IT'S A LONG STORY

Nia Long Reflects on Her Legacy as a Beauty Icon

For decades, the actor's been a quintessential beauty. Now, as the she enjoys another career first, Long reflects on beauty, longevity, and the makeup look from the '90s that makes her cringe today.
Photo of Nia Long wit dark brown chestlength hair wearing a white dress set on a swirly pink background
Illustration by Clara Hendler

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After 30-plus years in the film industry, during which she's blessed us with generation-defining roles in films like Boys n the Hood, The Best Man, Soul Food, Friday, and several others, it's hard to believe that there is a corner of the industry Nia Long hasn't touched. But as I discovered soon before hopping on a call with the actor in the latter days of September, indeed, there is — or at least there was — a new career first for Long: commercials.

Men's personal-care brand Old Spice tapped the actor for its new campaign, "Men Have Skin Too." In the spot, Long is the therapist to a fictional couple played by the hilarious Gabrielle Dennis and Deon Cole. When I chatted with Long, I expressed my surprise that she'd never been in a commercial before and quickly found out that she shared the same sentiment. "Everybody thought that [I'd been in at least one commercial] — I even thought that," she says with a laugh.

The commercial, called "Letting Go," shows the couple at a therapy session with Long, during which Dennis's character applies the brand's Fiji Hand and Body Lotion next to her tearful partner (Cole), who is about fed up with her using his products. It is, as the kids on the internet say, very relatable content.

I mean, whomst among us hasn't stolen a product from a guy in our lives? Or, if you were anything like the girls I went to high school with, stopped by the drugstore to buy the brand's iconic deodorant, which just smells good on everyone, no matter their gender identity? 

Getty Images

Long chatted with us about the new commercial, the beauty products she's currently using, and reflections on her legacy as a Black beauty icon. 

Allure: This commercial illustrates a fun phenomenon: Women using products marketed towards men. Are there any "men's" products that you borrow from the guys in your life?

Nia Long: We are living in an age where there are no gender lines and I celebrate that. The beauty industry, in general, is catering towards the way we live now and the way people are identifying themselves. My boys use my stuff, I use their stuff. Well, maybe not my perfume — some of my perfume is a little bit more feminine-smelling — but we just use what we like. I've used the Old Spice deodorant over the years. When you run out, you just go to the next medicine cabinet.

Allure: So, I'm just going to say it. You've been an absolute beauty icon for Black women for decades.  I wonder, from being that quintessential '90s beauty to now, how has your perception of beauty changed over the years?

Long: I look back at my '90s lip liner and my thin brows — [there was] too much of everything! I guess the most important thing is less is more. Even though in the '90s, that was hot. That's what everyone was doing.

Allure: That was the look and you ate!

Long: I kind of cringe when I look back at some of those photos, "Oh my gosh, what was I thinking?"

Allure: What? You were the moment! But I guess it's different when it's you looking back on images of yourself.

Long: I was just going to say that. You have to think about how you feel when you look back at your old photos. I'm not looking at it like, "Oh my gosh, I was shooting Boyz n the Hood at this time," or "I was on Fresh Prince at this time," or shooting Friday. Those moments, even though they were public, culture-defining moments, are still my personal ingénue moments. I judge myself — we all do, that's part of it. Sometimes we do it too much. 

Nars Velvet Matte Lip Pencil

$27
Saks

Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer Oil-Free

$47
Saks

Nars Bronzer in Punta Cana

$38
Saks

Chanel Rouge Coco Gloss

$32
Chanel

Right now, my main focus is to age gracefully and lean into whatever the next phase of my life is. [I don't] try to be anything that I was or cultivate or create something that I'm not. I think the beauty of a woman comes through her grace, her communication, her patience — just being and allowing herself to go through, phase by phase as we get older and mature.

Allure: Let's talk a bit about makeup. I love looking through your Instagram page, and I noticed that when you do a beat, it's very natural, clean skin with a lash and some gloss.

Long: My look changes, but I do love the Nars lipstick pencils. I also love Laura Mercier's [Tinted Moisturizer]. [I use] a bronze powder by Nars called Punta Cana — that's my new favorite bronzer. Then, I usually top it all off with a Chanel gloss. I don't [get done up] so much unless someone else is doing my makeup. Then, I let them do whatever they want to do. 

Getty Images

For skin, I love Yon-Ka's Phyto-Contour Eye Cream. That one is amazing. I've been using it for years. I love, love, love Retrouvé, I think they have some of the best skin care in the game. It's hydrating, it works — your skin just feels and looks great. I recently got into using night cream. I never really did that before and now, I actually like it because you wake up feeling really, really good. 

Yon-Ka Paris Skincare Phyto-Contour

$58
Dermstore

Retrouvé Revitalizing Eye Concentrate Skin Hydrator

$415
Retrouvé

Retrouvé Intensive Replenishing Facial Moisturizer

$380
Retrouvé

Retrouvé Baume Ultime Body Oil

I also love Retrouvé's face oil and eye oil. Honestly, all of their products are great. But the body oil is my absolute favorite. Especially now that we're getting into the winter months. The key with oils are, you need to apply them when your skin is wet. If you do it on dry skin, it will just sit on it. I keep my oil in the shower, which is probably a horrible thing for plumbing. 

Allure: In the commercial, you play a therapist, which makes me wonder: What does self-care look like for you?

Long: I had to get comfortable with asking for the things that I need to be successful. When you're filming, shooting a commercial, regardless of what it is, it's OK to ask for what you need and to be firm in those things. I would also say being patient with myself and giving others grace.

Old Spice Fiji Hand and Body Lotion

$7
Target

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