On Tuesday, an article titled “Skincare Is a Con” began making the rounds on my respective newsfeeds. By noon, it had blown up on Twitter. People were, more or less, angry. I was, too. Here was this one-sided, elitist rant claiming an industry, one of which I’ve built an entire career around, was a farce. “All of this is a scam,” it read. [Insert annoyed face mask-covered look, above.]
“But all of this is a scam. It has to be. Perfect skin is unattainable because it doesn’t exist. The idea that we should both have it and want it is a waste of our time and money. Especially for women, who are disproportionately taxed by both the ideal of perfect skin and its material pursuit,” says the writer.
First of all, calling an entire industry a “scam” is like, “I believe in chemtrails” level of conspiracy. It’s just…confusing, not to mention completely misses the point. In fact, it is missing a point whatsoever. As a beauty editor whose primary focus is skin care, I find the topic to be, well, important. (Even as a person in the world, I can tell you this: Skin care! Is! Important!) Ask any dermatologist, and they’ll tell you the same, albeit in a more eloquent manner. Skin care, on every level (prevention, treatment, and enhancement), is significant to one’s health (physical, emotional, and mental) — sometimes to the point of saving lives.
Because, in case you forgot — or maybe you zoned out during eleventh-grade anatomy class — the skin is the body’s largest organ, and what you put on the outside eventually will be reflected, in a sense, on the inside and vice versa. “In the same way that we take care of our bodies and maintain our health by exercising and eating well, we also need to take care of our skin by making sure we are protecting it from pollution, daily UV exposure, and repairing the constant damage it is subjected to,” says Shari Marchbein, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine. (Here’s the part of the story where I reference recent skin cancer statistics, as one out of five people are affected by the disease every year, and urge you to wear sunscreen, at least an SPF 30, every damn day.)
In case you forgot — or maybe you zoned out during eleventh-grade anatomy class — the skin is the body’s largest organ.
That being said, sure, some brands (which I will not name because I’m not here to point fingers or take anyone down) pump out products formulated with questionable ingredients, some of which don’t mix well with other questionable ingredients. However, these companies do not represent the industry as a whole.
“Unfortunately, the beauty industry is vast, and there are many products that should not be used together or that are not ideal for certain people and skin types, leading to suboptimal results or even adverse reactions,” says Marchbein. “Rigorous scientific testing is not equal across products and brands.” Bottom line: Not all products are created equally, which, yes, in an unfortunate downside of the industry, but that doesn’t mean the entire skin-care empire should be taken down in one fell swoop. Instead, education is needed, which is where Allure and expert insight comes into play.
“Consumers are unfortunately not well-informed of these nuances and that is where the guidance of a board-certified dermatologist is extremely important,” says Marchbein. “As skin experts, we know that medical-grade skin care can give excellent results, even if using a few key products, such as daily sunscreen and retinoids. With long-term and consistent use, we have robust scientific data that supports a decrease in fine lines, wrinkles, sun spots, and most importantly, skin cancers.”
“At the core of the ‘New Skincare’ is chemical violence,” says the The Outline writer. “Skin-care buffs refer to ‘actives’ — products like retinols, chemical exfoliants, and alpha and beta hydroxy acids.”
Products, the apparent inflictors of so-called “chemical violence,” can help our skin function at its best.
We’re all different — and so is our skin. “It’s true that our genetics determine our skin type, and we cannot change that,” Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, tells Allure. “Some people are sensitive, while others can tolerate anything. Some people are acne-prone, while others never develop a pimple in their lives.” We cannot control our genetics, and that’s where skin care comes in. Products, the apparent inflictors of so-called “chemical violence,” can help our skin function at its best.
That said, what works for you may not work for your friend — or say, the writer of The Outline’s article. “Everyone’s skin is different, and there is no single product that can be universally used,” says Zeichner. “Tailoring your cleanser, your moisturizer, your sunscreen, and your wrinkle-fighting ingredients to your own needs and preferences is the key to maintaining healthy skin.”
That mindset — valuing individualized skin care, and personalized beauty — is what we strive to preach here at Allure. That’s why we cover stories highlighting unique skin-care routines (again, with dermatologist insight added) crafted to fight off acne or smooth fine lines. “I’m not sure why this has to be an all or none issue, and I’m also not sure why we need to shame those who are interested in having their skin look its best,” says Marchbein. She’s right: Everyone, and I do mean everyone, should be allowed to have nice things, or in this case, “nice” skin without fear of judgment. It’s not fair to dismiss one’s path to achieve their version of “nice” skin due to the fact that society, as a whole, has deemed caring for one’s skin, and beauty to be a “silly” or “unimportant” act.
We cannot control our genetics, and that’s where skin care comes in.
When in reality, skin care has been around for decades, maybe longer. There’s evidence that ancient Egyptians cared about their appearance, just as we do in 2018. (The rumor is that they valued smooth skin, and that men and women used depilatory patches.) All of this to say: Skin care isn’t a “con.” It was just as, if not more, important as it is today. It provides people with physical benefits, like clearing up acne, alleviating eczema-induced itchiness, and literally just hydrating your dry, winter skin. What’s more, for some folks, it offers an emotionally therapeutic sense of relief.
Aside from all of that, skin care has never been more accessible than it is right now. Products on both the drugstore and prestige levels are packed with potent formulas to help meet any skin concern, which is at least in part thanks to large-scale retailers catching on to the mass appeal of beauty products, their fans, and their profitability. Capitalism has countless drawbacks, but it is pointless to critique people’s enjoyment of its few frivolous benefits.
Last May, I wrote about growing up on welfare and coveting the products I saw in stores, but couldn’t afford. Now, a 15-year-old in Largo, Florida in a similar financial situation can walk into their local Publix and find an organic acne-fighting face wash with dermatologist-tested ingredients for under 10 bucks — it’s not out of budget or out of reach. Is that really worth fighting against?