Skincare for those with vitiligo? UAE influencer Salama Mohamed on her new beauty range
Emirati influencer Salama Mohamed gets candid about her journey to self-love and embracing her vitiligo as the seed of bringing her new skincare brand Peacefull to life
The focus of skincare, for far too long, has been on obsessing over flawless, poreless skin, where fine lines, texture, wrinkles, blemishes and dark patches cease to exist. So, when you come across a skincare brand that defies these unwritten rules, showcasing ‘real’ skin from the get-go, with people of different genders, skin colours and body types swearing by it, one must take notice.
Social media trailblazer Salama Mohamed launched her much-anticipated skincare brand Peacefull on June 21, as an extension of her own journey to self-love and acceptance. Mohamed takes immense pride in being blessed with vitiligo — a skin condition where white patches form, or, as Salama says, “bloom” on your skin, due to lack of melanin. Growing up with little to no awareness of the condition, let alone suitable products to manage the skin sensitivities caused by it, Salama’s urge to make people feel comfortable in their own skin has been the driving force for sprouting this skincare brand.
In a day and age, where chasing unrealistic standards of beauty often leaves us with a feeling of being ‘at war’ with our skin, Peacefull is already establishing its place as not only a mere skincare brand, but also a platform for fostering changing conversations around skincare and beauty. In a conversation with wknd., Salama Mohamed, seated comfortably in front of her Zoom camera, proudly flaunting a “bloom” of white patch on her eyelid, opens up about her journey to self-acceptance, and how it gave birth to the idea behind Peacefull.
Your Instagram bio reads ‘blessed with vitiligo’ and ‘#InOurSkinWeWin’. There’s often a great deal of learning and self-awareness that goes behind making these statements to over 1 million followers on Instagram. How did you reach this level of self-acceptance?
It’s been a long, long journey. To be honest, it took me years to be able to get where I am today. It went from asking myself obsessively, ‘Why do I have two skin tones?’, ‘Why am I not ‘normal’, like everyone else?’, seeing people being scared of shaking my hand, thinking it’s contagious. It all started with being accepted by my peers in school. I still remember one of my friends kissing my eyelid and saying, “This is the most beautiful part of you.” I can’t tell you how much things like these matter. It makes you accept who you are, just a little bit more. One day, my son Khalifa came home from school. I think he was four years old, and told me that one of his peers said to him, “Your mom has two skin tones,” and Khalifa replied, “That’s what makes my mum unique”. When he came and told me that, I really did feel like I’m blessed with vitiligo. From there, it went from ‘Why do I have it?’ to “Thank God, I have it”. It’s these little situations that you go through on a daily basis that make you accept who you are and count your blessings.
The support of people around you can play a crucial role in self-acceptance…
Of course. Growing up with vitiligo, it was very challenging to see my parents scared. They were always fixated on finding a cure, looking for ways to treat it. It came from a place of love, but that’s not exactly what I needed back then. It’s a long-term skin condition, it can’t just be cured in a day. So, now, when parents with children who have vitiligo ask me what they should do, I always tell them, the first thing they should do is accept their children for who they are and surround them with love. Do not think about immediate treatment. And if you do, don’t discuss it in front of your children.
Did you find acceptance on social media?
When I started on social media, the conversations would always be about vitiligo and my skin tone. When Khalid and I made the video about vitiligo, I was flooded with messages from men and women, who told me that seeing my video, they were able to leave their house without wearing foundation. From that moment, I felt like this is what I’m meant to be doing on social media, to talk about it and make people accept who they are.
‘Peacefull’ is quite a unique name for a skincare brand. What’s the story behind it?
I did not want to create a brand with my name in it. But at the same time, I was inspired by the meaning of my name, which means peace and safety. And I specifically added the extra ‘l’ in Peacefull because one ‘l’ wasn’t enough to describe just how much peace the brand is filled with. Self-love, to me, is all about being at peace with yourself. To be accepting of who you are, when you wake up in the morning, with a feeling of being at peace with everything you are — that’s the highest form of self-love.
Growing up, how did the lack of awareness around vitiligo make you feel? How crucial is representation when it comes to skincare concerns?
Growing up, I felt that it was just me and no one else who had it. And when we talk about numbers, vitiligo affects less than one per cent of the population around the world. It’s not very common, and whoever has it, they’re not wearing it publicly because there’s such a taboo around it. There’s no pleasant conversation related to vitiligo. And that’s why, with Peacefull, we’re trying our best every single day to educate people and create a safe place for everyone to discuss it — but in a very respectful way.
