Beauty

Dasha Nekrasova Thinks Skin Care Is An Inside Job

The Red Scare co-host on navigating quarantine, the internet, and her forthcoming directorial debut, The Scary of 61st Street.

Dasha Nekrasova is a contemporary triple threat: actor, podcaster, and shitposter. As one-half of downtown New York City’s Red Scare podcast with writer Anna Khachiyan, the two offer no-filter, low-fi cultural and political commentary that routinely sends their haters into a frenzy. Imbued with their native Slavic sensibilities, the podcast has built its own unique cachet with guests including author Natasha Stagg, philosopher Slavoj Žižek, and journalist Glenn Greenwald. You can expect to hear the ladies dissect their docket as they blast cigarettes, pour vodka on ice, and maybe even hit a bong, if the mood is right.

Red Scare’s start coincided with SXSW 2018, where Nekrasova hit the viral lottery when she was ambushed by an InfoWars reporter. Clad in a Japanese schoolgirl uniform and a beret, an aloof Nekrasova took down the bad-faith, conservative reporting team in between nonchalant sips of iced coffee. Sailor Socialism became meme canon and Nekrasova’s dismissive retort, “You people have, like, worms in your brain, honestly,” remains a fresh and poignant political analysis to this day.

Sitting across from Nekrasova at a quiet café in Manhattan’s Lower East Side one balmy September afternoon, it’s clear why she’s got an ever-growing, captivated fan base. In person, Nekrasova is warm, cheery, and cerebral, easily zipping from anime girl makeup to Jungian analysis and back again. Je ne sais quoi, It factor, straight-up glamour — whatever the hell you want to call it, she’s got it.

When shelter-in-place rules swept New York, Nekrasova’s life was thrown for a loop. At the time, she was living in a 300-square-foot apartment with a roommate, a place she chose partly because she figured she’d never have to be home, except to sleep. But all her usual refuges, like gyms and restaurants, had shuttered. Even her beloved meandering walks came with the creeping fear that her presence could infect someone vulnerable. She did what she had to do: packed up a few Los Angeles Apparel tennis skirts, stayed with her boyfriend in Queens, and dove deep into makeup and skin care to take up the time.

There was a small silver lining. Nekrasova had just wrapped filming for her directorial debut, The Scary of 61st Street, a psychosexual thriller that takes place in the aftermath of pedophilic financier Jeffrey Epstein’s murder at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, and the post-production process kept her occupied in the bleakness of quarantine. Nekrasova had become an Epstein truther and felt like his death affirmed her most tinfoil-hat thoughts of an elite, sinister ruling class with an avowed interest in maintaining power, no matter the cost. She and writing partner Madeline Quinn, who both star in the film, challenged the hopelessness spiral they felt into the script, which they just so happened to write on the Equinox rooftop on 61st Street.

As New York finds its footing once more, so has Nekrasova. She’s continuing her behind-the-camera tip, and most recently directed avant-garde electronic musician Oneohtrix Point Never’s Tonight Show performance. Ahead, Nekrasova talks beauty, e-girl casualties, and more — from the best freckle pen on the market to the magic of good timing.

Courtesy of Dasha Nekrasova

I know you learned a lot about beauty during quarantine. What were some of the main takeaways?

I have always been into products, annoyingly, and I think in quar [sic] I had all this extra money from not going to bars or restaurants. I couldn't go to Sephora and use testers anymore, so I had to purchase things. I really accumulated a lot of products. I would do full face makeup and wipe it off. I watched lots of beauty tutorials. I don't think I'm high maintenance, but it's a point of interest.

What were some of the first changes you had to make in quarantine?

I lived in a tenement building, basically, with a roommate in a 300-square-foot apartment. I moved into it the year prior thinking, "I'll never have to be in my house, so it's OK. I live in Manhattan and I can go to Equinox every day and take some meetings, go have lunch with someone, and then come home at night to sleep."

And so when the prospect of having to quarantine happened, it seemed really impossible. I started dating someone who lived in Queens, so I moved in with him. I kept my apartment, obviously, but I actually bought like four different LA Apparel tennis skirts. I basically had a uniform that I wore because I only had the LA Apparel haul that I made in early quar. And then I would buy random pieces off The RealReal every now and then. So then, I got really into products.

