Why You Gotta Be So Sensitive?

Anyone else remember Mr. Sensitive Ponytail Man from Singles?

There's no such thing as sensitive skin. Well, that's not quite right—I mean, the 60% of Americans who believe they have it can't all be delusional, right? Let's say this, then: There isn’t a clinical definition of sensitive skin, or at least dermatologists don’t agree on what that definition might actually be. But that’s not to say that it’s solely a marketing term—lots of people do have skin sensitivities, and there are plenty of medical conditions that render one’s skin sensitive. In fact, panels that test products for sensitive skin are typically made up of people with rosacea, atopic dermatitis, or cosmetic intolerance syndrome. What’s that last condition?, you ask. Well, it’s...sensitive skin, actually, usually caused by overusing harsh products like acids and scrubs—that is, it’s something that’s more about a product than a person. Then you’ve got that “dermatitis” bit: there’s irritant dermatitis, in which a product makes your skin itch or redden or blister for no apparent reason, and allergic dermatitis, in which your body has an autoimmune response to a particular ingredient. Let’s not forget atopic dermatitis, a type of eczema—eczema basically being dermatitis, except chronic, except not chronic by some definitions.

You see the problem here is simply trying to figure out what these conditions, or syndromes, or diseases, or whatever, are even called, much less what they actually are. No wonder around 60% of us consider themselves to have “sensitive skin”—who hasn’t at some point gotten a little itchy from something? So part of the sensitive skin conundrum is that the meaning of the term is largely subjective. A dermatologist might be able to look at your red, rashy skin and say that it looks like a reaction to a cosmetic, but when it comes to other symptoms of sensitive skin, you’re the only one calling the shots. There’s no medical threshold you need to cross to proclaim that your skin feels “tingly” or “tight.” 

Skin—unlike, say, the spleen—is an organ generally thought of in terms of appearance, not health, at least if you’re judging where consumer dollars are spent. Its unique place on the health-beauty spectrum means that we imbue skin with all sorts of judgments—some of which might be accurate, some of which might not be. For example, I used products meant for “oily skin” for years because my face is always shiny, but in truth I have utterly normal skin—I was just self-conscious about my shine, and by using products meant for a skin type I didn’t have, I was actually hurting my skin, not helping it. 

Sensitive skin’s openness to interpretation makes it a prime candidate for marketingspeak. Like most cosmetics claims, there’s no legal or industry standard for what products can claim to be “safe for sensitive skin.” Which is not to say that products marketed toward people with sensitive skin are bogus—like “hypoallergenic” products (another term with no industry standard), these products usually have no dyes or perfumes, and active ingredients may have been tweaked to be more mild. But there is something...odd? fishy? about a market full of people who have been largely self-diagnosed turning to the beauty industry for what amounts to self-treatment—especially in cases where it’s a beauty product that provokes a skin reaction in the first place. 

Which leads to the big question here: Why do so many of us believe we have sensitive skin? Natural beauty advocates would posit that the cosmetics industry, being basically unregulated, uses all sorts of chemicals that have no place on our bodies. Certainly there’s a big argument to be made here about skin sensitivities, natural products, health, and the environment. But it’s not like sensitive skin products are solely in the realm of the natural-foods store: Having a “sensitive skin” market benefits the mainstream beauty industry. I remember reading a bit in Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping about how if a consumer believes that a product has been specifically recommended for her, she’s more likely to buy it. Logically, then, if a consumer puts herself into a market of people with special needs, she’s more likely to buy products recommended for people in her particular niche.

Still, sensitive skin isn’t actually a niche: More people believe they have it than believe they don’t, with up to 60% of us reporting sensitive skin. But the term sensitive implies something different, a little special, a little unique—and who doesn’t want to believe there’s something unique about us (even if we’re actually in the majority)? And if it’s something that has a nice ring about it—something that allows us our human frailty but under the guise of having a medical-ish condition, one that’s not serious but that needs some tender care regardless—all the better. Much of the time women are told not to be so sensitive. If there’s an umbrella that allows us to be as sensitive as we damn well please, why wouldn’t we take it?

