Sánchez was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and is the youngest of four siblings, having three older brothers. She received her primary education in San Juan. At a young age, she showed an interest in both dancing and acting. She enrolled in the University of Puerto Rico, where like her father and brothers she was to study marketing, but left the course after three years and moved to New York City at 18 in 1991, where she took classes in dancing, acting and singing. She returned to Puerto Rico in 1992, and made her movie debut, landing a small role as an island girl in the movie Captain Ron, starring Martin Short and Kurt Russell.
In Puerto Rico, Sánchez gained public attention as a dancer and as co-host of a variety show called Qué Vacilón. At that time, in 1993, Sánchez won the Miss Puerto Rico Petite contest, and in 1994 she won the international title of Miss American Petite, bringing her international fame. Sánchez has been named to numerous annual lists of beautiful women including Maxim Magazine's "Hot 100" in 2001, 2002 and 2006; AskMen.com's "Top 99 Most Desirable Women" in 2005 and 2006; and FHM's "100 Sexiest Women" in 2005 and 2006.
In 2001, Sánchez was cast as Jackie Chan's love interest, Isabella Molina, in the hit movie Rush Hour 2. In 2003, she played the role of Lorena in the movie Chasing Papi. Sánchez has acted in some 20 movies. In 2003, her first musical recording, Borinqueña, was released. The album's first single, "Amor Amor", gained a lot of attention as well as a Latin Grammy nomination for Best Music Video. She appeared in Craig David's music videos "Hidden Agenda" and "Personal" and in the Fabolous video for the song "Make Me Better".
Sánchez starred as played Agent Elena Delgado in Without a Trace from 2005 to 2009. She composed the musical Yellow, about a singer/dancer/actress who leaves Puerto Rico to hit the big time in New York, in which she played the principal part. The movie was filmed in 2005 and released in 2007. Also in 2007, she starred in the movie The Game Plan. In 2011, Sánchez made a guest appearance on TNT's Rizzoli & Isles, playing villainous attorney Valerie Delgado. In 2013, Sánchez starred in the television series Devious Maids on Lifetime, it rams for four seasons before being canceled in 2016.
Sánchez was married to English actor, former boxer and former model Gary Stretch from August 9, 1998 to April 15, 2001. After her divorce, she started a relationship with Puerto Rican salsa singer Víctor Manuelle, but they ended their relationship; the separation was amicable. She married actor Eric Winter on November 29, 2008, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. They had a daughter in 2012 and a son in 2017.
- Sánchez is a supporter of animal rights and an active member of PETA.
- She appeared nude in a PETA ad in support of anti-fur campaign efforts.
- She is the spokesperson of the Fundación de Niños San Jorge, which assists sick children from poor families.
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