After Waking Up to Facial Hair at 17, Everything Changed For This Makeup Founder With PCOS

Too often, the best beauty stories go Untold, solely based on a person’s skin color, religion, gender expression, disability, or socioeconomic status. Here, we’re passing the mic to some of the most ambitious and talented voices in the industry so they can share, in their own words, the remarkable story of how they came to be — and how they’re using beauty to change the world for the better. Up next: True + Luscious founder Mehir Sethi.

I’ve always loved makeup; I grew up in Pakistan with my mom and my grandma as big influences in my life, and they take great pride in their appearance. Then, when I was 17 in college at Boston University, I started very rapidly gaining weight. I was far from home, I didn’t have many resources, and I felt very isolated. One morning, I woke up with almost a full face of hair — just like that, overnight. It was very distressing. I still remember I went to CVS to get something to wax my face, which made me break out, and I really struggled for a couple of years until I went to see an ob-gyn and they diagnosed me with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition that causes enlarged ovaries with cysts and affects your hormone levels.

After that diagnosis in my 20s, I got married and had two very late miscarriages back to back. That’s one of the ways PCOS can affect you; it’s not just the physical aspect. That’s when I found out I have a very rare symptom of PCOS, which is infertility. I saw experts around the world — in India, in London — but if you ask someone, “What is PCOS? What causes it?,” there is no definitive answer.

One thing that’s left out of a lot of PCOS-related clinical studies and all the resources that we have is that especially in South Asia, one in five women have PCOS. If you look at resources right now by PCOS awareness organizations, they say that 10 million women have PCOS, but we know that about five million women in the US alone have it, and there’s certainly far more women who suffer from it worldwide. That’s just one example of how women’s health has been underfunded and ignored.

Finally in my 30s, I got a hold of it. The minute I turned 30, I felt more comfortable in my own skin. At the time, I was building a beauty brand in Pakistan, and I started to do a deep dive into how PCOS affected the way I looked. (I still suffer from severe hormonal acne; it’s a constant battle.)

One of the main irritating ingredients in color cosmetics is talc, which on its own is not a bad thing, but it can be contaminated. A big batch of talc can be certified as pure by only testing a few ounces of it, but what about the rest of it? It’s a mineral that’s mined and is adjacent to asbestos. There’s also a lot of hormone disruptors that go into color cosmetics that you don’t really see in skin care.

The beauty industry in the US is not regulated by the FDA. Brands do the self-regulating themselves, and retailers like Sephora and Credo have widely varying metrics for what “clean beauty” is and what ingredients you can and can’t use in beauty products. While this is a great effort by the retailers, we need regulation by a government body. The EU has the gold standard for what can and cannot go into color cosmetics, but the US needs to pass legislation nationwide.

When I moved to LA, I launched True + Luscious with a real understanding of what goes into color cosmetics. My philosophy is that makeup should support the skin afterward. I hear from customers all the time who have hormonal acne or other kinds of acne that a makeup product makes them break out more, and they’re stuck in a vicious cycle. I’m one of those founders who doesn’t have “good skin,” and the True + Luscious community empathizes with that. I’m right there in the mix with everyone else.

That’s one of the reasons Keke Palmer opening up about having PCOS is incredibly important. I don’t know why, but people just don’t talk about it. And PCOS is very closely related to miscarriages and infertility, all of which are common women’s health issues that have been swept under the rug for too long, and it’s very, very important for people to come out and talk about it. I want the public to help highlight and support this issue because it affects a lot of us. I want people to know that if you have PCOS, you’re not alone.

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