Sarah Huang Benjamin: Facial Massages & Skin Food
Food writer and TV host Sarah Huang Benjamin shares with BEAUBIT on how her heritage influenced her passion for food, how diet impacts skin health, and tips for facial massages with gua sha tools.
You’ve most likely seen Sarah Huang Benjamin (@sarahhuangbenjamin) on Asian Food Network where she shares her recipes. The Singaporean-born cook started her food blog Kitchen Hoarder in 2011, before entering “Food Hero” on a whim and becoming the competition’s first winner. Today, Sarah is a multi-hyphenate who does it all — a cook, food writer, TV host and traveller. She even has time to handle research work for the National Heritage Board.
We hung out with Sarah and her cats in her home as she shares about her heritage, how diet can influence skin health, and some tips for the skincare ritual she loves — facial massages with gua sha tools.
What’s your story? Where did you grow up and what do you do now?
I’m a cook and food writer. I make videos and host my food show. I grew up in Singapore, with a Peranakan-Chinese mother and British father, and the rest of my family is a mix of different cultures.
How did your passion for food begin? How has your family or culture influenced your love for food?
Growing up in a big Peranakan family, food — so much food! — was always at the centre of every gathering. I learnt at a very young age that food has the power to bring people together and bring them joy. I started playing around in the kitchen when I was just 5 or 6, trying out recipes and learning from my grandaunt. As a teenager, I would host dinner parties for my friends, cooking up elaborate Christmas meals. It was only when I went to university in Scotland, and I found myself without all my favourite Asian foods, that I started to cook the dishes that I missed. I started a food blog to document these attempts, and the rest is history!
10 years later, my passion is still making people happy through my creations and recipes.
What’s your approach when it comes to beauty and wellness?
When I cook, I’m pretty agnostic about technique and ingredients — I don’t worry too much about authenticity, I just want it to taste good. Similarly, when I’m looking at beauty and wellness, I just want things to work! I’m pretty obsessive about reading ingredients and doing my research. I need to know the science behind products before buying into them. At the same time, I recognise that so many aspects of beauty and wellness rituals are also about feeling good, so I still want that feeling of self-care when I build my routine.
I also try to stay mindful of using beauty and wellness to appreciate myself, rather than trying to change myself. I’ve had freckles from a young age, and I grew up hating them. I used to seek out skincare products that would get rid of them, but now I accept and love them.
What is a typical skincare routine for you?
My skin, like me, is always thirsty (laughs). A lot of my skincare routine is about hydration. At the end of the day, I do a double cleanse; either with the Bioderma Sensibio H2O Make-Up Removing Solution (SGD19) or the Eve Lom Cleanser (SGD127), which is a rich oil that smells amazing. Then I wash my face with Indie Lee’s Brightening Cleanser (SGD50), or if I need a deeper cleanse, the Drunk Elephant Pekee Bar (SGD40).
The rest of my routine is sort of K-beauty-inspired, along with research-proven ingredients. I always start with an essence. These days, I’m using Origins’ Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins Mega-Mushroom Skin Relief Treatment Lotion (SGD63), which is great for calming slightly aggravated skin. Next, I use Dr. Jart’s Ceramidin Liquid (SGD64), which is a holy grail for me. It just instantly hydrates and moisturizes the skin like no other product I’ve used. If my skin is feeling extra dry, I’ll add the serum from the same range. Most days, I also mix in The Ordinary’s 100% L-Ascorbic Acid Powder (SGD9.90) into these products; it doesn’t oxidise as fast as Vitamin C serums, and you can control the amount you add. Vitamin C really helps my skin stay smooth.
I love facial oils, and I use a variety of them depending on my mood. Right now, I’m using Pai Skincare’s Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil (SGD48) in the day, and Herbivore’s Emerald Deep Moisture Glow Oil (SGD65) at night. When I have time, I’ll also give myself a facial massage using my hands, a gua sha tool or a roller. For daytime, I like The Inkey List’s Peptide Moisturizer (SGD23), and then SPF.
I’m also a fan of masking; I do sheet masks twice a week and at least once a week, I like to use Drunk Elephant’s T.L.C. Sukari Babyfacial (SGD154) to help smooth and brighten my skin.
What are some tips you can impart about DIY facial massages with jade rollers and gua sha tools?
I love using my rollers and gua sha tools for a little facial massage. As a food lover, my face can sometimes get a little puffy from eating salty food and not drinking enough water, and a little rolling or gua sha really helps with that. I have a variety of these tools, and I use them at different times. Jade rollers really help to ‘push’ products into the skin, so I like doing that after a sheet mask. I have a ReFa Carat Roller (SGD280) that I bought in Japan, and I think that really helps with lymphatic drainage, so any time my skin is feeling a little ‘congested’ or blocked, I use that.
But for the most immediate results, nothing beats a gua sha tool. I really started to understand how to use it when I learnt to apply short, frequent strokes rather than long strokes. I concentrate a lot on where muscle tension is and where wrinkles tend to form first, like smile lines. It helps to ‘comb’ out some of that tension and relax the face. And then I move on to the area around my eyes, jawline and cheekbones.
With any facial massage, don’t forget to massage down the neck after, starting from below your ear, down to your shoulder. This helps to move the lymphatic drainage away from the face.
Can we improve our skin with diet?
Absolutely! Our diet can affect our skin so much. Drinking enough water is a good start, but eating a varied diet with lots of different vegetables is just good for you, and it’ll show on your skin. On the other hand, I think people naturally glow when they’re happy, so don’t restrict your diet too much, and enjoy what you eat.
What are some of your favourite superfoods that you think people should incorporate into their diet?
Here in Asia, we eat a lot of rice and noodles, but I think incorporating more wholegrains is really important. Eating more beans, lentils, and other whole grains like buckwheat and oatmeal helps prevent blood sugar spikes, which can lead to inflammation and affect the skin.
I also really like incorporating anti-inflammatory ingredients like ginger and turmeric, which is easy in Asian food. Another superfood that I’m a fan of is fermented foods, like miso, kimchi, yoghurt, kombucha and other things. They add so much flavour to your cooking, but when prepared properly, they can help to maintain healthy gut flora, which research is now suggesting can affect so many aspects of our lives, from our skin to our mental health.
For people with dry skin like me, it’s important to eat enough fat as well. Although fat was demonised for many years, we now know that healthy sources of fat are crucial to a balanced diet. Things like fish, avocado and nuts are all great.
What are some easy ways to become a healthier eater?
The easiest way to eat healthily is to eat delicious food. If you try a diet that doesn’t taste good or make you happy, then you’re not going to stick to it. Think about flavour first and foremost, and you’ll just be eating well without focusing on ‘dieting’. If you want to eat more fish, think about what kind of flavours you like. When we eat food that tastes good and is good for us, that’s the sweet spot we should all try to be at.
Sarah’s Beauty Picks
Bioderma Sensibio H2O Make-Up Removing Solution, SGD19
Eve Lom Cleanser, SGD127
Indie Lee Brightening Cleanser, SGD50
Drunk Elephant Pekee Bar, SGD40
Origins Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins Mega-Mushroom Skin Relief Treatment Lotion, SGD63
Iope Bio Essence, SGD53.30
Fresh Black Tea Kombucha Facial Treatment Essence, SGD108
Dr. Jart Ceramidin Liquid, SGD64
The Ordinary 100% L-Ascorbic Acid Powder, SGD9.90
Pai Skincare Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil, SGD48
Herbivore Emerald Deep Moisture Glow Oil, SGD65
The Inkey List Peptide Moisturizer, SGD23
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