But! Men are included in that 60% figure. In fact, according to recent research from Procter & Gamble, 70% of men believe they have sensitive skin. Now, obviously P&G has a stake in finding and reporting a submarket among their existing Gillette consumers, so I’m not going to put tons of stock in that number. But the sudden appearance of all these sensitive-skinned men correlates time-wise to the overall rise in skin-care products for men. (In fact, it may be that that makes men realize they have sensitive skin—since many forms of the condition only result in a sensitivity toward products, women have a higher chance of recognizing their sensitivities since they experiment with more products.) And I also can’t help but wonder how the word sensitive relates to men here—the beauty industry is hardly shy about painting men’s and women’s needs as being so different as to require different terminology. (Grooming vs. beauty, for example.) So I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the industry has kept the word sensitive in describing products for men. It might be tucked in among all sorts of hypermasculine terms—say, the Gillette Mach 3 Turbo Sensitive razor—but it’s there, not coded as allergy-prone or irritable or pissed-off (we’re talking about an industry that features products named things like Butt Taco, okay?), plain old sensitive, same as the ladies. By gently introducing into male-marked spaces terms generally applied to women, the beauty industry—excuse me, the grooming industry—subtly primes its market for other feminine markings. Sensitive men might not cry, but would they wear concealer? Perhaps.

I’m not trying to say that people with sensitive skin shouldn’t have a market directed toward them, or that we’re all making it up to feel like a special snowflake, or that we’re all just pawns of the beauty industry, or that we should be turning more to dermatologists. Obviously sensitive skin exists on a wide spectrum, and I don’t think you need to have weeping wounds before you start to investigate if niche products would be less problematic for your skin. Believing that your skin is sensitive is enough to make it sensitive—and what’s the harm in buying a product with fewer irritants? Maybe the beauty industry would be wise to flip it: Begin with a baseline allergen-free product, and build up to products meant for “hardy skin.” Think of the swagger that would come with announcing that you’ve started on Olay’s Level 4 Hardy Skin regime! Until then, though, we’re left with sensitivity as the exception, not the rule—even though it’s really the other way around.

Do you have sensitive skin? If so, when did you start to think you might have it? Do you use products designed for sensitive skin? Do you have a skin condition that makes your skin particularly sensitive, or is it more of a sensation that something isn't right?

Why I Had My Body Spray-Painted Brown, Plus My Advertorial Policy

It was the spray tan that did me in.

See, the minute you have the word beauty in your blog’s metadata, the Marketing Powers That Be descend upon you with offers of free samples for your review. Lotions, polishes, tonics, scrubs, glosses, serums, creams—if it’s in a bottle and designed to perform miracles, its press release may find its way to my inbox.

The first time I received an offer for some review samples, maybe four months into my blogging venture, my knee-jerk reaction was hell no. Through my years in ladymags, I’d become cynical not only of the “advertorial” function of beauty pages, but of the products themselves. The first few times you see an entire bin filled with fifty-plus types of blush, it’s exciting, but after a bit you begin to realize that it’s all just packaged petroleums and tints and talcs, and that the item you’d been paying $8.99 (or $26, or $56) for is actually just worth pennies, and that for the most part there isn’t really that much difference between the products. (The number-one question beauty editors are asked is, “But what really works?” Yes, there are some that do, but that’s another post.)

So the lure of free products didn’t hold much sway over me; I still have a handful of unopened products from various beauty sales over the years. More important, I prided myself on not falling into the advertorial trap: No, I was not going to give companies free advertising—that is, my time and labor—in exchange for a prettily packaged batch of titanium dioxide. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing that, but A) there are plenty of product review blogs already, and I have nothing to add to the chorus except SEO bumps for the companies; B) that’s not what this blog is about, and in fact when trying to explain what I do here, the first words out of my mouth are usually something like, “It’s a beauty blog, but not, like, lipstick reviews”; and C) after years of working in ladymags, I’ll be damned if my passion project—for which I receive the occasional stipend from my syndication with The New Inquiry but which otherwise isn’t monetized in any way—was under the sway of anything other than my editorial judgment. I decided long ago to not have advertising or sponsors for this reason—even from companies and organizations I think do good work.

Yet the product offers keep coming. Sometimes, in the case of particularly hilarious-sounding products, I’ll fantastize about accepting and then ripping the product to shreds. But honestly, I don’t get my jollies from thinking of clever quips about silly products—and since my reader base is healthy but not enormous, I’m being targeted by a lot of startups and beginner companies, and I have little interest in mocking them. (Plus, I think most companies subscribe to the “no such thing as bad publicity” line of thinking. I mean, have they read a single entry of mine? I’m more likely to write a 2,400-word screed on “the secret language of toner” or some shit than I am to just be like, “Pores smaller!”)

And then came the spray tan.

