Fashion & Beauty

Bugs Beauty

May 19, 2024



By Valerie Monroe
For nearly 16 years Valerie Monroe was the beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the popular “Ask Val” column. She now splits her time between Manhattan and Tokyo.

If you’re interested in feeling happier about your appearance—especially as you age—you might like reading what she has to say about it. For more of her philosophical and practical advice, subscribe for free to How Not to F*ck Up Your Face at

Can’t get enough Valerie Monroe? There’s more at

COMING BACK to New York City after visiting my family in Tokyo, as I do every several months, always reminds me of how much I dislike transitions. Which is unfortunate, as I am simultaneously reminded that life itself is one long transition.

My ambivalence about leaving Japan increases when my granddaughter asks, “But why do you have to go back to New York, Grammie?” My answer—that I have another life here—doesn’t feel satisfying.

Yet when I’m home, working at my table as I am now, looking out at the trees along the river, and making plans with friends, my life does feel right. It’s just that my heart also yearns to be reunited with the people I love so deeply on the other side of the world. It seems the older I get, the more urgent the yearning—knowing with increasing certainty that time is finite.


Having brought back a couple of pieces from my favorite Japanese clothing line, Pas de Calais, I wasn’t surprised to see a story in The New York Times about the trend of oversize clothes in Tokyo. I bought (thanks to the weak yen) what you could call a pantsuit on my most recent trip. It has a kind of goofy silhouette, but I like it: the jacket large and the pants short. The jacket is a patchwork of black wool and navy pinstripe corduroy, and the trousers are wool with navy corduroy at the belt line. (I’m afraid you can’t see the details in the photo, below.) I’m used to wearing a more tailored profile, but as my body has transitioned with menopause—hello, tummy!—I’m now more comfortable in looser clothes. (Though not always that comfortable.)

Large jacket, short pants.

It occurs to me our faces are also constantly in transition. I was trying to come up with some wise or comforting philosophical comment about that, but all I can think is, Well, sh*t. Forgive me: jet lag.


Speaking of trips, a reader anticipating a Caribbean cruise wonders how she should apply sunscreen when moisturizer and insect repellent are also on the program . . .

Q: I’m looking forward to a Caribbean cruise. Viking has warned us about mosquitoes on the islands that are known to carry the Zika virus, dengue fever, and other nasty ailments. What’s the most effective way to incorporate sunscreen and insect repellent into my skincare regimen to ward off both sunburn and illness? I plan to use a higher SPF sunscreen than usual and will apply it more liberally and frequently. But in what order should I apply moisturizer, sunscreen, and insect repellent to my face and body for best results? 

A: A vacation! A vacation with Zika, dengue fever, and other nasty tropical ailments! That would be enough to send me to Iceland, though almost every person I know who’s gone to Iceland in the past year has returned with Covid. So maybe a Caribbean holiday isn’t such a bad idea.

I turned to HNTFUYF DermDiva, Heidi Waldorf, for her best advice.

“Generally, I suggest applying moisturizer before sunscreen, so the sunscreen can go on more smoothly,” she said. But in warmer, more humid weather, when a sunscreen alone may feel sufficient, applying sunscreen first and then adding moisturizer if your skin still feels dry makes sense.

Mosquito repellent is in a different category than skincare; think of it instead as safety gear, said Waldorf. The most effective repellents contain DEET, and you don’t want to apply that everywhere. (No, we don’t, but it’s probably not going to kill us.)

When she’s traveling—and she’s a big traveler—Waldorf prefers individually wrapped bug repellent towelettes, because they’re convenient and make the repellent easy to use. “After applying your moisturizer and sunscreen, rub the towelette on any areas that will be exposed except the face,” she said. To protect the face, apply the repellent only on the hairline, outer ears, and under the jawline. Then, wash your hands well. After an hour, you can reapply sunscreen without worrying about spreading the repellent where you don’t want it. You can also buy bug-repellent clothing—shawls and hats pre-treated with permethrin, or a spray to treat your own clothes (or have them treated for you—but that requires $$$). And Waldorf adds an interesting note about DEET: It can melt nail polish. So be careful if you want to keep a manicure intact.

Though most of us may not be thinking about mosquito protection yet this year, as climate change accelerates the circulation of various insect-borne communicable diseases, we’d be wise to know how to protect ourselves. Dear Reader, I hope you suffer no unbidden flying guests and enjoy the trip as a happily unbitten one yourself.


Grownup Girl Fashion by MyLittleBird

Fashion and beauty for women over 40. A Substack from the writers who bring you MyLittleBird.
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