Vanessa Hudgens: “I’m Doing Everything I Can to Let People Know I’m Filipino”

I’m holding up a coffee mug shaped like a haunted house and a light-up crystal ball to Vanessa Hudgens over our video call. Showing off my latest Halloween finds to the actor, singer, and beauty icon wasn’t something I saw in my own 2023 crystal ball, but it only felt natural. Like true Filipinos, both Hudgens and I love the “Ber Months,” or the time of the year when all of the months end with ‘ber. But while the Philippines starts celebrating Christmas as early as September, Hudgens, like me, has been readying herself for fall and the spooky season. “I started decorating at the end of August and got out all of the fall scented candles,” she says. “Obviously, Halloween movies come on constantly. And then the wardrobe changes. I literally got dressed this morning, and was like, ‘It’s time to start wearing all black. It’s time. I just love the whole energy of the season, the sights, the sounds, and the smells. Oh, and then my Halloween playlist goes on, which is pretty aggressive techno.”

Aside from the ghosts, goblins, and aggressively techno playlist, fall also brings a new product launch for Hudgens and KNOW Beauty, the personalized skin-care brand she initially co-founded in 2021 with singer Madison Beer. The company relied on complex DNA testing to recommend routines to customers, but that never really took off, so it scrapped the concept and rebooted this past March, with Beer taking a step back. Now, with Hudgens at the helm, the brand’s focus is still on skin, and specifically face masks. For the brand-new Arctic Gold Vitamin C Mask, Hudgens was inspired after using a “random vitamin C sheet mask” which led to her makeup artist commenting on how beautifully her skin looked and held up her glam. “Vitamin C is incredible at obviously reducing pigmentation, evening out skin tone, and brightening,” she says. “So, I was like, how can I incorporate this into a mask, and what if we did an overnight moment, so it gives the product time to penetrate your skin to the utmost degree?”

The vitamin C mask complements KNOW’s first launch, the Glacial Bay Clay Mask, which was made for breakout-prone skin, like Hudgens’s. “I’m 34. I thought that by this point, I would be done with acne, but because I have oily skin, the pores get clogged.” The clay mask contains colloidal clay harvested from a Canadian glacier, while the vitamin C mask uses Arctic Cloudberry, a “little, tiny, cute berry” that grows in Norway and has significantly more vitamin C than an orange. (Per Krupa Koestline, a cosmetic chemist, arctic cloudberries have twice the vitamin C content of oranges, and says that these berries “are abundant in antioxidants and ellagic tannins, offering cosmetic benefits such as moisturization, soothing, brightening, and anti-aging properties. Cloudberries are also able to thrive in temperatures as low as -40°F, and can retain moisture in extremely cold conditions, she says, making them highly sought after in the production of moisturizing cosmetics across Nordic countries.) “I just love looking to nature to find ingredients,” says Hudgens. “There’s so much that Mother Nature has for us.” I ask Hudgens if she ever plans on incorporating ingredients that are native to the Philippines, where both her mom and mine are from, and she says that it’s “something that’s being thrown around by me, constantly, and we’re working towards.”

Know Beauty Arctic Gold Vitamin C Mask

Hudgens visited the Philippines with her mom, Gina, and her sister Stella, for the first time in March of this year. She tells me how much she connected with the country, especially the spiritual aspects, the relationship with nature, and the importance of family and friends. “It was such a beautiful experience,” she says. “I feel like I didn’t meet a single person that felt like they were having a bad day, everyone was just like, so happy. I think the secret to life is community; it doesn’t matter how much you have what you have, it’s about the people you choose to fill your life with.” During the trip, she was given the title of Global Tourism Ambassador, which was met with criticism because it was her first trip to the country. But Hudgens says that, until a family member passed away in 2019, her mom hadn’t gone back to the Philippines since moving to the United States — and Hudgens didn’t want to visit without her. “It just never got to happen until recently,” she says, noting that she was vacationing in Italy during her mom’s previous trip. Some people who emigrate to the United States don’t end up going back to their home country for one reason or another, which I’ve seen with Filipinos and other migrants. “I feel like the American Dream is something that a lot of people have. So, when you finally do make it out here, you want to live that dream,” she says. “It makes sense, but I’m now at this place where I’m like, No, let’s embrace it. Celebrate it, shout it from the top of the mountain.”

Hudgens was also raised “super, super American” and she says that her mom didn’t really speak a lot of her native language of Tagalog at home. “Yes, I had rice with every meal, but I didn’t necessarily feel like I was super separated from the other kids in school, just because my upbringing was so extremely American,” she says. It wasn’t until later in her life that she felt she was “missing a piece” of herself by not being strongly connected to her Filipino background, which was a big part of why she wanted to make the visit. “It felt so empowering to know where you’re from, and be able to represent your heritage.”

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