See, I was a sun-shunner for my entire adult life, until a trip to the tropics in 2009 turned me into a full-fledged worshipper. I discovered that not only was it easy for me to develop a light tan, but that I liked how I looked with a tan; once my natural color faded I spent a small fortune on self-tanning lotion. This year I developed a sensitivity to the formula (it makes me itch most unbecomingly); around the same time, I adopted a semi-nihilist attitude that made me realize I had little interest in living past age 80 or so, and decided to hell with it, I’m going to get as much sun as I can, skin cancer risk be damned. (Lecture me all you want; I’ll readily admit you’re right, and will continue to wear SPF 4 regardless.)

Accordingly, I had a tanned summer—but now that beach time has faded, so has my color, and I’m not quite ready to give it up. I knew about airbrush tanning, but am way too frugal to spend the $60 to $90 it takes to get one—plus, the thought of paying a stranger to essentially spray-paint my body brown seemed...I mean, when you think about it, it’s uncomfortably close to those “believe it or not” historical tidbits, like how Romans were supposedly bulimic with their vomitoriums. (Which, by the way, they weren't.)

So when the invitation to “meet Kelly and get a B. Bronz Sunless Tanning Treatment” showed up in my inbox (something to do with Fashion Week?), I deleted it at first, as I do all such invitations and offers, no matter how much the product promises to “dazzle” my readers. But it stuck in my mind. I found myself getting sort of huffy over my own policies, like, Hey, why shouldn’t I be getting the occasional swag? I work hard! Harder than I did in magazines, when I could buddy up to the beauty editors and waltz out of the closet with a lifetime supply of conditioner! You know who pays this blogger's salary? Me! And I’m cheap! And I abuse my staff! And if I weren’t such a rotten boss I might have gone to the beach even more this summer and might have a deeper tan and I wouldn’t even need this body spray-paint thing in the first place, so take that!

I said yes.

I did my homework beforehand; I knew you were supposed to exfoliate and not use any body products so that the tanning agent would be able to better sink in. I also knew you weren’t supposed to sweat for 8 to 12 hours afterward, which might be fine if one’s body is spray-painted in the Helsinki twilight but is more difficult in the recent spate of 90% humidity we subtropical New Yorkers sweat our way through.

I showed up at the spa that was hosting the event and was ushered into the treatment room, where I did indeed meet Kelly, a polished, gracious woman in flowing jersey who looked far less...fake?...than I’d expected from someone who paints people brown for her trade. Actually, as it turns out, Kelly is both artist and chemist: She created the B. Bronz line, which is available both for professional and home use and, from what I saw on the bottles, comes in fragrances like “Citrus Mojito,” which surely is far more appealing than the lingering scent of yo, you just dyed your body brown that I’m all too familiar with from my usual sunless lotion, which shall remain nameless (see paragraph 5). Kelly has the distinction of having tanned members of the National Bodybuilding Association, the San Francisco 49ers Gold Rush Cheerleaders, and the Oregon Ducks Cheerleaders (my alma mater! also, it is impossible to get a natural tan in Eugene, Oregon), as well as Miss Washington, Miss Oregon, Miss Michigan, and Miss California. If I was going to have someone spray-paint my body, I may as well go to the best.

At her behest, I stepped into what resembled a lightweight tent and undressed while Kelly finished spray-painting another blogger’s body. Upon her return, Kelly directed me into various positions—to the right, to the left, leg extended to spray the inner thigh, arms lifted to get my ribcage—while she answered my handful of measly questions that I’d hoped would mask the fact that I’m not really a “beauty writer” at all but rather a cynic who might refer to airbrush tanning as having your body spray-painted brown. Kelly appeased me there too: When I asked about the function of the bronzer as opposed to the actual tanning agent that would keep me golden for about four days, she candidly replied that the bronzer was in the formula “so that the customer feels like she’s paid for something.” Without the bronzer, clients would leave no darker than when they entered, since the tanning agent takes 8 to 12 hours to fully develop. (There’s also a clear, bronzer-less formula available for clients whose supreme faith in the art of the spray tan means that they don’t need to feel like they stood naked in a tent while a stranger hosed them down with brown dye for no immediate effect.)

