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Everyone’s earliest memory of beauty always begins with the eyes. No, not an eye cream, necessarily, but rather an intent gaze at the products and practices of the person we admire most. For Olympic track runner Sydney McLaughlin-Lovrone, her eyes were on her older sister, Morgan McLaughlin.
“When my sister—who’s five years older—went to college, I was entering high school and started using anything she had left behind at the house. I wanted to learn how to use her skin care products and see if it works for me. I just loved growing my knowledge and was excited to take it on my journey,” the Olympic gold medallist tells ELLE.com. All roads led to CVS Pharmacy, a high schooler’s first beauty haven, and Sydney’s introduction to Neutrogena’s Pink Grapefruit acne scrub.
“I stole it from my sister because I thought if she’s using it, then it must work,” she admits. At the time, Sydney was on a mission to thwart chronic breakouts, especially under the scope of teenage boys. “You know, when you get to high school and start liking boys, you want to take care of yourself more. I would go to the local CVS, and, no joke, the first skincare brand I started looking at was Neutrogena; it’s affordable, and I had a lot of acne at the time, and that began a long journey of just figuring out my skin—is it oily? Dry? What makes sense?”
Well, trying to make sense of the skin care is as loud as the crowd cheering the star runner as she earned the title of world record-holder in the 400-meter hurdles earlier in July. Many products assert bold claims and boast long ingredient lists that resulted in years of trial and error. Sydney found reprieve in the drugstore Neutrogena aisle, a mainstay brand in her regimen for its science-backed, acne-fighting formulas that helped shift her perception of acne.
“Acne is natural, and you can’t define yourself by that. It comes down to where your identity is placed. I know for me, it’s not placed in looks because looks are fleeting,” she says. It’s just one of the pillars of the mission she wants to champion in her newest title: Neutrogena ambassador.
“What’s so beautiful about Neutrogena is that it has so many dermatologists that can teach me and give me the answers [I’m looking for]. They have products that work, the science is there, and I love being able to share that with others,” she notes. “I’m still learning to this day, but there’s just a certain pride that I feel when I can take care of myself and feel beautiful inside, and it emanates on the outside.”
Her beauty practices are rooted in what she calls “prehab”—or, as the adage goes, stay ready so you don’t have to get ready. Often, skin care routines are in place as a reaction to something, be it splotches of dry skin or irritation, or a crop of painful breakouts. A cycle begins: panic, buy, rehab, repeat.
“My trainer’s always saying, ‘You don’t want to have to go to rehab if you prehab,’ as in preparing your body before an injury occurs. It’s the same thing with your skin,” she explains. When skin issues arise, it’s a common reflex to opt for potent ingredients or schedule a skin treatment appointment. However, Sydney advises taking a moment to evaluate what’s already in your skincare toolkit. “Before you need to get serious work done, do the little things that you can now with sunscreen, retinol, anti-aging and hydrating products so that down the line you don’t have work so hard to reverse the damage. Prehab is when you take care of your skin over time,” she adds.
The track star’s favorite “prehab” requirement is sun protection, of course. “Wear your sunscreen, always. I make sure to get my neck because that’s key. Also, you’ve got to keep one in the car because the sun hits your face while driving,” she says sternly. Neutrogena’s Ultra Sheer Sunscreen is the one she keeps on her at all times, on and off the field. “At home, off the track, I take care of the skin, making sure that it is prepped and the sunscreen is on, the hydration is there, the blemishes are taken care of, all those different things so that when race day does come, everything looks flawless.”
Talking through Sydney’s must-have skin care products feels like checking off a list of TikTok’s most beloved skin care categories. She loves pimple patches (“The Stubborn Acne pimple patches are my go-to. I’m someone who will go out in public with pimple patches on my face if I have to.”); she has recently become a blush girl (“I do love a good blush, like a coral-y, cream blush.”), and even better, she considers herself a clean makeup girl.
“My makeup has evolved. Nowadays, girls do the full glam to race, and I love it because it feels like you’re getting ready for war and putting on your war paint. I used to do full glam, but I love that natural beauty is in right now and accentuating your natural features—that’s what I’ve been drawn to recently. I am becoming a clean girl for sure,” she shares, not just by TikTok’s definition, but literally. Her clean girl kit is not without Neutrogena’s Compostable Makeup Remover Cleansing Wipes, made of 100 percent plant-based cloth and biodegrades in just 35 days.
She considers herself a passive social media consumer. Detaching from the world is one way she maintains sanity in a world bogged down by negativity. “I’ll go on weeks where I just don’t have social media. That’s a huge thing because I think it clouds my mind, and I’m flustered with everything happening. I love to walk on the beach, me and my husband, and we love to read,” she says. Faith is another. It’s the meaning behind the title of her new book, Far Beyond Gold: Running from Fear to Faith. At first glance, it’s easily a memoir of Sydney’s meteoric rise to Olympic champion, but the book is a reminder to stay grounded and fearless in the face of adversaries. Not even a pimple is enough to keep the Olympian down.
“I feel like I’m at a point now where I’m starting to understand that a lot more. Joining Neutrogena, especially with them being the first skin care brand that I used, feels like a rite of passage. I’m at a place where I want to share as much knowledge, as much encouragement, and as much joy as I can, whether it be in track, whether it be spiritually, whether it be beauty. I love being able to help others. I don’t like to gatekeep at all.”
Beauty Commerce Editor
Nerisha is the beauty commerce editor at ELLE.com, covering all things beauty (and fashion and music). She has a penchant for sneakers and nude lip glosses, and spends way too much time re-watching 90s sitcoms.