Before I started working at a pharmacy with an expansive beauty section, my skincare routine consisted of rubbing ivory soap on my face and body in the shower once a day and then applying lotion. I didn’t use a cleanser specifically designated for facial use, and neither a facial lotion nor toner. I didn’t use anything.
When I was assigned to stock the beauty section with my coworkers, I inevitably heard their conversations about skincare, often a subject of conversation women have as a point of common interest. They would talk about the efficiency of certain cleansers, how scrubs could be bad, and what moisturizers they liked to use. I didn’t often participate in the conversations, but listening to them got me to pay more attention to skincare and these terms.
Stocking the skincare section also got me to take notice of the huge variety of skincare products available in a way that I never had before. They used pretty, attractive packaging and pleasant scents as a marketing technique to draw women in – and it worked. I found myself wanting to use a lot of the products simply because they looked cute and smelled nice, and deep down, I’m basic.
Of course, these products also used other, more harmful forms of advertising that I fell for. They used images of airbrushed, touched-up complexions of women to make people believe, and to make me believe, that skin should not only look perfectly smooth, ageless, and blemish-free, but that it must look this way. Every time I looked in the mirror, all I could see was the blackheads lining my nose, cheeks, and chin. Suddenly, caring about my skin had equated to me hating it and needing to “fix” it.
When I bought new cleansers, I didn’t just go for affordable, simple facial cleansers, I specifically bought products geared towards acne and blackhead removal, even though I didn’t need them. The consequence of this was that my skin didn’t take well to these products. I ended up breaking out when I didn’t have an issue with breaking out on that level before. In my pursuit to achieve a look that wasn’t real to begin with, I got caught up trying out as many different products offered without doing proper research on them.
I didn’t know about all of the acids needed to exfoliate the skin, and all of the harmful ingredients in many of the products to avoid. I didn’t know what type of skincare products I needed to use to have an efficient skincare routine in the first place. To this day, I still struggle sometimes to embrace the idea of skincare being valuable. I know that it is. I know it’s not just about trying to achieve the perfect look that is sold to us by these big companies, that it’s not just superfluous fluff about beauty. It’s more than a superficial concern; the right routine can protect your skin from the harsh effects of winter and summer UV exposure.
More than that though, a skincare routine can provide a sense of control and order in a chaotic, disorderly world. Skincare is sometimes dismissed as a con, not only because the multi-billion dollar beauty industry perpetuates harmful, unattainable beauty ideals, but because of how our patriarchal society tends to demean anything associated with femininity as being unnecessary, vain, and indulgent. Patriarchy convinced women that our value is in our looks, and then it mocks us for the way we invest in ourselves. The beauty industry treats women as a commodity, preying on the standards that our patriarchal society has imposed on us.
Saying that, the use of skincare can still be healthy in moderation. I soon realized that a skincare routine could be good for my mental health. When struggling with the lows of my depression, the one thing I often felt good about accomplishing on a day-to-day basis was taking the steps necessary to take care of my skin. Washing my face, applying moisturizer, occasionally using a face mask, and applying these products in a specific order with a designated amount of time dedicated to each step was sometimes the only ordered, structured part of my day when the rest of it consisted of me sleeping or dragging myself through an otherwise empty, pointless day.
When I’m berating myself for being unproductive trash, as I often think of myself, I could at least take small comfort that at least I washed myself up, cleansed my face, and moisturized. When you spend much of your time sh*tting on yourself for what little you accomplish, getting through even a simple skincare routine feels like a win.
I still struggle to care about skincare the way I see other women do. I still feel flabbergasted when I see people applying an eleven-step routine – the purpose of which I still can’t really understand. I still see the huge array of products offered in stores and various beauty articles that make me feel like I’m not nearly doing enough to take care of myself. I still wonder what the hell the difference is between a purifying mask and a mattifying one and whether this is that something I need to worry about. But it does serve its purpose, even if only to make me feel better about myself. I won’t let toxic beauty standards and patriarchal scorn take that from me.
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