52 Faces: Jenna Chong

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As a hand model, Jenna Chong knows a thing or two about beauty products. She's modeled everything from luxury nail polishes to designer fragrances to skin care products, and she's even hand-doubled for the likes of Jennifer Aniston, Kristen Bell and Hillary Duff (!). When she's not on set, she's helping high schoolers pass the SAT and ACT through her recently founded test prep organization, Decoded Prep. Today, Jenna shares her beauty routine, including her go-to shades of nail polish and a genius tip for taking better nailfies (nail selfies).

(Image: Jenna Chong)

When did you become interested in beauty?

When I was growing up, all the women around me would always tell me that makeup was bad for you, and that it was an unfortunate addiction that consumed hours of your day. But then, I would accompany them to the mall, and see them squeal with delight as they experimented with makeup on each other. Of course, they would never leave empty-handed. Then, they would rave wildly the rest of day about their "gift with purchase."

This was tremendously confusing! I thought to myself, "Okay, so wearing makeup is ruinous, and applying it is grueling, yet you are all giggling like a bunch of over-sugared teens? AND, it's so deplorable that you even get rewarded with a free gift for buying it?" It was this hypocrisy that sparked my interest.

(Image: Jenna Chong)

How did you end up becoming a hand model?

Unlike most professions, hand modeling is unique in that there really isn't much precedent. It's a relatively new niche.

My aunties noticed my hands way before I ever did. Each time one would hold my hand, she would blurt, "yuen sook" (which means limber/graceful in Chinese), then the other five aunties would nod in agreement. My mom would chime in, "Too bad there is no such thing as a hand model!" This happened at around age eight, when I started joining my aunties in their weekly shopping excursions. They would hold my hand as we bounced from Nordstrom to Ann Taylor, and then to the Sanrio store (my only incentive to accompany them).

Fast-foward 15 years later, I'm in college, it's finals week, so naturally I'm watching Oprah. In one particular episode, Oprah interviews a "parts model" who earns a very comfortable living as a butt model. I was intrigued and triggered by this. Only in America, right? It definitely beat working as an on-campus tutor. Because it's finals, I'm currently hating college, and NOW doing some reevaluating. I do a quick mental inventory of my "parts" and recall what my aunties said about my hands.

I start Googling "hand models" and boy was this frustrating. Sixty percent of search results were inappropriate (for obvious reasons), 30% about the anatomical features of a mechanized hand (think robot), and the other 10% was pretty general and unhelpful. To put this in context, there were maybe three articles about hand modeling, one hand model's website, one published book, and one agency for parts. In retrospect, this was a blessing. I happened to get my foot in the door when competition was just starting to brew. What started as a whimsical idea and distraction from finals turned out to be a career.

My very first hand gig was for Gem TV, which was a cable network show that auctioned fine jewelry (think QVC). The studio was located in the CNN building on Sunset Boulevard. For someone with zero experience, this was terrifying on so many levels. Every nuanced tremble and blunder was recorded. There were no second or third takes, no commercial breaks, and no post-editing because this was LIVE TV! I even had to learn to suppress my sneezes! This was no easy feat, especially since my mind was always consumed with worldly things to discuss in case I ever ran into Anderson Cooper.

As a hand model, do you have a special "hand care" routine?

Being a hand model is unique in that we have a longer "shelf life" in the industry. There is a market for all types of hands, from "child-sized hands," to "mom hands," and even "mature hands," so I am constantly thinking about long-term care for my hands. I am a stickler about never leaving polish on my nails for more than two consecutive days in order to allow my nails to "breathe" and recover. I wear sunscreen daily, and apply to hands multiple times a day if I'm outdoors. Also, I have significantly cut the salt-intake in my diet, as eating foods high in sodium can lead to an increase in water retention, making hands appear bloated. This has been particularly challenging for me because I LOVE pizza.

People always ask me if I sleep with gloves on, have my hands insured, get paraffin wax treatments, or get weekly manicures to maintain my hands. No, to all of the above! My hand routine is surprisingly minimal, but I am pretty neurotic about one thing — moisturizing. I have hand creams accessible almost everywhere — in my bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, office, purse, mom's purse. I secretly gift hand creams to my friends and family so that when I see them, my favorite hand creams are accessible.

