The Catch-22 of Skincare

September 12, 2014 • Beauty

mememeBody anxiety is the source of most of my writing and thought process — maybe it’s just a productive source of narcissism, critical theory on your own identity, and if that’s the case I’m fine with it (Kanye taught me to love myself, radically). But loving myself and my body has mostly been in an act of resistance against the knowledge I am a disappointment compared to the image of beauty I’m supposed to strive for. I was never going to be tall and model thin, which I’m fine with.  I like being compact enough that being a cat burglar is a viable career option should writing fail. None of that concerns me — I’m able bodied and blindingly white so there goes those insecurities, too. My physical anxieties have mostly come from the fact my skin has, and never will be, perfectly even and radiant and glowing.

Or so I thought!

The other morning, I woke up with perfectly clear skin. Radiant, even. I looked well rested and plump with youth and joie de vivre. Not a blemish to be found. I’m not even trying to brag — okay, maybe a little — but more drive  home the fact I looked as close to a Neutrogena ad as I maybe ever will. And instead of being thrilled, it actually made me anxious. I got so anxious I turned away from the mirror, and I spent the rest of the day in this in-between stage of full blown panic and guilt. I never thought this day would come, that I’d look acceptable, or healthy. And now that it was here, I didn’t know how to adjust my routine, or what to do about it!

Genetics have never been on my side when it came to skincare — both my parents had acne well into adulthood, and my chronic illnesses make it so going on Accutane or the pill was never going to be an option. I’d resigned myself to the anxiety of acne and the pursuit of banishing it. I’d even become comfortable in my journey through skincare. It became “my beat” — most beauty writers I know don’t have as much acne as I did, and drugstore products worked for them. But me, my mutant, mortal soul — I was given the very dramatic products to try out, as the unfailing control for bad skin nightmares. Cystic acne products need a test subject? I’m your girl. Or I was. It was something I found a sick enjoyment out of. I was the last stop, the person people came to when all products failed. I had literally tried it all, and I kept doing it, and doing it, and doing it well.

But sometime in the last few weeks, my skin just….cleared up. I can’t even describe how it happened, really. My routine hasn’t changed drastically in the past few months or weeks, and my food and sleep habits are still trash. I subsist on Spicy Cheetos and 6 hours of sleep, not exactly the paragon of health. I have been using antioxidant serums lately, and not touching my face as much in my sleep….I guess that helped clear things up? I wish I knew exactly what happened in the past few weeks to cause my decades long struggle with acne to just suddenly end, but I don’t know! And because of this, I have no idea how to proceed. Since the very beginning of my beauty journey, I’ve been hyper-focused on blemishes, and full to medium coverage foundations, contour and correction and concealment. When my makeup skills became actively feminist, I then became focused on accepting my acne for what it was — this seeming constant agent in my life, an anxiety I dealt with for so long it became just another part of my body to understand and work around. The zit placement might change, but the contour it left on my shape was like a dance partner, our habits together were familiar. I  had learned everything there was to know about the irregularities of my face, and how to deal with them: what concealer works best for this kind of pustule? Cream or liquid, Dermablend or Tarte? Sometime in the past few years, trying to hide my acne became more of a comforting ritual than something I was horrified of. I was just so used to it that it became an interactive moment with my body, this fluid space that was both shame and something a bit more friendly….just something else.

And it’s gone now. I don’t need foundation any more to mask my scars, or heavy cream concealers to shellack on craters and cystic marks. I’m happy, I guess, of course I’m relieved — but more than that, I feel alienated in a whole new way. My routine and body have suddenly become unfamiliar  to me. Looking in the mirror makes me anxious not with shame of my acne scars but this kind of impending doom that they’ll come back again. Realistically, it’s only a matter of time, right?

So what do I do now?



  • Mire

    I have been blessed with fantastic skin. So much, people ask me what foundation I’m wearing. My mum’s the same — she looks ten years younger than she is because her skin is just So. Good. Sometimes when I am feeling playful or fancy, I wear Maybelline’s Mineral BB Cream or Limi’s BB Cream (it’s a Chinese company I think). Most of the time, I only put on moisturiser and that’s it, off I go. I’ll be watching this thread to read the suggestions, but mostly I’ll be counting my pennies.

    • counting pennies for what, i ask? i think i’m freaking out mostly because like WHERE DOES ONE GO FROM A GOOD STARTING POINT??? do you just buy skincare to maintain or focus on splurging on like, eye makeup and stuff?

      • Mire

        Counting all the pennies I save from not having to use foundation and primer and toner and everything in between! I buy basic skincare to maintain and then splurge on expensive eye makeup and lipstick.

  • voltbird

    Sadly, in my experience, the path of least resistance was to find something else to harp on. For most of my life my skin was perfect, but a few years ago what started out as a mild case of dermatitis became a full blown rash. It was so angry and visible that I became depressed and didn’t leave the apartment except for class. I feel ashamed to admit that I entertained suicidal thoughts. Having good skin all my life, I didn’t know what to do when it suddenly went bad. I tell myself that if it had persisted I probably would have leaned to cope, but after proper treatment it went away, never to return. (Fingers crossed.)

    For a few weeks after the pustules healed and the redness faded I felt like the most beautiful woman in the world. I didn’t even want to look at foundations — partly because I was afraid I would bring the rash back by coating my skin in layers of makeup, and partly because having it gone felt like a rebirth. But it didn’t last long. Genetics are genetics, and I still have flaking and redness; back to the Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer it was. I actually started mixing it with equal parts Tarte 12-hour liquid foundation after the rash to increase coverage. After that brief period of intense confidence post-healing, I became completely neurotic about even mild signs that I still have an underlying case of dermatitis, like it or not. It got better and then it got worse. I’m obviously not sitting in my apartment crying anymore, but the whole episode forced me to start paying increased attention to something I hadn’t before. It’s a hard habit to break.

  • Pink Sith

    I had this exact thing happen to me a few months ago! I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. Carefully storing my full coverage foundations and concealers for that rainy day, I think is right around the corner. Each morn inning I wake up and I’m at a loss as to what to do. There is no need for covering and disguising my flaws (my way to describe my horrible acne). That’s when I realized I better embrace my “good” skin while I have it. Thank you for sharing your story. It was inspiring.

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