INTERVIEW: VAL MONROE
O MAGAZINE’S BEAUTY DIRECTOR
Welcome to #CharlotteTalksTo, where we feature amazing women out there shaking things up and remaining fabulous in the process. How do they do it? Behind every beautiful and brilliant woman are a few secrets that help them remain “timeless.”
A native New Yorker, Valerie (Val) Monroe has been at the helm of the beauty department of O, The Oprah Magazine for nearly 15 years. As Beauty Director, she oversees a small editorial team and produces all beauty and skincare coverage for this firmly established, wildly popular Hearst title.
She has been an editor or writer at a number of well-known titles, including SELF and Entertainment Weekly. Monroe is the author of a well-received book on raising children in cities across America, as well as a very moving and inspiring memoir, In The Weather of The Heart, which chronicles a tough period in her marriage. Val is relatable, down-to-earth, and as poised a professional as you will ever meet.
She spoke to Charlotte’s Book about her skincare and health rituals, the importance of going with what works, and how she strikes a balance between a busy editorial career and self-care (yes, she does reply to reader comments and questions), plus what it’s really like being the public face of Oprah’s magazine.
ON BREAKFAST AND NO MORNING MEETINGS:
For breakfast I usually have a parfait of greek yogurt, high-protein cereal, and blueberries. I used to drink a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice every morning, which I really loved, but my doctor told me I was basically mainlining pure sugar, so now I drink two glasses of H2O instead. I have two or three espressos. (Someone gave me a Nespresso machine that changed my life.) Then I hit the gym in my building for a half-hour on the treadmill or the elliptical and a little light weight training. I don’t do business breakfasts, ever; I’d rather work out.
ON PRODUCTS, AND THE PROCESS OF ELIMINATION:
I have to say, if a product is imprisoned in plastic in such a way that I can’t get it out without a sharp object, I’m over it. I won’t even look at it. Otherwise (meaning most things) like every other beauty editor I try it, smell it, read the ingredients list with a magnifying glass. Whether a product makes it onto the pages of O, The Oprah Magazine depends on whether we in the beauty department like it and whether we believe our readers will—because in our minds, the reader always comes first. At O, we’re focused on both dermatologist/in-office skincare and on products because our readers are interested in both. We feature a range of products typically because we want everything to be available to as wide a readership as possible. So in all categories—skincare, hair care, and cosmetics—we feature both luxury and mass.
ON HER SKINCARE ROUTINE:
I have a pretty inflexible skincare regimen. For the past fourteen years I’ve faithfully used a prescription retinoid of some kind (generic brand, because insurance doesn’t cover the cost of a prescription retinoid if you’re out of your 20’s, and the brand names are wildly expensive!). So at night I use the retinoid and an eye cream. At the moment I’m loving Kinara Flawless Renewal Eye Cream, but I jump around the brands depending on what’s in my at-home beauty closet. I’m pretty much drugstore all the way for day. I swipe an exfoliating pad over my face (either Cane + Austin Retexturizing Treatment Pads or June Jacobs Intensive Age-Defying Peel Pads) before I wash (I use Olay Foaming Face Wash) and follow that with Neutrogena Healthy Defense Daily Moisturizer with SPF 30. I also like Laura Mercier Illuminating Tinted Moisturizer SPF 20. If I’m at the beach, or biking, I’ll switch my regular moisturizer out for an SPF 50. I’m diligent about sunscreen. Last month I went for a facial at New York Dermatology, where David Colbert, MD and his colleague Jessica Weiser, MD encouraged me to have a biopsy on an almost invisible red dot on my face; it turned out to be basal cell skin cancer, so I had it removed (thank you Deborah Sarnoff, MD and Robert Gotkin, MD!). I’ve been super careful for the past 20 years, but I wasn’t as a teen. Be sure to get your yearly skin cancer check!
ON STAYING GROUNDED:
I’ve always felt that when I’m in public, professionally, Oprah is peeking over my shoulder (and I encourage new hires to feel the same). So I do feel an added responsibility as a representative of one of the most public figures in the world to be my absolute best self when I’m in the market or at events. At certain times of the year we have to do a lot of running around town, but I think it’s the most privileged kind of hauling ass—I mean, industry affairs are often in lovely venues (a recent event at Leonard and Judy Lauder’s art-filled Fifth Avenue apartment comes to mind) and we’re usually given a lift, so, come on, how tough is that?
ON HER CAREER PATH:
Before becoming beauty director at O, I was a features editor and writer and never wanted to be a beauty editor; the thought never entered my mind. In fact, as a features editor, I would’ve told you beauty editors weren’t the sharpest tools in the shed. Obviously, I’m going to tell you now that I was wrong. Not only are many of my colleagues smart, but they’re gorgeous and glamorous. I had been writing a lot for the brilliant editor Amy Gross when she was at Mirabella, and when she became EIC of O, The Oprah Magazine, she asked if I might be interested in the beauty director position. I didn’t think I wanted a full time job (I had a robust freelance writing career) but I really wanted to work with Amy and her editorial team. So I accepted. It was the best decision of my career. I soon realized the beauty edit work I was doing was similar to features work—except that as a beauty editor, there was a constant stream of handsomely wrapped lucre delivered to me all day long. Like, who knew?
ON HER BEST SKINCARE ADVICE:
Whenever readers ask about a skincare routine I tell them it’s very, very simple: Gentle, non-soap cleanser, prescription retinoid, vitamin C serum, and a moisturizer containing peptides and/or antioxidants and sunscreen. That’s it. At The Oprah Magazine, we’ve always encouraged readers to focus on what makes them joyful, to celebrate their assets, and, happily, that doesn’t require a lot of money.
ON TREATING HERSELF:
My big holiday gift (to myself) is a trip to Tokyo to visit my son and daughter-in-law. I’ve been several times, but not since they moved there permanently two years ago. We’ll be taking a trip to an onsen (hot spring resort) for New Year’s with my daughter-in-law’s family (who I love) so I’m looking forward to that, as I’ve only been to an onsen once.
ON HER HOLIDAY WISHLIST:
You know, I really hate to sound like a Pollyanna, but I have everything I could possibly want. My piano—one of those used studio instruments from Carnegie Hall—is kind of a lemon, so if Santa happened to have a fine upright available, that would be nice.
– As told to Dawn Kissi for Charlotte’s Book. Read more #CharlotteTalksTo interviews.
Val Monroe photographed by Roderick Angle at the Hearst Tower in New York City on October 7, 2015. Roderick is a fashion, portrait and lifestyle photographer and videographer. You can follow Roderick’s Instagram feed, About Themselves, where he profiles interesting and creative individuals.