I feel like a lot of people fell into the “I don't need to wear real clothes, I’ll live in sweatpants" mentality, so having a uniform was smart.

I tried to avoid that. I sensed that it would've been good for morale. And also being in a new relationship, you're not really quite as willing to do that. I would still keep the same kind of beauty rituals. I lost a lot of weight because my boyfriend's vegan and I feel like a lot of my caloric intake was because I either got takeout or ate at restaurants basically every day.

How was having to shift into cooking more? Was it a struggle?

No, because I didn't have anything else to do. I found it kind of comforting because it was very ritualistic and you just would follow a recipe. Being vegan is interesting because you're trying to figure out ways to replicate the effects and flavors of non-vegan foods.

You've got to get very creative.

I really got into this website called SlavicVegan.com and I'd devise many different recipes for vegan Kotleti, made out of mushrooms. I would get mushrooms delivered from this place in Brooklyn called Smallhold — they're like a mushroom farm; they'll bring you nice mushrooms once a week — and I would use those for fun vegan takes on Slavic favorites. I didn't cook before, but when in quarantine it was nice because I was like, "OK, this really kills the time."

You included Masque Vivant as one of your favorite products, which I have to say is really worth the hype.

It's the best. Biologique Recherche, with the Lotion P50, is worth it. The best facial I ever got was at their place in Paris. They told me to never do extractions, and I've gotten a couple facials since in the States and I've been like, "Please don't do extractions." The facialists were like “No, no, no, you have to.” And they'll do it, and I always break out after I get extractions done. It traumatizes your skin. They’re about the science, kind of. But it works.

How do you feel about skin care? Do you feel like elaborate routines make an impact or that, at the end of the day, it's just genetics and wearing sunscreen?

Yeah, I know. It's such a frivolous pastime, because my skin often has been best when I'm just using Cetaphil and a nice moisturizer. But I’m just a Space NK girl. [Laughs] I really like the girl working at Space NK who also knows a lot about chemicals and can really make the right recommendations for exfoliants and stuff. It doesn't matter if you're patting or rubbing. It's all snake oil. Except for toning. Believe the hype.

I’ve heard you wax poetic about freckle pens.

I found the best freckle pen brand. I am not sponsored by anyone, for the record. I feel like I'm constantly like Lancôme's Juicy Tubes are back! [Laughs] I'm like a spokesperson for all these products. But Freck is the name of the company. It's way too expensive, but it's like a pen. It's sheer enough like they're real. You do a dot, and then I tap it around to spatter it. I like to put it around my eyes. Like, if you got sunspots in just the right, most adorable patches, that's what the freckle pen does for me. I basically like to draw a whole anime face, like the Instagram filter, and then just wash it off. You know?

You're just speeding up what's going to eventually happen.

It's mortifying, because when someone's like, "Did you draw freckles on?" You can't be like, "No, I got a lot of sun! My skin's really sensitive!” I'll just be like, "No, these freckles are real."

How does this compare to your day-to-day look?

My day-to-day makeup is pretty fairly minimal. I feel like I used to always go to Sephora. I definitely was using those testers at Sephora too late into COVID. I remember going to the Sephora on the Upper East Side when COVID was happening but we hadn't locked down yet, and being like, "I shouldn't do this," but still using lip gloss testers and stuff.

Courtesy of Dasha Nekrasova

You also got bangs recently. Congrats. Were you looking at anyone's bangs in particular for inspiration?

I got bangs yesterday for the fall because I really thought about all this. I don't feel very feminine in the winter when I have to wear my puffer jacket for three months, so I feel like a bang is nice. I had bangs for a long time and I think they do suit me, but I'm really kind of oily and sweaty. So the summer's not the best time for me to get them, then they grow out by the time summer's back. I found a picture of Léa Seydoux that had the bang. Kirsten Dunst has had some good curtain bangs in the past. She's definitely on my bangs mood board. I get my hair cut at Shizen in Brooklyn.

The Japanese know what they're doing.

They’re the only people I'd really trust, I think, with a bang. They're attuned to my needs, which I like. I’ll be like, "I want them to be wispy but not too wispy, straight across but a little parted down the middle, too." It's like going blonde. I find myself getting really neurotic about it. I want it to be warm but ashy, but also golden. I have all these contradictory standards. But I think they did a great job.

You’ve also talked about embracing the dark circle look. Let's get into that.

