Adventure has always been a part of Kendall Bitonte's life. She has childhood memories of cornfields and open plains in Kansas and college stories of time spent in Boston and New York. After she graduated, she moved to London for one year, and then took off to China where she's spent the last three. You would think that the intricacies of travel would make her self-care routine just as detailed, but that isn't the case! Learn how Kendall's straightforward approach to makeup is in response to her life in China — and what she's learned about beauty from living abroad.
What's your daily makeup routine?
My routine is minimalistic with a capital M. Living in Beijing is harsh on your skin — the air is dry and the quality is bad, with high level of pollutants and toxic particles. Given this, I'm hesitant to bombard my skin with any creams or powders. If I wear makeup at all, I'll only put on light eye makeup (namely, brown eyeliner), fill in my brows with a brow pencil and apply a few coats of Maybelline The Falsies Volum' Express Mascara in Blackest Black. I also try to have a Chapstick at the ready.
Although my daily routine is beyond basic, I enjoy spending a little more time to primp before I go out. I usually do a bronze smokey eye, mascara and lipstick. In fact, during college, I'd often do my friends' makeup as well. Recently, I did the makeup for the entire bridal party, minus the bride, of my best friend's wedding. A brown palette with a light metallic sheen seems to work on nearly everyone and doesn't overshadow natural coloring and beauty.
You moved from Boston to London to Shanghai and then to Beijing in the last four years. How has living in different cities influenced your beauty routine?
Moving frequently and living abroad has forced me to know what works best for my skin. The move to London was rough on the wallet, and so I became more aware of what was necessary on a daily basis to limit my shopping trips. Moving to China, on the other hand, has required me to know exactly what I need in a product because I need to translate ingredient lists and search through racks of bottles and creams! Beyond this, I've come to enjoy beauty in all of its diversity — I especially enjoy learning from friends about the local "look," or their beliefs about beauty.
What skin care products do you swear by?
It's difficult to swear by any products, because you might not find them while abroad. Since the environment is how it is in China, and just for my mental health, I do swear by washing my face twice a day with an oil-control scrub. I prefer Neutrogena, but St. Ives
What's different about shopping for beauty and skin care products while living in China versus America?
Beyond the language barrier, the first thing I noticed is that there's no self tanner, bronzer, etc. in the stores. In China, the commercialized notion of ideal skin is as white as possible — porcelain-like is really the goal. I have, even after double checking, mistakenly bought Dove "whitening" body soap.
Friends and colleagues will also swear by skin care masks, which they will wear nightly or weekly. The masks have really awesome packaging that's often loaded with cartoons and animals, and the masks themselves will (supposedly) clean, brighten, whiten and reduce lines. On a daily basis, sunscreen and sun protection ranging from umbrellas to UV-protecting sleeves are all the rage.
The other big beauty trend is creating doll-like eyes. Women will wear fake lashes, tattoo and/or fill in their brows and wear dark brown colored contacts (even without a prescription) to make their eyes appear bigger and rounder. But of course, this generalization is gathered from my personal experience in Beijing and Shanghai. I really enjoy seeing more alternative hairstyles emerging, too. In Beijing, girls are trying out platinum, red and even rainbow tones like pink and blue — it looks really cool.
Are there beauty products you've found in Beijing that rival anything else you've used in the U.S. or U.K.?
I can't really say that I have! Given my very minimal makeup routine, I don't need to shop much. When I'm visiting family in the US, I'll buy several tubes of Maybelline The Falsies Volum' Express Mascara in Blackest Black.
One thing I really want to try is thanaka from Myanmar. Made from bark, thanaka is a yellow paste that Burmese people will smear on their faces, arms and necks for sun protection and cooling. Even though I've been to Myanmar for work several times, I've yet to try it — next time I definitely will!
What beauty tricks have you learned from living in China?
The main beauty trick I've picked up from China is that your overall health is connected to your food, along the lines of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Following TCM, Chinese people have a particular time for eating nearly any food to maximize its health benefits. Also, there's a strong emphasis on going for a short walk or even doing some gentle dancing after every meal! While I do not follow TCM, I do think that the connection between what we eat, how we look and how we feel is important. I also think that this line of thought is devastatingly underemphasized in the Western parts of the world. For instance, if I eat junk or have a weekend involving too many drinks, my body and mind will show it. But Chinese culture has emphasized this connection.
Now that you've lived in very different places, how would you describe what it means to be beautiful?
I've learned two things about beauty. First, you are beautiful when you fully accept yourself and where you are in the moment. Second, there really is no beauty standard. The more we embrace variety in our ideals of beauty, the more beauty there will be in the world.
When do you feel the most beautiful?
I've found that it's easier for me to feel beautiful in moments of strength, success and appreciation. I feel all glow-y in moments when I say what I believe, finish a tough workout, create something really great at work, make others feel good and feel that same love from others. I'm working at embracing my own definition of beauty, and feeling more beautiful in the not-so-pretty moments.
To re-center and feel beautiful, I'll either have a solo dance party in my apartment, schedule a coffee date with a good friend, watch a really good television show or explore Beijing with my boyfriend, and of course, call my family.
What daily habit have you carried with you throughout your travels?
I drink a lot of water. When I travel to places where tap water is not safe, I'll carry around several water bottles (usually of the largest size to reduce plastic waste). I also keep to a fitness schedule as much as possible. Yoga is a necessity but so are HIIT workouts like Insanity. For mental health, I'll have a long novel on reserve and keep in touch with family and friends — maintaining solid connections to my core people and self-care keeps the adventuring in balance.
What recommendations would you give to a woman who wants to live abroad?
Do it! You don't need to have it all figured out, just go. If you're not sure about being an ex-pat for the long-term, just sign up for a few months in a satellite office or take an extended leave. If nothing else, you'll return home with a deeper perspective and awesome pictures.
Be sure to follow Kendall on Instagram to keep up with her travels, and check back next week for the latest installment of 52 Faces, a weekly series that spotlights a real woman's beauty routine. Last week, Yelp sales manager Kristen Maher shared the best product for blemish-free skin, divulged her secret weapon hair styling tool and revealed the identity of her doppelgänger beauty icon.