This story first appeared on the Strategist UK, our Brit-specific shopping-recommendation site. Since I May Destroy You is also available here — described by our colleagues at Vulture as “sublimely unsettling” — we’re publishing this for our readers on this side of the pond.
When it comes to insider knowledge, someone like Bethany Swan — a makeup artist who has worked in film and TV, as well as on music videos for M.I.A. and Emeli Sandé — is hard to top. Most recently, she was the hair and makeup designer for Michaela Coel’s new show I May Destroy You, which follows writer Arabella (Coel) as she struggles to piece together her memory of a night out after her drink was spiked. Swan, who has been a hair and makeup designer for five years but has been in the industry for 12, recently told us about the essential products she had with her at all times. They include the toner that doubles as “fake sweat,” the all-natural lace-wig tint that’s used by the cast, and the hair detangler that she bought in bulk after seeing it on Instagram. I May Destroy You is available now on HBO.
Toner basically puts the pH balance back into the skin, and neutralizes the skin after we’ve taken all the makeup off (which can cause us to lose essential oils). But this is actually really great for something I call “club residue.” During the show there are quite a few club scenes, and Michaela’s co-director, Sam, told me he needed the actors to look sweatier, like they’d been in the club for several hours. So we used this toner, because it’s like a mist, and it smells lovely, too, so the actors would pass this around and have a spray between scenes, and it’s nice and hydrating throughout the day.
The key with Afro hair is moisture and hydration, and that’s where oils and leave-in conditioners really help. Raw Jamaican castor oil is what we use. We actually got ours made especially for us by Melissa van Tongeren, a makeup artist who worked on No Time to Die and Hamilton in the West End, and she makes these oils herself. She knows the specific castor oil farms in Jamaica, so she sources the oil directly. It’s as pure as it can be. She mixes it with tea tree, peppermint, and rosemary, so it’s very good for the scalp — it’s hydrating, and it has antibacterial properties as well. Generally, raw castor oil is a lovely thing to have in our kit for Afro hair. If someone had braids in or something, which might lead to sensitivity in the scalp, we would put a little bit through the hair, mixing it with water. A lot of the cast loved the smell.
This is the fairy godmother of all hand sanitizers. It’s more commonly seen on makeup sites rather than in supermarkets, but it contains essential oils like lavender and eucalyptus, and it comes in a spray form so you don’t overapply too much. It contains ethanol alcohol, rather than having a chemical base, so it’s a natural antiseptic. If you get a spot, you can put a dab of this on the surface and it will dry it out and knock the redness back a little bit. We also use it with our special-effects kits, as things like gashes or bruises are made with alcohol-activated paints. The spray nozzle also means these are very useful to clean yourself with at a music festival if you can’t get to a shower. Hand sanitizer has been in demand during lockdown, but makeup artists have always used them, it’s always been a huge priority to be hygienic on sets.
I first got these four years ago when I went to Tokyo. The store has the most incredible service, where staff follow you around with a tray and anything that you pick up, they’ll put it down and they tell you all about it. With makeup brushes, it’s all about the fibers that you use. Traditionally animal hairs were used, but they do a lot of synthetic fibers now that are able to replicate animal hair. They’re really beautiful; they have short handles, which I like, and they’re perfectly balanced, which is important, because like a hairdresser’s scissors, your brush needs to be an extension of your hand. They’re expensive, but this is my go-to and it’s worth investing in.
You can use this on any hair type as a leave-in conditioner, but it’s really an Afro hair product. It doesn’t leave residue, and it’s been popular with our guys on set that had dreads. You hydrate the hair with water, put some of this in, and then you wrap the hair in either a do-rag or a towel and just let it soak in. Lots of products can be really heavily scented due to the ingredients but this actually smells calm — I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s not a shock on the senses.
I actually bought this brush after getting a targeted advert on Instagram, and it was so good I ended up buying six for the rest of the team. It consists of about seven or eight wide-tooth combs in one brush, but they’re splayed out. It looks a bit like a Tangle Teezer, but it doesn’t cause any tension in the hair. So we use it on the cast all the time, and people always comment on how it doesn’t pull up at all. Everyone has one now — we even use it on the wigs.
A lot of girls with Afro hair will have little baby hairs, and we use this on the edges to tidy them. I used to actually always use a toothbrush because it’s practically the same thing. But I also saw this on Instagram and thought I may as well give it a try, and it’s actually a great product. It has a finer end, too. We used this a lot on Lauren-Joy Williams, who played young Terry in a flashback episode of the show, because we wanted Terry to have her perfect edges rounded, which was a very early-2000s look.
This is one of the original brands of micellar waters, from France. When I go there to visit my aunt, I stock up on this stuff because it’s a lot cheaper. It’s so mild it’s almost like water, and it’s mostly fragrance-free, so it’s very calming on the skin. Cast members might change makeup “looks” during filming depending on schedules, and when you’re getting a lot of different eye makeup or different lips applied during the day, it can be harsh on the skin. So we always recommend this.
We were using lace-based wigs, where the hair is knotted onto a lace so that it looks more like natural hair. The lace is called “translucent,” but it isn’t really, as it’s for lighter skin. So to match the lace to the individual character’s skin tone we used this lace tint, which is super-helpful, because I was using some wigs from my existing stock. You’re basically making sure the lace around the hairline is completely invisible. This is a black-owned business, which we love to support. The dyes are plant-based and feature an antibacterial property which is so important for good scalp care, because it can get warm under there.
The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.