Kerry Washington Just Gave Us the Best Advice About Beauty, Aging and Dealing With Burnout

A few weeks ago, I met with Kerry Washington on a sunny rooftop in Los Angeles. The actress and brand ambassador for Neutrogena was there to talk to a handful of beauty editors about the importance of sunscreen.

"Sunscreen is a big deal in my daily life," she told me. "It gives me a way to protect and preserve my skin, so I can continue to show up in the world as the best version of myself. It also shields me from any undue damage and skin cancer that can come from too much UV exposure. I think of it as an extra armor I put on before I step outside."

I briefly consider making a dad joke about the armor analogy making sense because she's a gladiator, but let the moment pass because we had a lot of ground to cover in the next 15 minutes. Below, Washington's takes on choosing projects, getting older and what beauty means to her.

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What is your definition of beauty?

I think the biggest change over the last few years is that I've been forced—in a good way—to think about what makes me feel beautiful as opposed to what makes me look beautiful. What beauty means to me, as opposed to how it performs on a red carpet or on somebody's screen. I'm thinking more about how I want to experience beauty today.

It's a shift that became very real for me during the pandemic because for the first time, I wasn't defining my beauty based on external factors like an awards show or magazine shoot. In practice, I think a lot of it has to do with making choices that feel like I'm revealing the best parts of myself in the ways I want to.

Lately I've been thinking more about aging and how it feels to get older in a youth-obsessed culture. How do you feel about this?

I don't know who said it, but I love that quote "aging is better than the alternative." I'm happy to be here. When I was much younger, I used to hear women in their 40s, 50s and 60s say that it just gets better and better. That life gets better with age. At the time, I wondered if that was actually true. Now, in my mid-40s, I believe it because I am healthier, happier, stronger and saner than I've ever been in my life and I'm really grateful for that.

I also think there's a powerful humility in aging because we don't just get to be here forever. There is a time limit and we're all going to meet an end; we can't control when that's going to be, but just having that awareness of life's fragility can be empowering, because it can help us make better choices. I try to make choices today that will make the aging process as joyful as possible.

It's more important to me that, God willing, I can stick around for a long time and be healthy and happy in the body that I have, rather than wanting to stay young.

On that note, what are some of the choices we can make today that can make things better for our older selves?

Use sunscreen. Honestly, now is the time. Actually, you should start in your 20s or earlier if you can. You want to protect your skin from sun damage as soon as you can. Figure out what you enjoy using. Think about the modality: Are you a swipe and go person? OK, then use a stick. Do you need a multitasking product? Use something that has your hyaluronic acid in it or whatever else, along with your sunscreen. Remove any barriers for yourself and stay consistent with your sunscreen because ten, 20, 30 years from now you're going to be so glad that you did.

I would also say the same for fitness. Figure out how you want to move and just move. We live such sedentary, stagnant lifestyles now, but these bodies were made to move. Whether it's walking with a friend, or it's swimming or a dance class or yoga—whatever it is, just move as often as you can.

You've done so many things throughout your life—you've acted, directed, produced, you're involved in several political causes—how do you decide which projects to take on?

A lot of it boils down to choosing what feels good, right? Some of it is as simple as asking myself "where will I have the most fun?" because it's all going to require a lot of work. What will bring me joy, so that at the same time that I'm expending energy, I'm also filling my well in some way.

I also think about where I can be most of service. Where do I have something to offer where when I show up, I feel like I'm actually contributing in some meaningful way? I try to spend my time in ways where I'm additive.

Many people are dealing with burnout these days. Workplace burnout, parental burnout, political burnout. Do you have any advice on handling it or ways to recenter yourself when it all feels like too much?

You're right. There is a lot of collective burnout right now. Hearing you list all of the different ways we're feeling burned out, the political burnout sticks out to me most. I think the key to staying engaged when it comes to civic activism is remembering how much you matter. Actually, I think that might be key across the board.

I think the antidote to burnout is knowing that you matter and taking care of yourself, because you can't continue to show up if you're running on empty. Pause and fill your well in whatever ways you need to, so that you're operating from an overflow and not a deficit. Because when you're operating from a place of overflow, you feel like you have something to give, and right now, we need for people to feel like they have something to give. When it comes to voting, when it comes to taking care of your family, when it comes to showing up and contributing in society—we need you. We need your voice, we need your perspective. So please take care of yourself so that we get to receive you and your gifts.

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Beauty Director

Jenny Jin is PureWow’s Beauty Director and is currently based in Los Angeles. Since beginning her journalism career at Real Simple magazine, she has become a human encyclopedia of...