Digame: Melinda Solares is Advocating for Mental Health in the Beauty Industry

Sephora's first Latina beauty director wants everyone to know that beauty starts from the inside

Melinda Solares

Credit: Melinda Solares | Courtesy

Sephora Beauty Director Melinda Solares is passionate about intertwining beauty with mental health and her Cuban roots. Her love for beauty stems from her family heritage in Cuba – where her grandfather founded a haircare brand – and from growing up playing with stage makeup as a competitive dancer. Her career at Sephora began in 2015 in the Makeup Merchandising Department working with some of the fastest growing brands on the market to develop their new products. She then discovered a passion for video content on Sephora’s Social Media Marketing Team where she ideated and created beauty tutorials for Sephora’s YouTube channel and built Sephora’s Instagram video program. Soon after, Melinda was made one of the first ever members of the #SephoraSquad, a crew of diverse storytellers sharing their love of all things beauty. Beyond her work in the beauty industry, Melinda is passionate about advocating for mental health. She is on a life-long wellness journey that she openly speaks about to raise awareness through her Instagram account (@ladyymelinda). She made history when she became Sephora’s first Latina Beauty Director in 2020 and for the last three years she’s been a lead for Sephora’s SephoraIN Latinx and community group, Mi Gente. Because of her advocacy work, she’s become a face for looking at beauty beyond skin deep and embracing diversity and self-love within the beauty industry.

Which Latina(s) have had the greatest impact on your life and why?

Growing up, my parents did not bring a ton of Cuban culture into our household. While this is not very uncommon for children of immigrants, as it often goes one way or the other, it always felt like something was missing. Working at my dad’s Cuban café that was run by a Hispanic team was really my first cultural immersion – the women who worked in the kitchen would speak in Spanish, play Spanish music, and always treated me with respect. Observing and admiring them was just the beginning of unraveling what my heritage meant to me.

If you could meet a Latina icon who is no longer alive, who would it be and why?

I would like to meet Frida Kahlo. From what I’ve learned about her, she was deeply entrenched in her own feelings and beautifully transmuted them into art and activism. Feelings are hard for me, and I have a lot of them, so I’d like to learn how she practiced presence and found self-empowerment.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

The best piece of advice I’ve received is to reframe my perspective of myself and how I use words to lift myself up. Growing up, I struggled with self-confidence. It may have not appeared that way – in fact, most of my internal struggles were just that: internal. I, like most young women, was not encouraged to talk about my feelings, be direct, speak confidently, or generally take up space and sadly, this influence can be amplified in the Hispanic community. I’ve just begun peeling off these layers of conditioning in the past few years and am slowly but surely starting to feel the fruits of my labor.

Who was the first person to believe in your dreams/goals?

My mom was the first person to believe in my dreams. When I was 16, she was diagnosed with cancer for the second time while I was in the process of applying and being accepted to colleges. She and I chose my school in Los Angeles together, despite her admission to the hospital shortly after I enrolled – when I asked her if I could pause school to spend more time with her at the hospital in San Diego, she said, “absolutely not.” At the time, I didn’t understand and was overwhelmed with emotions, but listened and visited as often as I could. Sadly, she didn’t get to leave the hospital again until we brought hospice into our home, and I have so many memories of working on my first college projects next to her hospital bed.

It was not until recently that I recalled a memory of my mom sharing the story of the beginning and end of her interior design career with me as a tween: a male hiring manager sexually harassed her in an interview for her first job, which broke her spirit and deterred her from ever perusing a career afterwards. As I grew up, I learned more about the disempowerment that women endure, and I’m grateful that my mom trusted me with her own story and that she forced me to stay focused on my career even when I wanted to be there for her. I needed to know this happened to her to ensure it never happens to a woman in my family again.

How do you stay connected to your cultural roots?

At times, it can be hard to feel connected to my cultural roots since my parents did not bring a lot of Cuban heritage into our home. The first time felt the connection was at my dad’s Cuban café, and I found it again when I visited Cuba for the first time – I felt complete, and I continue to remain connected through the work I am privileged to do at Sephora. For 3 years, I have been a lead for Sephora’s SephoraIN Latinx and Hispanic community group, Mi Gente. So far, I have interviewed and filmed my father’s immigration story to share company-wide, dove into Cuban history and presented my learnings to the community, and connected to others who grew up with more cultural influence and those who missed out on it, and could thereby relate, alike.

Additionally, as Sephora’s first ever Latina Beauty Director, I use my mental health advocacy and social platforms to uplift voices in our community and learn from them. I am currently working on a video podcast called The Beauty Manifest – it is launching this year, and I hope to leverage more of this storytelling.

What do you wish more people understood about what you do?

