She's so Cult

She’s So Cult: Sali Hughes

The very definition of a beauty expert, Sali Hughes is a (*takes deep breath*) journalist, host, broadcaster, author and the co-founder of {Beauty Banks} – a charity that supplies hygiene products to those in need. Having written beauty content for several publications such as Grazia, Elle, The Guardian, Stylist, Cosmopolitan and more, it’s clear that she knows a thing or two when it comes to what’s ‘what’ in the beauty world. From burgeoning trends to industry-adored classics, you can rely on Hughes to recommend only the very best in the business. 

Alongside giving us the low-down of the {top 30 Cult Beauty buys} that are hot on her wishlist right now, later this month she’ll join us for a live online panel talk – the {Skin Care Sessions} – to discuss what’s in store for sustainability in the beauty world. To celebrate joining forces with this powerhouse expert, we *virtually* sat down with Hughes to get the gossip…

{Cult Beauty} Hi Sali, it’s so lovely to be working with you and Jo Jones to support Beauty Banks. To start off, can you tell us a little bit about your career journey and how you came about settling on a career in beauty journalism?

{Sali Hughes} I’m lucky as I never really settled on Beauty. I’ve carried on writing and broadcasting about many other things alongside it, which seems fitting, since it’s how I’ve always viewed beauty fans – multi-layered women and men who are engaged in all manner of things, both high and low brow, frivolous and serious, superficial and deep, who just happen to find taking care of their appearance a joy. It’s a real pleasure to be able to write for them. I started out as an assistant make up artist in the 1990s, but had neither the talent nor the desire to make it a career. It was simply a means to an end until I could fulfil my dream of being a writer. I did heaps of work experience until I got my break, working on a men’s magazine. I convinced the editor to let me start a fashion news and grooming section and he just sort of shrugged, so I did. My fragrance writing there won an award in around 2000 and at the ceremony, the editors of women’s glossies asked me if I’d like to write for them. From that point on, I’ve never been out of work and count myself extremely lucky to be paid for what I love, writing interviews and columns for Elle, Grazia, Vogue, The Telegraph, The Observer, Red and dozens more. My weekly beauty column came about because I’d written extensively about beauty and style over the years and was already a regular freelancer for the paper. I had been critical of the way the magazine covered beauty – as a patronising afterthought – and the editor asked me what I’d do instead, as everything was about to change. I wrote six columns and they hired me. It’s been ten years now, and three books later.

{CB} So, how and why did you set up Beauty Banks with Jo Jones?

{SH} We’d become frustrated and despondent about what was happening in our country and national politics. We decided that if we just kept moaning and didn’t start doing, we’d lose our minds. This coincided with my filming a current affairs report in a Cardiff homeless shelter and seeing for myself how appallingly short they were of essential {hygiene supplies}. I was horrified that a grown woman might have to ask a staff member for a tampon or towel, or that a man might have to borrow a razor for a job interview. The staff were bringing supplies from home and doing their very best with what little they had. It’s totally unacceptable that anyone in this country should be too poor to stay clean. It’s a horrible way to feel. Jo and I knew the beauty industry and community were in a position to help, and decided to galvanise them into action. It’s been almost three years and the Beauty Banks journey has been mind-blowing, really. It’s been a privilege and a huge learning curve. The difference our partnership with Cult Beauty has made is indescribably huge, really.

{CB} Can you describe your skin in three words?

{SH} Dry, dehydrated, clear.

{CB} And what’s your go-to everyday make up look?

{SH} It totally depends on whether I’m writing at home, filming videos, or in London for meetings. If I’m just writing, I’ll generally wear nothing – just good {skin care} and lip balm, maybe a tinted moisturiser and some under eye concealer and bronzer if I’m nipping out. For videos and meetings, I will generally wear lots of new releases I’m testing – a tinted moisturiser or proper foundation, corrector, concealer, light bronzer, blusher, smoky brown eyeshadows, liner, mascara, lipliner and lipstick – the works, basically. Though if I’m wearing red lipstick, I will go super light on the eyes, which is a great way to look very ‘done’ in a hurry. My holiday look is always the same – self tan, tinted moisturiser, bronzer, black mascara and a bright orange-red lip. It’s timeless.

{CB} We’re all besotted by a certain make up category that we buy more and more of even though we already own 3+ (more like 25+!). Which category is your Achilles Heel?

{SH} Lipstick, without question. I’m on the perpetual quest for the ultimate nude and the most perfect red, and wherever I go, I always carry a version of both, complete with lip liner pencils, so I’m prepared for anything. It’s not at all unusual for me to have eight or more lip products in any given handbag. Never, ever gloss though – give me the big girl’s stuff.

{CB} Do you have a certain product you stock-up on so you’re never without it?

{SH} I have gallons of rich body creams and lotions – to run out is unthinkable. I also have dozens of perfumes I don’t technically need, but I like to make sure I have exactly the right fragrance for every mood, outfit and occasion. Oh, and white terry cotton flannels. I’ve been hot cloth cleansing for over 30 years, so I have literally hundreds folded up in my towel cupboard.

{CB} And if we were to have access to your handbag for a rummage, which beauty item(s) are we guaranteed to find?

{SH} Most things – I can always do a full face on the go. But however small the bag, you will always, always find a Nars Kabuki Powder Brush, a powder compact and a purse spray of perfume – usually by {Frederic Malle}.

{CB} Do you have any bedside beauty and wellness essentials?

