April 15th 2021
Alicia Burke: "Growing up, you weren't beautiful if you didn't straighten your hair"
February 14th 2020 / 0 comment
Aged 25, the model and face of Tom Ford Beauty took the bold step of embracing her natural hair and has never felt more beautiful. She explains why she stepped away from restrictive beauty norms - and gives us a peek inside her bathroom cabinet
Jamaican model Alicia Burke had plans to become a midwife until 2016 when age 21 she won a Caribbean modelling competition; less than a year later she found herself walking the world’s most prestigious runways from Bottega Veneta to Miu Miu and Armani. With her flawless skin and almond eyes, she’s been the beauty face of many prestigious brands such as Tom Ford Beauty, Laura Mercier and Bobbi Brown, so it's perhaps surprising to discover that for many years she wasn't confident in her own beauty - because of her natural 'nappy' hair, as she called it. "I would look in the mirror and wonder why I had to be born with such a nappy hair,' she says.
Now 25, she divides her time between New York and Jamaica, where she grew up raised by her grandmother in a house full of boys. “All I knew growing up was church, sports, dancing and beatboxing - all the things that the boys would do," she tells us. "I grew up with my cousins, who were all boys, so I didn’t know anything about makeup, skincare and or haircare.
Now I'm 25 and I have never felt as beautiful as I do rocking my natural look and my natural hair
"The only beauty ritual I had was when my grandma would use aloe vera to soften my hair. She would cut [the leaf] from our backyard and peel it so she could get the gel from the middle and beat it in a bowl until it was no longer solid, then she would rub it all over my hair and cover it with a plastic bag for at least 30 minutes, then wash it - she would do this twice a month to keep my hair smooth and shiny.
"I’d been relaxing my hair since I was 12 years old, but last October I decided that it was time to cut it all off and start over. I didn't appreciate my natural look when I was growing up because it was seen as ugly if your hair wasn't straight; you weren't beautiful if you didn’t have straight hair and I wanted to be beautiful.' Her hair ruined her confidence for many years. 'I wanted to feel like I was part of something and that was the reason for me relaxing my hair. Now I'm 25 and I have never felt as beautiful as I do rocking my natural look and my natural hair."
The minute she chopped it off she realised for the first time in 24 years "that I was a dope ass queen with my natural hair."
Her first foray into makeup came at school. "I first discovered makeup at 13 when a new girl entered my class at school; I used to stare at her because she was so beautiful – we became friends and she bought me my first makeup products; powder and lipgloss," she says.
Alicia has gravitated towards natural, organic products. “The more natural and organic, the better. I try to show my natural skin as much as possible even if it means that I have to go a day or two without makeup if I’m having breakouts."
“With my growth as an individual, my approach to beauty has changed drastically. I focus more on making sure that I feel the most beautiful for myself as opposed to appeasing others and trying to contort myself into beauty standards."
“I believe that the beauty industry is making great strides to be more inclusive, but we still have a long way to go. Fenty is one of the brands that is making a change in the beauty industry. Her makeup line is catering for a wide range of darker skin types, but I'd like to see more black makeup artists and hairstylists in the beauty industry as well as more people being educated on how to do girls of colour's makeup and hair."
As the face of some of the world's highest-profile brands, you might expect Alicia to have a makeup bag brimming with products, but her kit is surprisingly pared-back and functional.
Image: Bobbi Brown
Alicia Burke's beauty and wellness must-haves
"This is my all-time favourite makeup product. You can just put it on without anything else and your skin looks amazing. Most of the time it's all I use, along with a bit of Fenty's Gloss Bomb Universal Lip Luminizer in Fu$$y, and some Maybelline's Colossal Go Extreme Volume Waterproof Mascara."
"I use the Pearlessence Coconut Balancing Facial oil on my face before bed. I also add organic coconut oil to my hair as a mask once a month, applying it from the root to the tip."
Bioderma Sensibio H2O - Micelle Solution, from £5.20
"I mainly use this micellar water as my makeup remover as it gets rid of everything, even water-resistant makeup. It also helps prevent breakouts - my skin is really sensitive when it comes to certain products."
"Whenever I’m at home in Jamaica I stock up on AriLabs. I came across the brand two years ago when my skin was breaking out and nothing seemed to work. A friend introduced me to a dermatologist who recommended the range. It’s a Jamaican brand that’s natural and affordable and it’s formulated especially for ethnic skin. When I’m travelling and can’t get hold of it I love Cetaphil Moisturising Cream instead."
"I like this because it deep cleans pores to dissolve dirt, oil, and makeup. I use it every other day or if I've had a long day at work and my face is caked up with makeup. I wash my face then exfoliate to get rid of the remaining bacteria or makeup."
"I mainly use this when I go on planes and before bed after my moisturiser. I have really dry skin so my face always gets extra dry when I'm flying. To give it that glow I use this spray because I like the refreshing feel it gives."
"I use this eye cream before bed; it helps with my under-eye bag when I don't get enough sleep."
"These are great for refreshing my face before work and last thing before bed."
Giorgio Armani Si, £52
"My ex-boyfriend was the first person to buy me this and since then I have been using it because I fell in love with the way it smells. It's powdery and feminine, with a sexy edge too."
Dove Body Wash, £1.99
"I love the smell and the smooth feeling this product leaves after my bath. I shower in the morning before anything else and if I've had a long day I have a bath instead of the shower when I get home with essential oils, candles and my Dove Caring Bath Fine Silk. It's my way of relaxing at the end of the day."
"My hair is very thick and dry so when I started wearing it natural again last year it was a struggle because I didn’t know which product to use for it to feel soft. A friend introduced me to these products and I've never looked back - they leave my hair smelling good, looking healthy and feeling soft."
"I used this hair moisturiser every day. I apply it to my hair by taking out a small amount and placing in the palm of my hand, rubbing it together and then applying all over my hair from root to end or just massaging it in."
Alicia is represented by Models 1
Lead image courtesy of Pulse Model Management