education that I’m given and how much work goes into each product. But, I think, also there’s a culture at Neutrogena that I really love being apart of. In the beauty space, there can be often this sense that ‘you should buy this product because you need to be someone other than who you are’ or ‘you’re not good enough without this’ and that’s not the message here. I love working with a company that truly, truly, is invested in that we want you to feel as beautiful when you take your makeup off as when you put it on. We are really about health and knowing that you can use products that bring the best you forward. We want you to have the tools at your fingertips so that you can be the absolute best version of you and I love that. 

INM: When we hear words like "advocacy" and "transparency", skincare is not the first thing that comes to mind, why is it important that Black and Brown people have companies like Neutrogena to both advocate for our skin needs as well as educate us on what they are?

KW: We talk a lot about “equity” now—equity in housing, equity in healthcare, equity in education and equity in skin health is vital. We all, as human beings, deserve to feel comfortable in our own skin. Your skin is your largest organ, it’s what you walk in throughout your whole life. So, to be able to have access to the right kinds of information, to be empowered to care for ourselves with the right kind of innovation is so, so important. For me, I love that Neutrogena has really said “we believe in equity in skin health and we’re gonna put our money where our mouth is”. They’ve aligned themselves with innovators who are doing this work in the field. People who, as you said, are fighting for transparency. For expertise, for education, to really make a difference and make sure that Black people know how to love ourselves in this skin we’re in. Neutrogena is saying “we support those heroes and we want to help them do this work and we want to highlight the work they’re doing”. 

INM: You’ve been in this business for a long time and it feels like visibility for women like us has only in recent years started to catch up with what the world actually looks like. I want to know how you came to love the skin you’re in. What was that process like?

KW: A lot of it has to do with community. Having Black and Brown women in my life that we loved each other and loved ourselves alongside each other. We taught each other how to love ourselves. And that’s in my family and in my friend group. Representation is important in our personal lives just as much as it is in media and the images we see. I want to love myself. We all deserve to feel like we belong and that we are deserving, valued and seen. For anybody, that means embracing all of you are and loving all of who you are. The journey of loving the skin that I’m in has really been about the journey to loving myself and knowing that everything about me is lovable and worthwhile. 

INM: Thank you for that. 

KW: That’s a big question! 

INM:I know! We’re getting into it. Well, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask about your Neutrogena must-haves and your skincare routine. 

KW: Let’s see, right now I am really obsessed with our triple-action serum. I love it, very user friendly, it’s a great, great product. I am always hydra-boost obsessed. My whole family is. I love that it’s able to bring moisture into my skin and keep it there without being greasy or oily. That’s so important to me. I really love the whole hydra-boost line top to bottom. But I also love our triple action eye cream lately—very into it. 

INM: Oh, I’m going to put that eye cream on my shopping list.

KW: Eye cream is so important. It all sounds so scientific, you know? The collagen and the peptides and all those things. The bottom line for me, is that if I can spend less time on the concealer because I spent a little more time on the eye cream at night, then that’s a win.

INM: This is the inaugural initiative to honor these skin heroes, what can we expect from that?

KW: So Jennifer Garner and I are hosting together—which I also think is great because skin health equity for Black and Brown people is everybody’s issue, not just ours. We should all be talking about equity for everybody all the time, in my opinion. What’s really great is that you get to meet these skin health equity heroes, hear their stories but also you get to see the ways that Neutrogena plans to support them on a longterm basis. We’re not just calling out these people and saying “Thanks, now go sit down!”, we’re having a plan on how we’ll continue to support them in doing this work. 

INM: Ok, I have one last question for you. Do you remember the first time you saw yourself in the beauty/skincare space and when was that?

KW: I was really lucky because I grew up in a home with a mom who subscribed to ESSENCE magazine and every month we got that magazine and I got to see a beautiful Black woman on the cover. I got to flip through and see ads about Black skin and Black hair. That was really important because I also knew that when I held that magazine in my hands that I was seeing images that I wasn’t seeing anywhere else. I knew that the beauty I was seeing in those pages, I didn’t see any other magazine in our home or any other channel on TV. This unique beauty, this Black woman magnificence that I was getting once a month and devouring, it was only held in this space. But thank God it was there. Thank God that I knew that maybe if we weren’t thought of as beautiful in any of those other spaces, in a space with ourselves we were holding a place for our beauty. That was really important to my sense of self growing up.