That, I think, also came out of quarantine beauty tutorial deep-dives and really trying to figure out what the best eye makeup was for me. I've always had dark under-eye circles since I was a kid. I feel like I look kind of freakish when they're covered up. When I see them on other people, I often find them to be really beautiful. Like on Léa Seydoux, for example. I wanted to find a way of accentuating them rather than trying to cover them up.

What have you been doing to accentuate the look?

Basically I found an eyeshadow by Lancôme called “Waif” that is this kind of light, taupe-pink that matches my skin and basically doesn't look like I'm wearing eyeshadow. I'll use either that or a light bronzer basically, into the crease and under my eyes.

What does your full anime face entail exactly?

I'll prep my skin with moisturizer and stuff, and then I'll put on this glass skin serum by Farsali that I think is probably kind of bad for your skin. It makes your skin really glassy. Then I'll do blush, like pink blush, but high up under my eyes. There's a Japanese word for that makeup style that makes you look kind of sickly. The pink eye kind of look. You put on a lot of blush up around your eyes, across the bridge of your nose, a dot of highlighter, the freckles. I'll do lots of mascara and then eyeliner really close to my lash line, and then the under-eyeliner and the white in the middle and stuff. I'll do the whole sparkling anime eye thing.

Besides cooking and doing anime face, what else did you do to stay mentally fortified during quar?

It was really traumatic in New York. Sometimes I'll remember how traumatic it was and that feeling of ambient death. I remember going to bodegas or the grocery store and being like, “Am I making everyone around me sick and killing them?” I'd get emotional looking at, like, the guy at the bodega being like, "I don't want you to die. You seem a little old."

My life before was really about being outside. I really love New York, almost in a corny way. I really loved being out in the streets and drinking my iced coffees and going to restaurants. And now so many of them are closed. It’s super tragic. But I did read a lot. I finally cracked open The Affect Theory Reader, which was perfect also for getting into being vegan, because that's all about affects. I tried to do Pilates. It would've been nice to have had some kind of physical exercising outlet for mental health. I started Jungian analysis.

I couldn't watch movies for a while because it felt kind of triggering, I guess, to see people touching or taking cabs. I had dissonance where I didn’t know what world this movie takes place in. I'm an only child, so I've cultivated a deep inner world. I feel like I emerged relatively unscathed. There was a turning point for me. It felt like grieving almost, and then I was like, "OK, there isn't an alternative. This is just what it is." I had to reframe it and not think of it as a loss and more of just like, I don't know, adjustment or something.

quarantine via Dasha Nekrasova

Tell me more about your movie. I know it’s a psychosexual thriller.

Yes, set in the aftermath of Jeffrey Epstein's death. It's called The Scary of 61st Street. It's about these girls who move into an apartment that they discover used to belong to Jeffrey Epstein. It's kind of about the Satanic energies of the Upper East Side and New York real estate, and I guess ephemeral trauma. Basically, one of them becomes possessed by a pedophilic entity, I guess you could say. And then another character becomes an Epstein truther. It takes place in December of 2019; it's very much a time capsule.

I shot it on 16mm in January, sort of writing it obviously after Epstein died around September, like a year ago, with my writing partner Madeline Quinn, who's also in the movie. When Epstein died, I was living really close to MCC and it really felt like the CIA slapping me in the face.

I know what you mean. I was in a daze.

I think a lot of people had that experience. They were sort of red-pilled by Epstein's death. It made me feel really manic and helpless, and it confirmed a lot of my most paranoid thoughts. I think that's why it's such a popular conspiracy because it really affirmed a lot of people's feelings of powerlessness and made it clear that there is a ruling class and our interests run counter to theirs. They're extremely powerful and really sinister in shadowy ways. I was just at a loss of what to do with that feeling of futility. So me and Madeline started writing it. We wrote it actually at the Equinox on 61st Street because they have a rooftop deck.

What was the process like?

We wanted to write it as a short initially, and then it got to be about 40 pages. We met these producers who helped get it made and helped us flesh it out into a feature-length film. It all happened really quickly. My agent said to me recently, "I wanted to tell you to wait to make it and that maybe you could've been a little more developed. But obviously you wouldn't have been able to because of COVID." So it's really good that I did it. I'm very happy with it. It has a very manic energy that I was experiencing while I was making it, and I think that makes for a fun movie.

