Italiana in fondo al cuore means "Italian at heart," and since I was a kid, that's how I've always felt. We Americans tend to value work over play, so I've always been fascinated by the passion for leisure that's pervaded Italian culture for so many centuries. From the stunning architecture of their ancient duomi to their colourful gelato flavours to their exuberant flair with fashion, Italians' passion for beautiful things and experiences seems to be in their DNA. That and a love for carbs. No wonder I've always wanted to be Italian.
But as far as international skincare, makeup, and haircare habits go, France and South Korea often steal the show. As a full-fledged Italophile, I thought it was high time we looked into the secret wonders of Italians' beauty routines. To do this, I got in touch with Italian model Mitzi Peirone of MSA Models, who moved to the U.S. from Italy five years ago, as well as Claudia Graziano of popular fashion blog Human Hanger. They both gladly revealed their best beauty secrets from back home, all of which are utterly fascinating.
"I think that overall the greatest difference between American and Italian beauty is that American women might go for what makes them look good, but Italian women go for what makes them feel good," says Peirone.
Want the feel-good beauty routine of an Italian girl? Keep scrolling for eight skin, makeup and hair secrets straight from Italy.
1. Olive oil is a secret beauty weapon
It's not just a delicious topping for your pizza… Olive oil is truly at the centre of Italian life and packs a tonne of beauty benefits, like anti-ageing vitamin E and hydrating squalene. Sophia Loren was known for slathering olive oil all over her skin. Peirone says she remembers her mother putting olive oil on the ends of her hair after a long, hot bath to maintain a healthy shine. ("I learned pretty much everything I know about beauty from my mom, Maria," she tells me.) Olive oil also has incredible curative properties. Peirone says she even uses it to cure pink eye.
2. Banishing stress should be your #1 priority
Peirone calls stress "the true beauty enemy." "Stress makes anyone look older and more tired," she says. Relaxation is a virtue in Italian culture. Their favourite way to take a load off? "A glass of wine every night," says Peirone.
3. Soft skin is the ultimate virtue
Italian women value smooth, touchable skin and dedicate the majority of their beauty routine to moisturising. That means using "heavier, richer moisturisers than Americans use," says Perione. They also make a daily ritual of massaging their skin from head to toe with body butters for hydrating and relaxation. "Your feet especially," says Peirone. "Coccolati!" she tells us, "which basically means treat yo'self!"
4. Don't fear the sun—embrace it
While South Koreans tend to avoid the sun at all costs, Italian women embrace it. "Wrinkles are gonna get you eventually either way, so you might as well enjoy the sun," says Peirone. "Real sun, though. No tanning beds." Italians also value protecting their skin as much as possible, though. "Wear lots of yummy sunscreen, no [tanning] accelerators," says Peirone.
5. Don't Follow Trends
"There is more of an emphasis on timelessness and less on trends," says Graziano. Instead of buzzy new products and fad-jumping, she says that Italian women focus more so on age-old ingredients that work. "Sunscreens and moisturisers are always important, as are a signature perfume and lipstick. The women in my family always stressed the 'leave your brows alone' rule (I definitely over-plucked/waxed/etc. when I was younger, but thankfully they grew back!). Low-maintenance routines are the best."
6. Use colour strategically
Italian women love incorporating colour into their beauty looks, whether that's a signature red nail polish or bright pink lip. But the key with colour is restraint. "We're all about less makeup—way less," says Peirone. Aside from that one signature pop of pigment, Peirone says it's the Italian way to "let your skin breathe."
7. Never diet
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The Italian approach to food is so much more relaxed than ours. Italian women truly allow themselves to eat whatever they want—focaccia, pasta, gelato, wine. The difference is that the foods Italian women crave are simple and whole. "Less dressing, sauces and toppings," says Peirone. And importantly, their portions are much smaller than what we're used to. When there's no such thing as restrictive dieting, there's no need to binge and then feel guilty about it. This approach benefits Italian women's physical and mental health.
8. Coffee grinds make the best skin tightener
Before dousing themselves in body butter, Italian women look to their kitchens to concoct the world's best exfoliator. "Use coffee grinds mixed with coconut oil for a body scrub, especially on the thighs and glutes," says Peirone. The coffee tightens skin while sloughing off dead cells, and the coconut oil works to moisturise. Many Italian women swear this helps with cellulite and stretch marks as well.
9. Chocolate Is a Beauty Weapon
Great news: One of Peirone's top Italian beauty tips is to indulge in dark chocolate. "Endorphins," she reminds us. Eating a piece of dark chocolate instantly increases the levels of endorphins and serotonin in your brain. "A happy face is always more attractive," Peirone says.
Want more international beauty secrets? Check out six fascinating skincare tips from Icelandic women.