Skin was never designed to look like glass. Why are we telling each other it’s normal to spend hundreds of dollars on it anyway?
(Image Courtesy of Town & Country)
The first time someone told me to start an elaborate skincare routine was when I was thirteen. I remember going with an older girl to a woman who specialized in selling expensive skincare products from a store wedged between the high-end shops of West LA. Like most people who wait in the aisles of cosmetology stores to give advice on which goops to apply at night and which goos to apply in the morning, this woman had no formal degree in dermatology. She simply loaded my shopping basket with products that no thirteen-year-old had any business buying with their hard-earned babysitting money, explaining how they would ‘brighten’ the eyes, get rid of nonexistent acne, and cleanse the skin of ambiguous impurities.
Of course, none of these products made an impact on the appearance of my skin. The true influence of this experience was my internalization of the need to care about the appearance of my skin to the extent of dishing out a few hundred dollars a year on special (aka ineffective) products.
Many people, especially women, have been lied to about the attainability and necessity of glass-like skin. Social media influencers, celebrities, and product promoters have made this ideal especially apparent, posting promotion after promotion of products promised to bring someone’s skin one step closer to appearing as if it were glass. Many of these advertisements conceal themselves as empowering women; I wonder how a company could pass itself off as such when they implicitly tell women their natural beauty needs to be fixed. Like the woman from the skin-care industry of my teenage years, none of these people have credentials in dermatology, yet they claim to have the answers for any skin care-related insecurity.
Skincare products that are sold via social media are often within high price ranges and require more than one product to be applied at multiple points of the day. One popular skincare company advertises the ‘sale’ of a thirty-milliliter product, sold for $80 instead of the average $100. In fact, skincare “has become the most profitable sector of the cosmetics industry,” growing “some twenty billion dollars between 2014 and 2019” (Jarvis). Further, the popularization of skincare regimens has been at the hands of skincare influencers, with hundreds constructing their own ‘perfect’ combination of toners, serums, and lotions. As a result, millions of people feed into the system of buying wildly expensive products advertised as life-changing, by nonprofessionals, multiple times a year.
Playing off of a societally-conditioned need for women to feel as if they’ve met the idealized standard of femininity, the skincare industry has created the perfect scheme of creating and maintaining a dependent group of consumers.
Despite the fact that perfect skin is in no way attainable or lasting, most skincare products that promise to transform it are, in general, ineffective. Monty Lyman, a dermatologist, and James Hamblin, author of “Clean: The New Science of Skin” (Riverhead), both argue that skincare products are overemphasized when we talk about skin health. They claim that the science of skin health “suggests that we err when we think of skin as static or as separate, to be ministered to by surface applications of various cleansers and moisturizers, goops and goos” (Jarvis). Though some products do and have worked well for the appearance of many individual’s skin, it is not the only aspect that goes into healthy skin. Further, healthy skin does not translate into glass-like skin.
When we think of skin, we must think of it as another part of our body we can love and maintain, not transform or erase. Our skin, specifically that on our face, is microscopically a beautiful ecosystem “in constant connection with the health of the rest of our body, as well as with the world beyond” (Jarvis). Treating it as it is something constant amongst individuals, something that can be changed to look like that of ‘normal’ people, inherently shows that our natural state is not worthy of love and existence. As put by writer Jessica Defino, “it’s a good thing that glass skin is unattainable IRL (honestly, have you ever seen glass skin outside of social media?), because all the features I’d need to erase in order to get that smooth, glassy glow literally exist to protect me.”
I by no means am trying to denounce the field of dermatology, for it is an important medical resource like any other, and many have had their lives greatly improved by these doctors. Nor am I trying to invalidate the very real insecurities that come with imperfect skin. It is one thing to critique a system that tells us our natural state is imperfect; it is a completely different thing to get rid of the internalized yearning for perfection.
In short, I think that skincare influencers need to worry about the messages they are sending into our communities about perfect skin, specifically in the ways it impacts a teenager’s perception of their appearance.
I only recently have abandoned the skincare routine I’ve been tweaking for years following my initial trip to the skincare shop. Interestingly enough, my skin has never been clearer of acne or brighter than it is now. Nonetheless, the confidence in the way my body naturally presents itself is something I’ve gained from my departure from the skincare industry, confidence I hope no thirteen-year-old girl ever has to question. My bank account is thoroughly relieved too.
Ryan Ford '23,