A Holistic Approach to Beauty: An Interview with Tonya Papanikolov

We recently had the chance to catch up with holistic nutritionist Tonya Papanikolov, the mind and heart behind The Well Woman, and pick her brain about self-care rituals and her definition of beauty.

What drew you to becoming a holistic nutritionist?

Food, nutrition, and health have always been a big part of my life, whether I was struggling with some aspect of it or using it to thrive. I studied nutrition in university, but once I graduated I decided to put it on the backburner and try something new. I got swept up in the world of fashion and retail in two great jobs. These were formative years that were incredibly fun and that helped shape my perspective creatively. I’m very grateful for this time in my life. Somewhere in the midst of it I had a craving for something deeper and the winds of change started to shift me in a new direction — or rather, began to shift me back to where I started, but this time with new perception.

I am insatiably curious. Almost no other characteristic has remained as constant as this curiosity. It guides me. I’m a lover of food. Specifically, whole, healthy, and sustainably sourced foods. That being said, I’ve been known to have a soft spot for French fries.

[Now] I work in the health and wellness field as a consultant and freelancer. I’m a Holistic Nutritionist and founder of The Well Woman, which is a community for modern holistic wellness. It’s a place where I educate on sustainable plant-based foods, self-care, mindfulness, and holistic living, and that I curate with my photographs and stories.

How do beauty and beauty rituals factor into your life? What does beauty mean to you?

Rituals play a huge role in my life and are something I actively make time to carve out. I have a morning breathing and meditation practice, I dry-brush and do at-home enemas a couple times a week, I take time to prepare and plan healthy meals, I write poetry about my feelings, I do yoga or pilates, I see my alternative therapists — I have a holistic nutritionist, acupuncturist, and energy healer. These things cultivate love in my heart and make me feel physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually strong, and that’s when I feel radiant.

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My idea of beauty has shifted a lot over the years. As a young girl, most of the messaging around beauty was with regards to my looks and exterior body. So this was my focus for a long time. It wasn’t until my early 20s when I started unraveling some of my insecurities and becoming more self-aware and confident that I started to understand where real beauty comes from…[It] can be as simple as smiling at a stranger, making eye contact, or being vulnerable, honest, and open. There is so much beauty all around us that sometimes I’m overwhelmed by it. I think we just need to tear our eyeballs away from our screens and become a little more present to see it. I try to remind myself of that everyday.

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In terms of what we typically consider to be beauty rituals—that of the exterior body—I definitely have a routine. My skincare regime is very particular and important to me. I do this twice a day. I love to go to Pure + Simple for their natural facials every few months. And aside from that I use a mixture of Pure + Simple products, May Lindstrom, and Living Libations on my face. At night I cleanse with Pure + Simple Sensitive Skin Face Wash, tone with Witch Hazel that I get from an Herbalist in Toronto, use serum (Pure + Simple Hydration Serum), eye cream (Naturopathica – Primrose Eye & Upper Lip Treatment Cream), and then moisturize, right now with Holistic Vanity Damage Care – Brightening Hyaluronic Lotion. But I only use this occasionally since the Hyaluronic acid is quite powerful and can make skin very photosensitive.

Other times I moisturize with May Lindstrom’s Blue Cocoon, which is my favorite product. I can’t resist the smell. I also really love Living Libations! Their Best Skin Ever (my favorite is the Vanilla) is another staple of mine. In the mornings I do a cleanse and moisturize before putting SPF on. I love dry brushing; I do this a couple times a week before I shower. It’s great for stimulating lymph flow, removing dead skin cells, and invigorating the body in the mornings.

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In terms of make-up, I’m not really wearing too much of it these days. When I put it on, it takes me under 5 minutes. I have a natural sunscreen that I love; it almost doubles as a BB cream. It’s called Coola. Then I usually do a bit of spot covering with a foundation stick by W3ll People. I also really love RMS. I have their Living Luminizer that I put on my cheekbones and then use the Honest lip shine on my lips and [as a] blush. If I’m wearing mascara, I use the black tea organic mascara from 100% Pure.

I wash my hair once or twice a week. I shampoo it once a week and condition it twice. My hair needs as much moisture as it can get. Curly hair is notorious for being dry. I really love a line of hair care made in Toronto called Carina Organics. I use their Moisturizing Shampoo and Deep Treatment conditioner. They are all natural as well. After I shower, I brush my hair. I can only brush it when it’s wet! Half the time I just let it air dry with no product, but if I have somewhere nice to go I use F. Miller Hair Oil (love this product!). And I just got some leave in conditioner from Carina Organics. I’ll probably start using that after every shower too. I try to remember to do coconut oil treatments once a week, but it usually happens once a month. I just leave coconut oil in my hair for a few hours or overnight for a good conditioning.

Can you share any DIY beauty hacks you’re into?

I don’t know if I would call it a hack, but just eating clean, whole, plant-based foods. Avoiding sugar, limiting caffeine. I also love Triphala powder before bed. I take a teaspoon in warm water. Great for stimulating a morning bowel movement and getting toxins out of the body. I’m also really big on probiotic rich foods. I take a probiotic before bed every night and eat lots of sauerkraut, kombucha, and am starting to make my own cashew and coconut yogurt as well. Aside from this, I swear by colonics and enemas!

Are there secrets or habits that you learned from other women in your life — mother, grandmother, friends, or otherwise?

My mom instilled good hygiene habits in my sister and I. I remember her teaching us how to wash our faces and the importance of skin health. I do have a grandma who used to hide basil in her bra and use it as perfume. I love that! Sometimes when she would come over I would find it under my pillow. Stuffing my bra with basil sounds like a good idea in theory, for a few reasons — but I usually don’t wear a bra and I’d rather my basil for eating anyway!

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