As a hand model, not only is it important to moisturize, but to know how to moisturize. For pre-shoot prep (day before), I like to make my own blend by mixing a few drops of olive oil, almond oil and Josie Maran's 100% Argan Oil. Though these oils are highly nourishing and are great antioxidants, oils can leave hands with a greasy film. On set, this can be disastrous, as greasy hands look exaggeratedly shiny when magnified under a camera's lens and can leave fingerprints on products. On shoot day, I stick strictly to hand creams that offer fast absorption and are non-greasy. I love Jenna Hipp's Essential Nail and Hand Cream. The natural ingredients hydrate my skin instantly, while the added tapioca starch ensures that no fingerprints show up on products. I also really like Josie Maran Whipped Argan Oil Intensive Hand Cream in apricot vanilla.

(Image: Jenna Chong)

Also, here's a trick of the trade for girls who take nailfies (nail selfies). To reduce the appearance of veins, I elevate my hands above my head and give them a quick five second shake. This instantly helps drain the blood away from hands, and effectively minimizes veins. It looks a little nutty, but it really works!

Do you prefer your nails natural or polished?

Both! In general, I prefer my nails natural, short, and rounded to the natural curve of my nail beds, but I also love the look and feel of a fresh mani.

Do you have a go-to shade of nail polish?

As a hand model, your hands are essentially brand storytellers. It is important to not detract from the product or "hero." Hands and nails have to be aesthetically pleasing, but cannot draw attention away from the product, so neutrals with a hint of muted pinks are ideal.

My go-tos are Essie's Mademoiselle and Jenna Hipp's Sheerling. I wear these both on set and as an everyday polish. I love how these shades enhance my natural nail color and are sheer enough so that the nail beds are still visible.

(Image: Jenna Chong)

Tell us about your skin care routine. What products do you use daily?

I know coconut oil has been around for years, but I just started incorporating it in my beauty routine two years ago. I use it as a makeup remover, moisturizer and I sprinkle some into my hair masks. I love RMS Beauty Raw Coconut Cream. I've tried a couple other brands, but I keep going back to this because the scent is crisp and fresh, and the consistency is perfect.

(Image: Jenna Chong)

I wash daily with Fresh Soy Face Cleanser. It's deceptively effective. It does not lather up like most cleansers and you only need a nail-sized drop. I love how it gently cleanses and is infused with amino acid-rich soy protein, and the light scent of rosewater and cucumber is super refreshing. I follow-up with Fresh Rose Floral Toner. The mist nozzle makes the spritz experience more dreamy and refreshing. Then, the decadence continues with Ole Henriksen's Truth Serum. It's literally Creamsicle in a bottle, but collagen boosted with triple vitamin C complex. The smell is so intoxicating that I'd buy it even if it didn't help with hyper-pigmentation, elasticity, and enhancing my natural glow.

(Image: Jenna Chong)

On the weekend, I bring the spa to my home. I love sheet masks, especially Cremorlab's White Bloom Triple Bright Floral Mask. I have fair skin, so I'm more prone to sunspots. These works well to reduce discoloration, and are super hydrating. I also have an abnormal fascination with Skin Inc's Pure Revival Peel. It's a non-abrasive exfoliator (you don't feel the harshness of a scrub), so you may not think it's working, but then you start to see dead skin cells slough off and it's so disgustingly satisfying.

What makeup do you usually wear?

I am not a makeup junkie by any means. I do not enjoy the trial and error of experimenting with different products. I am way too lazy and my skin too sensitive for this luxury. When I commit to buying, it means that I've read a minimum of 30 reviews, interrogated someone (usually my best friend or sister) who has used this product for at least a month, tried some generous samples, and have recommended it to my mom.

(Image: Jenna Chong)

For my everyday look, I use Beauty Counter Dew Skin Tinted Moisturizer in No. 2. I love the sheer, luminous coverage with the added bonus of an SPF and vitamin C. I also like Dr. Jartt's BB Multi-Action Skincare + Make up in medium. It does everything Beauty Beauty Counter Dew Skin Tinted Moisturizer does but with more coverage.