{SH} I always keep a {micellar water} and washable cotton pads next to my bed, in case I come in extremely late from work or an event and need to get my make up off fast. Wrapped around the bottle are about a dozen {Slip} silk hair ties, as I hate not being able to quickly scrape back my hair. I have Biossance lip balm, some vitamin D capsules and some prescription Tretinoin. And there is always, always a rich body lotion. We all play fast and loose with the term “can’t live without”, but truly, without a regular application of body moisturiser, I’m extremely uncomfortable. I have it near me at all times.

{CB} Which pearl of beauty wisdom would you love to tell your younger self? 

{SH} Please, Sali, when you attend your best friend Rachel’s 16th birthday camping weekend on The Gower Peninsula, do not sit on the boiling hot beach for 10 hours in nothing but your bra and knickers, but do wear plenty of {SPF} 50 and reapply regularly. It will save you from the worst sunburn of your life, and many, many pigmentation issues later on.

{CB} If you could go on a guilt- and budget-free Cult Beauty haul, what would end up in your basket?

{SH} I’m so lucky to get sent all new beauty launches, so I don’t want for much. But my weakness is bath products – I like a long soak in something luxurious. I’d stock up on Susanne Kaufman {Oil Bath For The Senses}, Laura Mercier {Honey Bath}, Aesop {Coriander Seed Body Cleanser} and Elemis Milk Bath. And plenty of Bella Freud, Overose and Cire Trudon candles to light while I lie back and listen to Desert Island Discs until wrinkly! I’d also buy several identical sets of short-handled essential brushes from Zoeva, to save me moving them from handbag to handbag, and a Theragun massager for everyone I love. I bought mine from Cult Beauty and it is life-changing.

{CB} Can you share a beauty myth that really needs to be debunked?

{SH} There is nothing inherently bad about parabens. They are extremely useful in keeping your products fresh and effective and consequently, your skin calm and healthy. They are the most extensively tested preservatives in the world and meet the highest standards of safety. I believe in science, so I actively want parabens in many of my products. I could scream at how ill-informed the clean beauty movement often is.

{CB} And a beauty fact people need to know?

{SH} Hyaluronic acid can be used with anything, in anything, as often and as liberally as you like. Have it in your cleanser, serum, moisturiser, mist, primer, foundation and anything else, and mix it with any active ingredient you want. The word “acid” throws people, but truly, you can go as wild as you like with hyaluronic and your skin will only thank you for it.

{CB} What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

{SH} When I was a very young journalist, someone said “You will work with everyone again” and it’s so true. I’ve never got involved in feuds, tantrums or disputes in the moment, because I know I will encounter everyone again in the future and it’s easier if they’re onside – there are people who commission me now who started out as my work experience people or assistants. Whenever in my life I haven’t been nice, it’s ultimately bitten me on the bottom and I’ve regretted it. Being nice isn’t just the right thing – it’s the smart thing.

The best beauty advice I’ve had in modern times is from my Beauty Banks partner, Jo Jones, who told me she always slathers on facial self tan before bed when tipsy. That way, even when she wakes up feeling absolutely terrible, she has perky, glowy skin. She’s not wrong.

{CB} Is there a certain skin care ingredient we need to be trying in 2021? Or a timeless classic that should be in everyone’s routine?

{SH} I’m like a broken record on this, but: Glycerin. The old ingredients have endured for a reason – they work. Tried, tested and true for centuries, glycerin is a fantastic humectant for dehydrated skins, gives products a lovely feel and doesn’t irritate or inflame the skin. It’s a brilliant traditional ingredient that I sincerely hope – like squalane before it – is on the verge of a major beauty comeback moment.

{CB} How will you be practising self-care this January?

{SH} Lots of bathing – the bathroom is my sanctuary. Door locked, candles lit, podcast on, bubbles up to my chin. For the best part of an hour, I’m not haring around, stressing about work deadlines, charity deliveries, teenagers’ coursework and how much the new windows are costing. It’s my time and very important to me. I also tend to focus on my skin in January. The sugarfest of Christmas takes its toll, and January normally gives me some time and space to get it back on track, with minimal makeup and lots of extra hydration.

{CB} As face coverings become a standard everyday essential and maskne continues to rise, what products would you recommend adding to your routine to target and treat maskne?

{SH} I would strongly recommend a silk face covering wherever practical – research shows that this is helpful in the prevention of maskne. In terms of skin care, it’s important to keep the lower third of your face as clean as possible, exfoliating daily with a beta hydroxy acid like Paula’s Choice {2% BHA lotion}. Use a light, gel moisturiser by day and consider using a nightly retinol if your skin isn’t too sensitive. I would also recommend using a facial self tan like Tan Luxe {Super Glow} nightly – that way you can skip foundation by day, keeping your chin clear and your mask clean.

{CB} Finally, what does ‘cult’ mean to you?

{SH} For me, it’s an essential and vast professional resource, allowing me to access fresh brands, exciting new products and to identify key themes and beauty trends. I visit the site several times a week. But even if I didn’t do this for a living, I just know I’d be there constantly. My life-long love of beauty is an obsession, really – if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be able to do my job.


Emmie Thornhill

Emmie Thornhill

Deputy Content Editor

Emmie is Cult Beauty’s Deputy Content Editor. Her love of skin care began in primary school when she first learned the term “hormonal acne” and has been in a love-hate relationship with tea tree oil ever since. She lives in East London – where you can normally find her baking, tending to her plant jungle or planning her next tattoo or hair cut/colour appointment – and is known to start DMCs with you about your birth chart placements, the importance of wearing SPF every day and the difference between a vagina and vulva.