I’d been trying to look Kelly in the eye to telegraph how terrifically secure I was standing almost entirely naked in front of a stranger, but at a certain point I looked down at my arm and saw that it was a gorgeous golden hue, more glowing and vibrant than how I look when I’ve actually been sunbathing. “It’s gorgeous!” I exclaimed, and I meant it, and Kelly smiled before she frowned and started dabbing my cleavage with a towel. “You’re sweating a little,” she said, “so this was getting...funky.” I looked down and saw that my chest looked like someone had splattered coffee across it, brown beads dripping between my breasts.

I stood there trying very very hard not to sweat, while my body dried off for a couple of minutes until Kelly gave me her blessing to get dressed. Which was nice, except then I’d have to exit the cool spa and enter the world of 90% humidity, which I feared meant my entire body would soon look the way my cleavage did. In the subway—possibly the most humid place in New York City save the Tenth Street Russian & Turkish Baths—I stood in the darkest place possible while fanning myself with B. Bronz literature and rubbing my face with a tissue in hopes of at least evening out the sweaty brown beads of body dye that were surely forming there. I studiously avoided eye contact once on the train, hoping to avoid the humiliation of others witnessing me turning into a live Jackson Pollock painting—good thing, too, because when I got up I saw that I’d left a trail of brown drops across the back of the seat.

Having lost all dignity, I made a beeline for home and raced to the mirror, where it turned out that it was only my back and chest that had become mottled (and which was easily taken care of by rubbing in the solution). The rest of me, including my face, had a soft tan glow. Throughout the day, the tone became richer and deeper—though when I took a shower after the prescribed length of time and rinsed off the bronzer, I was left with a golden hue closer to what I’d first seen when Kelly sprayed me in the tent. It lasted for about four days; I can still faintly see the “tan” lines from where my underwear was but it’s barely noticeable.

Forgive the sports bra shot; I already had a light tan on my upper body but my stomach hasn't seen the sun since 1979, so here's the color the spray-paint—ahem, airbrush tan—gives unsunned skin.

All this is to say: It was absolutely fine. Given that there is now a seat on the Q train with a spatter of brown liquid gifted from my body to the MTA, I can’t quite fully sign on to the B. Bronz statement—“The B.Bronz Sunless Tanning Treatment is designed to be applied flawlessly in less than two minutes, and there is no mess, residue, or rub-off, which is perfect for Fashion Weeks' high demands”—but that’s my own damn fault for daring to sweat before the 8 hours were up, right? If you’re someone who would spend money on having a stranger spray-paint your body brown, the B. Bronz line is more than adequate; I’ve seen some airbrush jobs look hideous the same day, while this looked nice and natural even at its darkest.

All this, really, is to say: Thank you, B. Bronz, for the free airbrush tan, which was perfectly nice. And thank you, readers, for allowing me a forum where I can write about beauty without feeling like I need to write about airbrush tans, even the perfectly nice ones—because in attempting to write about it today I find that I don’t know how to do so without swallowing my voice. Which is the opposite of the reason I write here. 

The Enduring Popularity of Tans

Around this time each year—usually a hair later, but, hey, climate change!—I enter the same debate with myself: to self-tan or not to self-tan? After years of studiously avoiding the sun, fervently evoking old-timey movie stars with porcelain complexions as my reason for doing so, I spent time in the tropics a few years ago and returned with a deep allover tan that made people around me say, “Wow, you’re tan.” I freakin’ loved it and promptly spent a small fortune on Jergens Natural Glow. It lasted through the summer, but then the following summer I was faced with a conundrum: I’d adored having a natural tan and didn’t mind keeping it up artificially, but healthwise I couldn’t afford to do it again—I tick nearly every box on the list of skin cancer risk factors. (I’d initially done my best to avoid the sun in Vietnam but when that proved impossible, I threw off the towel and sunbathed for all it was worth.) Did I actually want to start from scratch, building up a “tan”—a tan made up of what amounts to skin dye, I might add—for no particular reason? Did I really want to invest the money and time in a fake tan, for a capitulation to vanity?

So here we are, leg-baring season quickly approaching, and I’m in the same spot again. And as I go back and forth with myself about whether I want to appear tanned this year, I'm asking myself a question that, surprisingly, I haven’t wondered before: Why do we want to look tan in the first place?

rt of the answer, as with many things fashionable, is Coco Chanel. Prior to the designer’s rise to prominence, clothes covered so much of women’s form that a body tan was impossible, and a tan on the face and hands signified what it still does in developing nations: that the tanned person is an outdoor laborer, most likely of low social status. Lily-white skin remained a sign of a lady even after industrialization, but legend has it that when Chanel was accidentally sunburned during a trip to the Riviera and developed a tan shortly thereafter, her new hue took fire as a symbol of all she herself embodied: modernism, luxury, and independence. The episode “coincided” with a shift in the medical approach to sunlight, as the medical field went from regarding the sun as dangerous to seeing it as a cure-all within a span of 30 years. In 1905’s The Effects of Tropical Light on White Men, Dr. Chas Edward Woodruff wrote that “The American girl is a bundle of nerves. She is a victim of too much light,” but by WWI “heliotherapy” was readily used to treat wounds, rickets, tuberculosis. Whatever the case, according to Vogue, “The 1929 girl must be tanned,” and so she was.