As an actor, how are you taking the changes to your industry?

I basically stopped acting. I've maybe done a couple self-tapes during, since this year basically. But I was really busy working on editing my film and writing and stuff. I really enjoyed directing.

I would act again if the right kind of thing happened. But I'm 29, so it kind of also feels like whatever window of time I had to be a successful actress or whatever is passed. Especially since COVID, I felt like maybe acting isn't going to be the thing. I need to reorient. Luckily, I have been writing and directing, too. There will be movies, obviously. They'll probably just have to be made a lot smaller, which is actually good for indie film.

Between you and Anna and the popularity of Red Scare, I feel like you both get so many people who project on you, are rude and cruel, or just act like they know you. How do you deal with these sorts of forces in your life?

I have my Twitter set to only see notifications from people that I follow. So I will look at responses, but if I looked at every single thing someone said to me on the internet, my life would be really disorienting and hellish. When we first started it and people were starting to pile on us, it took more of a toll. But I think we both have become desensitized to it. I think Twitter is pathological and it makes people act in really unwell ways. It’s not my problem at the end of the day, I guess.

I had a makeup artist recently on a shoot that Anna and I did who I had gotten in a Twitter feud with and said something really mean to. And then when I met him, he was incredibly sweet and cool, and we really got along. We had mutual friends, we had a lot in common. It sort of shed a light [on] how no one knows anyone's experience on the internet and everyone is trying to navigate it as best they can.

But it's obviously a psychological minefield because there's so much projection happening. And so many people getting triggered and lashing out. I've noticed even in doing therapy twice a week that if I get upset about something, sometimes I'll go online and say something provocative. I think everyone does it, in a way. I'll invite the negative attention to vindicate some kind of way I'm already feeling. Which also isn't healthy. I think it's something we'll look back on in maybe a decade and be like, "Oh, this was a really dark force in everyone's life."

Courtesy of Dasha Nekrasova

It does feel psychologically damaging. And we're putting out so much personal information out into the ether. I'm so curious to see what the next 10 years of internet use is going to be like.

I think Instagram's worse maybe. Or has been revealed to be worse as it's become more of this political platform. It feels like this website's broken. It's not working the way it's supposed to. It feels like the marketing logic has infected any utility. The infographics are a good example of that because it's just people trying to pad their graphic design resumes. Right?

They all look like a startup website’s splash page.

It's like corporate twee. It's owned by Facebook. Imagine going on Facebook and caring about what people are saying on there. It feels the same to me. I don't care what is really happening on Mark Zuckerberg's evil little platform.

How do you feel about the memeification of Sailor Socialism?

Good. It was memeified basically when it happened. But I'm happy to see that it's kind of long-lasting. I feel good about that Infowars ambush. I got like 40,000 followers in 12 hours. That was when I really became cognizant, I think, of that dopamine that you get. Because when it went away, I was like, "Oh, now there's this lack that didn't exist before." It happened really quickly and that was right when we started the pod, too, so it dovetails nicely.

Timing has been on your side with a lot of things. Do you believe in—

The grace of God? Yeah, I do. [Laughs] I remember I was pissed because I didn't get to go to some kind of filmmaker brunch with [Wobble Palace director] Eugene Kotlyarenko. But I had to do some other weird press, so I couldn't go to a Bernie rally that was also happening. I said to my producer AJ, who’s in the video, "I'm not worried about being at the right place at the right time because I feel like it's God's plan." Because that Drake song was on the radio and then five minutes later, I was holding my ice coffee and that girl ran up to me. I do believe in the grace of God, yeah.

What are you doing for enjoyment these days? New York is finding its footing and a lot of pastimes have been clipped.

I'm definitely much more reclusive than I was prior to quarantine. Definitely do a lot more indoor stuff. I'm not outdoorsy really anyway. I never really left New York to go somewhere more scenic. I still don't really feel good going to restaurants. Even though I do, because they do have a really important purpose. Like us right now, we're at a coffee shop. There was a while where it was like people would be like, “Let's hang out!” and I'm like, "I'm going to go to your house?" There needs to be neutral spaces for people to go to. I still like strolling. I still love an aimless walk.

Do you think New York City is dead?

No, of course not. I think it's clear to people who are here. But it's going to be really different probably for a while. It's not dead unless New Yorkers abandon it, and I don't think that they will.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.