I wish that more people understood that, as a mental health advocate, Beauty Director, and podcast host, it is a privilege and a choice to share my whole self in effort to bring vulnerability to the surface of the beauty industry. That is my main goal – beauty starts from the inside, regardless of how it physically manifests. Many people in the beauty industry are hyper-focused on tangible beauty and can be dismissive of inner beauty work, which only validates my purpose.

What motivates you?

Collective pain motivates me. When I see that more than 20 percent of teens in America have seriously considered suicide and Hispanic people are 50 percent less likely to receive mental health treatment than non-Hispanics, it sets a fire in me that no self-soothing thoughts, meditations, or breathwork can ease. This pain, both mine and ours, was part of what forced me to hit my personal rock bottom and put myself back together again by doing the real, internal work that requires slowing down, sitting in the feelings, and transmuting them into new energy to be directed at a mission. I’m still learning this practice and trust it will be a life-long lesson, but deeply realize I have no choice but to do so if I want health and happiness in this life.

How did you end up on the professional path you’re on now?

I began my career at Sephora almost 10 years ago in the Makeup Merchandising department, working with some of the fastest growing brands on the market to develop their new products. I then discovered my passion for video content on Sephora’s Social Media Marketing Team where I ideated and created beauty tutorials for Sephora’s YouTube channel and built Sephora’s first ever Instagram video program. Soon after, I was made one of the first ever members of the #SephoraSquad, before becoming the first ever Latina Sephora Beauty Director.

I’d like to say that I was following my intuition (and maybe I was on some level), but for years, I was living unconsciously and out of the present moment which made my intuition hard to hear at times. I listened to external input more than my own, was a workaholic trying to escape the pain of my mom’s passing and was living for the system that ultimately broke me. Despite wishing I knew then what I know now, I am incredibly grateful for my journey and for a company like Sephora who has supported me as I became my authentic self.

What is your greatest professional achievement so far? Personal achievement?

My greatest personal achievement is not one singular accomplishment, but rather the culmination of every time I have the privilege to connect with someone who feels comfortable and accepted enough in our dynamic that they are willing to be vulnerable with the world. This honesty and transparency are infectious and each and every time it happens, I envision the collective pain lightening, even just in the most miniscule way.

What is a goal you have that you haven’t accomplished yet and what are you doing to get closer to accomplishing it?

My goal to reroute beauty from the inside out as it relates to the beauty industry, mental health, and digital boundaries will likely be a life-long pursuit, but I do believe that I can continue to make an impact. Through Sephora lending their platform for my mental health advocacy, my work in Sephora’s Latinx and Hispanic community group, and the vulnerability I share on my own platforms, I hope to uplift more voices and share more resources.

What pop culture moment made you feel seen?

One of my favorite moments in pop culture recently that made me feel seen is when Selena Gomez chose to announce a break from social media and encouraged others to do the same. My passion is mental health and digital boundaries as it relates to the beauty industry, and she is a fearless leader.

How do you practice self-care?

I practice self-care as consistently and as often as possible, as I feel it is pivotal if I want to help others. My go-to practices are meditation, breath-work, cold plunging, feeding myself nutritious foods, spending time outside with my cats, and the occasional massage.

Quick Fire:

Shoutout an Instagram account that could use more love and tell us why you’re a fan:

@ThoughtsMayVaryPod is a podcast I had the honor of being a guest on last year. The universe set the opportunity in my lap when after speaking at Rare Beauty by Selena Gomez’s Mental Health Summit, a Cuban sister named Gaby Ulloa came up to me, introduced herself and her podcast, and invited me to come on as a guest. I had just received the go-ahead from Sephora to start exploring podcasting opportunities and honestly, was not sure where I was going to start before I met Gaby. She told me that my words resonated with her as a fellow Cuban – she explained that her co-host is a mental health coach and that she is a fashion/beauty editor – it was like all my worlds were colliding at once. I even realized that her co-host and I danced together in San Diego as kids while we prepped for filming! These women talk the talk and walk the walk. WATCH: Becoming Clairvoyant + Growing Authentically with Sephora Beauty Director Melinda Solares

Shoutout your favorite Latina owned business and why:

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or have no interest in makeup, you’ve likely heard of Rare Beauty by Selena Gomez, a Sephora exclusive brand. Their products are easily some of my favorites (and I try a lot) and their founder Selena Gomez is not only Latina but also a mental health advocate. Something you may not know – the brand’s Rare Impact Fund is working to raise $100M in funds over the next ten years to support organizations focused on strengthening mental health services and education for young people.

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beauty industry cuban digame Latina beauty brands Latina mental health Melinda Solares Mental Health Self Love Sephora
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