(A/N – This may expand into a semi-regular series, along with my forthcoming makeup rants)
My skin care product odyssey begins in November. My sister is home for our grandmother’s funeral, and I’m driving her back from the airport. As she throws her bags into the boot of my car, she points out some skin care stuff she purchased whilst on layover in Munich. We chat about it more in the car – she mentions having recently heard about the virtues of eye cream.
I don’t think I actually know what eye cream is at this point. My lineage of face-cleany-uppy-products is fairly primitive. My mother keeps me well stocked with Neutrogena moisturizer/sunscreen, as she has done since college. I retain vague sense memories of the intense mentholyptus smell and slight tingly feeling of of Noxzema, dating back to junior high. I remember a teenage magazine featuring an ad on the inside cover for some product that looked mildly sci-fi, which was likely the only reason it stuck with me. “Welcome to the planet sebaceous,” the text read.
It occurs to me that maybe I should be doing one of these things, or a slightly more grown-up version thereof. “Should.” Perhaps I will try it, at least, and see what happens.
A friend is a manager for Arbonne and very much an advocate for their products. I ask her about eye care products, and she offers me a full face-care kit to try out.
I use this kit diligently for about a week. I learn that toner is not just the stuff that goes in your printer, and serum is not just a component of blood. I solemnly follow the step by step instructions on the laminated card that comes with the kit. “I am now attempting step one: the smoothing facial cleanser,” I tell loving fiancee before going to clean my face, repeating as I progress numerically at each step along the way. “I have completed step one: the smoothing facial cleanser. I am now attempting step two, the regenerating toner…” You get the idea. I try to take before and after photos, but the light isn’t great, and the phone camera isn’t great, and it’s probably a lost cause. It’s a learning experience. I become less intimidated by the shiny orange plastic with the vaguely runic stylized “A” but don’t fall in love with any of the products.
A little after Christmas, I take my first faltering footsteps into my local Ulta Beauty. No, I tell a lie – my first faltering footsteps came a few months earlier, looking for a stage makeup effect (It was for a play about different components of identity – in one scene, a very beautiful young African American woman starts in whiteface and slowly uncovers her face over the course of the scene. It was a really haunting, effective little moment, but the mechanics of the makeup – finding something that would come off quickly and completely – were cumbersome. One possibility we explored was a white facial mask. It didn’t work very well; I kept the leftovers). Long sidebar, but this is the only reason I know to go to Ulta and the only reason I have a brand to focus on, from amidst the many gleaming shelves and indecipherable names. Mario Badescu.
Even narrowing it down that far doesn’t really help much. Is seaweed better than grapefruit? How long will a medium-sized bottle last me? Am I oily skin? Dry? Normal? Combo? Caffeine free? Extra shot? Supersize with a diet coke? Eventually, a kind sales associate takes pity on me and talks through a few options.
This is probably all bullshit. I tell myself that a lot, looking at the COUNTERACT THE EFFECTS OF FREE RADICALS and IT’S A REALLY LIGHT CREAM and ANTIOXIDANT and STEM CELLS and RIGOROUS TESTING and ORGANIC ORGANIC ORGANIC. Probably, some of the products are mildly not bullshit, but the industry is bullshit aplenty. This is just an experiment, I tell myself. I’m going to try new things this year, involving GirlStuff ™. I’m not springing for the highest of the high end, most expensive, spa-quality GirlStuff ™, and I don’t need to feel bad about trying a few different brands of bullshit. If none of these creams and gels and other concoctions connects with my inner goddess of divine femininity and flower petal imagery, then I just won’t keep doing it. Easy.
A couple months pass. I’m most of the way through my supply of Mario Badescu. I’m not dissatisfied, but I’m not a convert. I return to the Temple of Ulta. This time, I bite the bullet and ask for help from the get-go. A different sales associate – maybe a little younger than me, definitely more made up than me, and cheerfully enthusiastic – sings the praises of Juice Beauty. There’s a lot of ORGANIC ORGANIC ORGANIC that I don’t really care about that much, but I did ask, so. Ya know.
The thing that bothers me the most about the Juice Beauty products is how poorly designed the freaking dispensers seem to me. Also, it does in fact smell vaguely like juice, which just kind of confuses my senses.
None of this is real. All of this is bullshit. You can’t re-write your future face. I don’t really want to. I’d like to think that I’ll be fine with my face and what it looks like when I’m 37, or 42, or 56, or 64, because who cares where and when I start wrinkling? Haven’t we all got better things to worry about? It’s just a face.
It occurs to me at some point that this is definitively bullshitty because in order to truly call something “anti-aging” or preventative of wrinkles, these companies would need to be running multiple clinical studies over, like, 50 years, and it just doesn’t seem like the modern beauty industry would have the patience for something like that.
I think that not wearing makeup on a regular basis, avoiding tanning, and dutifully using the Neutrogena moisturizer my mother sends has done a lot for me over the years. From my father, I don’t get oodles of Neutrogena moisturizer, but I do get Asian genetic material which means I’m just predisposed to look younger than I am, I think. It’s a little irritating, sometimes, but I fully expect to get carded well into my 30s.
Why am I even experimenting? My skin is okay. I’ve gotten by just fine on Neutrogena and apathy so far.
I eventually run out of patience for the Juice Beauty and stop using it as regularly. I realize that loath as I am to be wasteful, if I’m not using it, there’s no point in keeping it. The product will just get clogged in the terribly designed dispensers.
I go back to Ulta. I tentatively accost a new sales associate for advice. So far, I like her the best of the three – she seems more laid back, honest about the fact that the pricier options aren’t always going to be the best, and encouraging to explore options in my own time and read up on reviews if I’m feeling iffy. I go with her suggestions and try some products from bareMinerals.
The dispensers are nicer. They have shiny brass-colored tops which I immediately worry about scuffing.
I’m not sure what I’m expecting to happen. I want there to be an obvious right answer– not a right answer as to “the one true facial product,” but a right answer to something that works well for me, which seems to be the best one can hope for in this line. I’m teaching myself to be patient and not be disappointed when one night with a new product doesn’t immediately turn me into a smoldering sex goddess or otherwise produce visible results (with the possible exception of this little beauty from Aveda which is totally the bomb, effective as all bejeesus, and has lasted an impressively long time given how regularly dark and puffy my eyes are).
I’m probably going to go back to a drug store cleanser and moisturizer after this year. I’m willing to be surprised and fall in love with something if it sweeps me off my feet. I’m happy with my skin, even when it’s imperfect. I like the idea of taking care of my face, but I’m not afraid of the fact that it won’t always look this way.