Peacefull is already making a statement when it comes to diversity and representation. When we go through the brand’s Instagram handle, we see real skin, texture, blemishes, different ethnicities, genders, skin types. Was it your priority to create an inclusive and diverse space?
Peacefull is for all men and women. All skin types, all skin tones. I still remember on the campaign day, the photographer asked me which agency I reached out to get our models and I told him there was no agency involved. I put up a story on Instagram and said, “If you want to be in a campaign with me, on skin, please email me and share your story.” And that’s how we cast everyone that you will see on Peacefull’s platform. They’re all from my community. There are no models. And it was so powerful to see each one of them take part in the campaign, share their story and give it their all. It was a beautiful experience!
Peacefull also focuses on being gender-inclusive, but there’s a common myth that men don’t need skincare. Do you think women, more than men, face the brunt of skin-related problems?
I think it’s a misconception. We all go through it. The reason why we created Peacefull for men and women is because I am also a mother of two boys and I teach them the importance of looking after your skin every day. I teach Khalifa, who’s now going to turn 12, to have his own skincare routine. It’s a hygienic lifestyle. It’s not about using a specific product. It’s like how you get up and brush your teeth, take a shower. It’s as simple as that.
What was the toughest challenge you faced while working towards fulfilling this dream of launching your own skincare brand?
Everything. From start to finish. Every single thing was difficult because it doesn’t come with a manual. No one tells you, “Oh, you want to start your own business, here’s the manual for it.” It’s a unique process for everyone. We all have our own capabilities and limits. But what makes you go through it every single day is the vision of where you want to end up. And it’s so rewarding in the end when you see it get this kind of love and acceptance.
People often divorce the idea of hard work and labour from passion projects. It doesn’t always have to feel like a vacation…
It wasn’t a vacation at all! I lost weight. I lost hair. I lost brain cells. It’s been a one-woman-show the whole time. I’ve been involved in everything. So, when you see Peacefull, I need you to see Salama in everything (laughs). From the formula to the packaging, to the name, to the logo, to the artwork, to even the colour scheme. It’s all me. I’ve been involved in each and every part of every single detail. So, it’s very stressful but you have to think of the long term. When you create a business, it’s not about the present. It’s all about where you want to end up.
Having vitiligo yourself, what were some of the main skincare challenges you faced? And how does Peacefull help solve those problems?
Since I have vitiligo, I have super sensitive skin, which gets allergic reactions from everything — from the high-end brands to drugstore products and everything in between. I’ve always felt my skin sensitivity wasn’t taken care of or represented. To the point that I once bought a toner — I’m not going to mention the name of the brand — and after months of using it, when I went for a refill, they told me, “Oh, by the way, don’t use this if you have vitiligo, it can spread even more.” So, I thought to myself, I need to take matters into my own hands and make a difference. And that’s how Peacefull came about.
At the core of our products are plant-based active ingredients like mugwort, a natural source of antioxidants, cica, which people refer to as the ‘wound healer’, and sodium hyaluronate, excellent for light-weight hydration. These are great ingredients for calming the skin down. They can’t cure the concern, but they will not further inflame or aggravate your skin, which is exactly what’s needed for people with skin conditions like vitiligo, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea and albino. And the products have sat in a heat chamber of 50 degrees Celsius for three months, just to mimic the heat of the Middle East, to make sure that the formula doesn’t split, the texture doesn’t change, and it doesn’t inflame your skin in this weather, but rather sits on your skin like your own skin.
They say, behind every successful man is a woman. Is it also true that behind every successful woman is a man?
Of course, Khalid [Al Ameri] has been an amazing support. Khalid and my two kids have been an incredible part of the journey. I believe that behind every person, there is a support system, be it your mother, father or children. And also, I'd like to add that behind every successful man or woman is also themselves. We need to give ourselves the credit too!
Lastly, if you had to pick one product from your line that you absolutely cannot live without – which one would it be?!
It's like you're asking a mother, who's their favourite child. Each of these products are so unique. They were in my dreams and now they're a reality. There's a clay mask, which people think is a face mask but it’s actually a face wash, with the same effects of a clay mask. It's a hybrid. And then you have the toner, which is enriched with essence. So, you don’t see these products elsewhere. And then there is my fav… (stops), no, no, not my favourite product, my favourite texture, is of the moisturiser (laughs).
Actually, I've always been scared of moisturisers. Wearing them in this region has been such an unpleasant experience. It becomes oily and greasy when you step out, the humidity makes it worse and it's just so uncomfortable. You feel like you're melting. So, I was apprehensive before creating our moisturiser. But then I thought to myself, this is exactly why we need to create it and come up with a moisturiser that will change this attitude!