But here’s the thing that
’s sort of flummoxing: That was 83 years ago. We haven’t let up since. There have been plenty of developments that have kept tanning popular—the bikini in 1946, the foil blanket in the 1950s, a plethora of tanning aides from “gypsy sun tan oil” in the 1930s to the perfunctory Coppertone baby—and there have been fluctuations in the fashionability of suntans. But since their arrival, tans have never truly gone out of fashion. Even through the enormous rise of awareness of the dangers of UV rays, tanning is, if not a cultural imperative, something we don’t necessarily question. We might swat wrists of friends who bake in tanning beds, but we don’t really blink an eye at self-tanning creams even if we don’t use them ourselves (and up to 46% of us do). Plus, judging by the number of people who complimented my tan after my return from Vietnam, it still holds a good amount of cultural cachet. Since 1929 we’ve given up spit curls, drop waists, and breast binding, but we cling to the tan.

We cling to it in part because its significance hasn’t changed all that much, sure; it’s affluence, luxury, and even though we all know better, health. The idea now isn’t so much that we’re acting as if we’ve spent two weeks at Saint-Tropez but rather that we’re not desk-bound. It’s also the perfect accessory: A tan hits the sweet spot between conspicuous and inconspicuous consumption. It visibly shares that you’ve done something we still connect with leisure and affluence, but without the bourgeois connotations of furs, Jaguars, and jewels. Once tan, you cannot help but be tan; it’s literally a part of who you are. It’s the ultimate expression of “Oh, this old thing?” The dearth of tans among hipsters supports this: In a community definitively marked by inconspicuous consumption, the standards for visibility change, stigmatizing any visible consumption, i.e. tans, more than they would be elsewhere. The activities prized by the hipster community—not that such a thing exists, mind you!—with the possible exceptions of fixed-gear bicycling and rabid picnicking, are largely indoor: art, music, Tumblr. The less tan you are, the more easily you can create the appearance of partaking in these activities. Certainly I don’t think hipsters are avoiding the sun to act as if they’re not secretly 
weekend warriors. But taking the step those weekend warriors might—applying self-tanner or bronzer to advertise one’s proclivities to the outdoors—would send the wrong sort of social message at Chloe Sevigny’s tea party.

Beyond the idea of material luxury, a tan represents that we have the luxury to be connected to both nature and culture simultaneously. Tourism boards use tanning in their materials: “The bourgeois on their Mediterranean beaches can entertain the illusion of learning to love their bodies again as they did in childhood,” writes K.K. Sharma in his overview of the history of tourism. A tan is a message, and the message is that its bearer is a child of nature who has returned to one’s filing-cabinet life bearing proof of the nature connection. The idea of tans returning us to a state of nature makes tanning less stigmatized where more tangible icons of luxury might be sneered at. 

But even with all these reasons for tans sticking around for more than 80 years, it’s still counterintuitive. I’m having trouble thinking of anything that we know full well is bad for us but that we do anyway, for vanity—rather, that we encourage the mimicking of. We might go on diets, wear high heels, quaff martinis, puff smoke rings, or any number of other things that have been glamorized that aren’t so hot for your health—but we’re actually doing those things, not pretending to do them. With self-tanner, it’s like we’re all standing around puffing on electronic cigarettes even if we’ve never touched real tobacco. We all know tans don’t actually represent health and that there’s no such thing as a “healthy tan,” but we don’t really believe it. Rather, plenty of us believe it but covet the tan anyway, and turn to products to help us regain what has been taken from us with our banishment from the sun.

