Image courtesy of Humanrace

Pharrell drops the skincare routine

The musician and founder of Humanrace, well known for his flawless skin, shares his morning beauty regime.

by Osman Ahmed
14 July 2022, 10:44am

Image courtesy of Humanrace

This story originally appeared in i-D’s The Earthrise Issue, no. 368, Summer 2022. Order your copy here.

Wellness is a complicated term. It encompasses health, beauty, and the CBD boom, niche workouts and even nicher diets, all industrialised into a trillion dollar industry. Ultimately, it is rooted in ancient practices that have evaded Western medicine, even if the image of its current disciples are often Eurocentric. Whereas the capital-B beauty industry has long offered products to artfully conceal signs of ageing or imperfections, the wellness industry says that you need to feel good in order to look good. Therein lies a wellspring of paradoxes, an emphasis on inclusivity but also unattainable cleanliness, both authenticity and superficiality, mental freedom and physical control.

Pharrell Williams isn’t exactly the image of a wellness start-up founder – who, for the last decade or so, has typically been white, blonde and female. Sure, he’s a Grammy-winning icon who will be remembered as one of the best dressed men in history, – and yes, his face is virtually uncreased despite him entering his sixth decade spent on Planet Earth – but the musician-turned- designer-turned-beautician, is still a Black man, a group famously under-marketed to by the beauty or wellness industries. Obviously, his skin is incredible: like, lightbeam-lit-from-within incredible. Which is why in 2020, the year the world changed forever, Pharrell launched Humanrace, a line of three vegan, consciously-packaged skincare essentials with an emphasis on “skin health”, marking the beginning of his crusade into “democratising the experience of achieving wellness,” as he said at the time.

Pharrell Williams holding a Humanrace skin cream and standing by the window.
Bodycare jar prototype

“Wellness is the bar,” he explains over a Zoom call, radiating from my screen with glowing Miami-kissed skin and dazzling ropes of diamonds around his neck. “That’s what you’re trying to achieve. You’re trying to achieve wellness and it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes practice. That’s why I’m so diligent about my routine when I get up in the morning, because I know if I fucking slip, I’m probably gonna slip on some other shit in the rest of the day.”

A self-described “crazy Aries man”, Pharrell’s routine is disciplined and extreme. He wakes up at five in the morning, does 500 crunches, holds a long plank, takes a blisteringly hot bath with Epsom salts for 30 minutes, a freezing cold shower for five minutes, and then proceeds with his three-step skincare ritual: Humanrace rice powder cleanser, a lotus enzyme exfoliant, and a snow mushroom “humidifying” moisturiser. Then, he gets on with his day.

Blurry photograph of Pharrell Williams in an orange hoodie and black shorts
Humanrace hoodie prototype

It’s a level of discipline that verges on hysterical. Then again, Pharrell has a lot of shit to get done, many artistic mediums to experiment with, albums to produce, shoes to design, research meetings with scientists, kids to raise – and he couldn’t be a better advertisement for his own routine. “I feel fucking great,” he assures me. “I love it. I’m so excited and grateful to be in this space, but you can fuck it up very easily. I used to think that happiness was just something that you were just born with.”

“Wellness takes practice. That’s why I’m so diligent about my routine when I get up in the morning, because I know if I fucking slip, I’m probably gonna slip on some other shit in the rest of the day.” Pharrell

In his view, happiness comes down to not just trying to stay balanced but being, what he calls, “surplus happy”. It all comes down to his philosophy of taking care of “the three parts of your existence”: mind, body, and soul. This is where skincare enters the equation. Skincare, in Pharrell’s words, is self care. He had been obsessed with it for years before launching Humanrace, borrowing tips from Naomi Campbell and his trusted dermatologist of twenty-plus years, Dr Elena Jones. The idea was to create quotidian products that can suit all skin types, and simplify the anxiety that comes with the endless discourse about which regimens and routines work the best. But, it was also to speak to a new audience, one that has rarely been in the frame of the beauty and wellness industries.

Humanrace body cream with a green plastic packaging
Humanrace Humidifying Cream

Funnily enough, the idea to start a beauty brand began while Pharrell was working on another extracurricular activity: designing a shoe for Adidas (which subsequently sold out). “We would always have conversations and it was a lot like making music,” he explains. “You know, a lot of times, when I’m in the studio with people, we talk first, and then I find the most interesting tidbit of what they’re saying that appeals to me – they might not even recognise it or whatever. To me, that’s where you start. That’s the rabbit hole.”

The title for Humanrace came first. Designed for any gender or any race, the lack of space between the two names enforces the idea that it is an inclusive, universal product for all. “Just being myself and doing what I do laid the groundwork for everything that Humanrace is,” Pharrell says. “Our means is to serve other people, and we want to leave every category better than the way that we found it. We want to do it one face at a time and one ingredient at a time.”

Humanrace body cream recyclable and refill carton.
Humanrace Body Cream refill photography Guillaume Blondiau

Go to the Humanrace website, and you’ll notice that, alongside just a handful of products, there is a huge emphasis on community, and a diverse range of people sharing their stories. They are the brand’s cast of ‘Wellbeings’ – “a growing community of humans with amazing spirits, inspiring you to push boundaries with ideas, thoughts and routines,” as the website puts it.

“We want to convert you from feeling funny about having conversations about your face because you’re a man, or because you’re trans, and there are conversations that are uncomfortable for you,” says Pharrell matter-of-factly. “This is a place where you realise skin is skin, and you’re welcome here. We want to make this a space for humans to just have open conversations about… skin and health.”

Close up of Pharrell Williams' white Adidas trainers and grey socks.
Adidas Samba prototype

Back to the idea of “democratising”. The products are easy-to-use and affordable, forming a three-step skincare routine that takes no more than three minutes, and the packaging is as green as grass, both literally and figuratively, given the 50 percent post-consumer recycled plastics that it is made from. Each one has a removable inner section so that they can be exchanged for a refill. For Pharrell, it was a no-brainer. “Sustainable is a lot like that word ‘affordable’, you know – it’s abused and has been turned into a marketing term,” he says. “I think at some point as a species, we need to look at sustainability as completely sustainable in every way, shape, or form. I think people should be a little bit more responsible when they use that word.”

Pharrell and his predominantly female team – “It’s an oestrogenic force,” he smiles – spent six years researching products before getting to the stage of launch. Along the way, they delved deep into the world of vegan ingredients and environmentally conscious production, not settling on anything less than the best option for the planet. “Across the board, we ticked every box that we could, because we could, you know? It was about spending the time and doing the research to get it right. The worst thing is doing something half-assed and having to go back and fix it when you’re already open for business. Like, why not just get it right the first time?”

Humanrace sincere product in bronze bottle.
Humanrace Suncare

And that he did. Now, he’s on a mission to transform the way that everyone – regardless of who they are or where they come from – to have skin just as good as his. “It’s interesting that the thing that people are vain about the most is the thing that they take for granted the most,” Pharrell points out. “Your skin is your face. I can see why you maybe don’t want to put on lotion – no one talks to your elbows, even though I disagree as we have great body cream – but it’s your face, man! How do you not dedicate at least three minutes to the number one conduit of your personality? That’s what we’re all about. We started with the face. Now we’re on a body. And I mean, you got to see where we’re going next.”

Pharrell Williams wearing an orange hoodie, white trousers and a denim cap
Humanrace hoodie prototype photography Edward Robinson
Artwork for Humanrace of a man in a white tracksuit with trainers, a travel backpack and holding a white flag.
Humanrace RYAT character Illustration by Gang Box

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All images courtesy of Humanrace

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