I've used the same Shu Uemura Hard Formula Brow Pencil in Seal Brown for three years! It's not densely pigmented, so building dimension is pretty foolproof. Also, it's unique in that it releases color pigment when it interacts with the oils in your brow hairs. Urban Decay Naked3 Palette is a one-stop shop for eye shadows. This is the rose-hued collection with mattes, pearls and metallics in a broad spectrum of neutral shades. I've never purchased a mascara that was more than $10 because Covergirl LashBlast delivers!

For lips, I rarely wear color. I've been using Vaseline Original Lip Therapy since elementary school! I adore Burt's Bees Moisturizing Lipstick in Suede Splash. For me, it's the most true shade of a pinkish brown — a more pigmented shade of my natural lip color.

(Image: Jenna Chong)

How about for a special occasion?

I like to vamp it up a notch by lining my upper lash line with Kat Von D Tattoo Liner in Satin Black. Anyone who has ever tried using liquid eyeliners knows the agonizing frustration of creating the perfect line after only five attempts. The firm yet flexible tip allows for more control and precision. I follow up with lining my bottom lash line with Laura Mercier Tightline Cake Eye Liner in Mahogany Brown, which unlike its shade suggests, has no red undertones, and is more of a rich chocolate brown.

What haircare products do you use?

I pamper my hair with Kiehl's Olive Fruit Oil Nourishing Shampoo (daily) and Kiehl's Olive Fruit Oil Deeply Reparative Hair Pak (twice a week). It makes my hair feel supple and shiny. The best part is that it works as a detangler, so I don't even have to brush my hair after I use it.

(Image: Jenna Chong)

What's your go-to hairstyle?

My hair is almost always in a high ponytail or messy bun, so much so that when I do leave my hair undone, people barely notice my haircut from months ago.

I am inept with styling tools, so if I want my hair to look styled, I part my hair into two pigtails, spritz some Drybar Mai Tai Spritzer Sea Salt Spray, twist the pigtails and pin them up with hair clamps (think Princess Leia). I let this sit for 10 minutes and get my beachy waves without the hassle.

(Image: Jenna Chong)
(Image: Jenna Chong)

Are there any DIY beauty treatments you love?

Does blending my own combinations of essential oils count? I like to mix Young Living Essential Oils. I gravitate toward the peppermint, orange, and lavender aromas. Hope Gillerman's True Relaxation essential oil is one of my favorites! It smells almost like said concoction, but with a hint of sage. There really is a science behind how aromas can positively affect your mood and state of mind.

What's the last product you used 'til there was nothing left?

Recently, it's been Hope Gillerman's True Relaxation essential oil. Aside from being a hand model, I also work in education. Last summer, my brother and I opened a test prep office called Decoded Prep in San Gabriel, specializing in preparing teens for the dreaded SAT and ACT exams. These tests are arguably the most crucial tests for high school students, as admission to top universities is heavily contingent upon earning a high score on these tests. I am terrible at deflecting the stress of others, so when frantic students and parents unleash their stress on me, I'm like a sponge and absorb the stress.

What's one thing you do every day that makes you feel great?

I have a hard time shutting my brain off, so I've found that carving out 30 minutes to unwind and reflect at the end of the day keeps me sane. My pre-slumber ritual includes Pandora-ing Coeur De Pirate Radio, Sous Le Ciel De Paris and Edif Piaf. French jazz is ideal — it's mellow and soulful, and because I don't understand any French, I am not fixated on the meaning behind lyrics, and can let my mind wind down. I find writing to-do lists very therapeutic. Having a game plan helps me compartmentalize and work more efficiently.

Who do you look to for beauty inspiration?

I find sharp, confident women who speak with purpose beautiful. Women like Lisa Ling and Mindy Kaling are exquisite because they use their renown as a platform for meaningful change, and are not afraid of a little self-effacing every now and then. I also like the effortless, put together style of Alexa Chung and Kirsten Dunst.

How would you describe your approach to beauty?

Mind and spirit first, then beauty.

(Image: Jenna Chong)

Be sure to follow Jenna on Instagram, and check back next week for the latest installment of 52 Faces, a weekly series that spotlights an inspiring woman's beauty routine. Last week, Natalia MacDougall, an L.A.-based nurse anesthetist, talked about how she discovered her love of science, revealed the best concealer for hiding dark circles after a long shift, and divulged the drugstore moisturizer she swears by.

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