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Entrepreneur: It’s OK to mix professionalism with pretty makeup at work

In our new series "What Beauty Means to Me," women from different backgrounds share their thoughts on aging, modern challenges, and of course, their makeup and skincare secrets. This week, we interview entrepreneur Katia Beauchamp.

It was during a ballet recital when she was 11 that Katia Beauchamp vividly recalls feeling confident in her beauty for the first time.

“I remember feeling coordinated and graceful as I made different shapes and crossed the floor. Performing was a freeing feeling,” said Beauchamp, 29, founder of the beauty sampling service Birchbox. “I also got to borrow my mom's red Chanel lipstick, which I used on my lips and cheeks. I'll never forget.”

Now, the Manhattan resident aims to help other women, as well as men, find their own feeling of confidence through Birchbox, which she started with Harvard Business School friend Hayley Barna. A leader in the discovery retail space, Birchbox provides its 100,000-plus subscribers with a monthly sampling of makeup and beauty products tailored to customers’ personal needs and preferences.

“We’re giving every woman insider access to a beauty editor’s closet,” she said, adding that trying things first helps them avoid “spending a lot of money on a lot of products and building up a graveyard of products.”

Prior to Birchbox, the Texas native worked in financing commercial real estate deals. But she always had a knack for following the latest beauty trends.

“I always appreciated the beautiful packaging, how fun it is to get to change the way you look,” she said. “I did my friends’ hair, experimented with new makeup trends. Today I look more natural and myself.”

Working in the industry stepped up the pressure to look her best. “It’s really different,” she said. “When I worked in finance, I wasn’t the type of person who had to do my hair or do my eyeliner before I left the house in the morning. Today, I’m really aware of what nail polish (I have on).”

Beauchamp said it is fun and a great conversation starter to wear the latest, edgiest trends. But there are times she would like to be more low-key.

“Every now and then I want to wear jeans and a T-shirt and put my hair in a bun,” she said. “There are very few days I get to do that. I definitely do that on the weekend.”

She said women should feel free to express themselves at work without concern that it compromises professionalism. “You should embrace what comes naturally to you,” she said. “If you want to get ready for work in a very feminine way, part of your expression can be putting on your makeup in a certain way. And it’s art — it doesn’t mean you’re not serious about who you are and your job and your ambition.”

While the beauty industry is often criticized for placing unrealistic expectations on women and girls to look a certain way, Beauchamp said it is becoming more democratic in its approach.

“The industry is dynamic and responds to society’s changing perception of beauty,” she said. “From porcelain dolls to more natural looks, and to brand ambassadors who are real women, I believe recent years have seen significant change.”

Beauchamp said she hopes all women can find their own versions of a Chanel lipstick moment.

“Everybody is beautiful,” she said. “It’s such a personal thing. It’s fun to see how people do think about beauty and what they value ... they are enriching their bodies and dedicated to wellness ... you can tell when people are living beautiful lives.”

Here is Katia’s beauty lowdown:

What are your favorite beauty products?
“My shampoo is an oil-based shampoo, using the same concept as oil-based cleanser — Shu Uemura Art of Hair Cleansing Oil Shampoo ($55, shuuemuraartofhair-usa.com and Birchbox.com). It doesn’t strip hair of its oils. I also love, for hair, texturizing sprays, which help make your hair have more movement. I use Oribe Après Beach Wave and Shine Spray ($35, oribe.com). It holds anything in your hair — use heat, a curling iron or scrunch your hair and it holds but is not sticky.

“For skin, Boscia Luminizing Black Mask ($34, bosciaskincare.com and sephora.com) is unbelievable. It literally is black. It dries and you peel it off like a giant pore strip for the whole face. I love doing that.

“In terms of skincare, I use a hybrid beauty cream moisturizer and tinted moisturizer, Boscia B.B. Cream ($38, sephora.com).

“For makeup, I love Benefit’s They’re Real! Mascara ($23, Birchbox.com). It’s amazing. I couldn’t believe that a mascara could actually lengthen that much while not flaking off during the day.”

What’s your makeup routine like?
“I just added a primer to my routine and it’s been phenomenal. I always understood the concept behind the primer — that it keeps your makeup on all day — but it really, actually doesn’t clog your pores at all. I also always use concealer under my eyes and fill in my eyebrows with a little bit of brow pencil. Then mascara and Chap Stick during the day or I might use a lip stain and crème blush.”

Is there one thing you absolutely must do before ever leaving the house? “The brow thing. I think it’s one very important point of reference on your face ... Frame your face, it makes a huge difference.”

Who’s your style icon? “British model and television host Alexa Chung. She isn’t tied stiffly to one style, and it seems like she has fun with it. Alexa easily incorporates vintage, modern and bohemian, without confusing anyone. I also love the way her hair always looks effortless and chic.”

Danny Martindale / Getty Images Europe
BICESTER, ENGLAND - MARCH 21: Alexa Chung hosts the launch of the Annual British Designers Collective at Bicester Village on March 21, 2012 in Bicester, England. (Photo by Danny Martindale/Getty Images)

How do you manage your hair?
“I don’t like to wash my hair every day because I’m in the beauty industry and I know what it does. ... It’s probably counterintuitive that I’m not obsessed with washing. It’s a super-balanced, much happier head of hair. I shower every day, ladies.

“One amazing hair tip I’d love to share with the world: wash just your bangs. If you’re feeling like there’s not time to wash all your hair but maybe you worked out, pull out the top, wash and condition that bunch. It’s amazing, a total refresh.”

Skincare/makeup tip to live by:
“For me, moisture has a lot to do with anti-aging. I’m dedicated to layering moisture. Learn how your skin likes to absorb moisture by building up what works for you. I’ll start with toner then add serum, then moisturizer.”

What’s one beauty trend we likely won’t ever catch you in? “I’m known around the office for my willingness to always try anything twice.”

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