And, as with so many thin
gs about the intensely personal choices we make, it just might come down to this: There is an enormous financial amount at stake in keeping us sunny-side up. Sunblock is a good-sized segment of the skin-care industry (it’s projected to hit $5.2 billion globally by 2015), but so are its cousins: sunless tanning products, spray-on tans, and cosmetic bronzers totaling $516 million annually, not to mention the indoor tanning industry and low-dose sunblocks marketed as "tanning creams." I’d initially thought that the cosmetic approaches to tanning were developed as a “healthy” alternative to natural tans and tanning beds, but actually, various lotions and dyes have been around as long as tanning has been fashionable, for the very reason that a suntan is sought after in the first place: Most of us don’t have unlimited time to lounge around Biarritz (or, today, to lay complacently in tanning beds—which ain’t cheap, even if you’re willing to take the health risks). Mantan, a sunless tanning lotion popular in the 1950s, promised dual action with its “moisturizing” action that “lasts for days without touch-ups!”; even in an era when women were being supposedly liberated from housework with the modern kitchen, time was at a premium.

And we can’t look at tann
ing products without at least glancing at their counterparts: lighteners. Skin lightening creams are wildly popular in Asia; the idea isn’t to look white but rather to look sophisticated and wealthy—an elevation from the peasant class that works outside.The politics and implications of skin lightening call for deeper examination than I can give them here; for now I’ll just point out the obvious: Both self-tanners and skin lightening creams are class in a bottle. Asian women using skin lighteners don’t want to look white any more than I want to look Hispanic when I put on self-tanner; we want to look lighter or darker, sure, but both of those are a route to looking what our cultures deem better. Skin lightening creams are making in-roads in the North American market, with claims about “radiance,” “brightening,” and “illuminating—but the truth is, those adjectives are similarly applied in Asia as well (as I found out when I bought a “radiance” face wash in Vietnam that didn’t strip away my tan but made me look chalky immediately after washing). These are the same formulas, mind you, but being packaged to apply to the inner desires of each culture: paleness in Asia, radiance in America, youth and “rejuvenation” in both. As this excellently reported piece on the rise of skin lightening creams in North America shows, "a brightener is whatever we want it to be."

In The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf writes about how the beauty industry attempts to package the radiance each individual brings to the world. “The Rites of Beauty offer to sell women back an imitation of the light that is ours already, the central grace we are forbidden to say that we see,” she writes. If radiance can be bought and sold, in a consumer society that sends the message that the “real” radiance is what comes in the package, while the homemade stuff gets moldy. Add to that the reality that the homemade tan—that is, a tan acquired from actually being in the sun—is damaging to your health (and eventually to your vanity through a leathery appearance), and suddenly the stuff in the bottle becomes even more appealing than run-of-the-mill makeup that just promises to make you look “better.” Eyeliner makes you look more awake, but self-tanner (or lightener, depending on the culture) promises to give you back that light that was originally yours, and it does so in a way that lets you play by the rules. Good girls stay out of the sun, but good girls also look like they get plenty of the stuff regardless. The tan in the bottle—that “Radiant,” “Natural Glow,” that “Sublime Bronze,” that holy protection of the “Bronzing Veil”—gives us an out, allows us to have our radiance without the harm the real deal would inflict. The beauty of it for us is that we’ve figured out how to get that “healthy tan” after all. And the beauty of it for the industry is that we’re paying $8.49 for each opportunity to do so.

Nutricosmetics, Part II: Morality, Capitalism, and Selling Us Ourselves

"Apples' soluble fiber helps your body eliminate nasty toxins that could show up on your skin.
It's nature's beauty bar!" —Cranach the Elder, subtextually

When I first learned about Renaissance beauty ideals in high school—or rather, the idea that physical beauty was then widely understood as an indicator of moral superiority—my first thought was that we still sort of think that way. We’re just not as blatant about it as Castiglione was in 1528 in his Book of the Courtier: “Beauty springs from God, and is like a circle of which goodness is the center. And hence, as there can be no circle without a center, there can be no beauty without goodness...outward beauty is a true sign of inward goodness.”

Today I think we still do make that equation, but the myriad variants on female beauty—the femme fatale, the beautiful damaged soul, heroin chic, the gorgeous bitch whose looks could kill—complicates it a good deal. We’ve introduced more archetypes, more ways to be prototypically feminine and beautiful, than just our walking angels. Morality still comes into play in our discussions of beauty—for example, we still use terms like “good skin” and “bad skin” that reflect our conflation of morality and beauty—but we’ve largely shifted away from openly and directly equating morality and beauty. Instead, we readily talk about another sort of “inner beauty” that manifests itself physically. Radiance, confidence, allure, je ne sais quoi, “a special quality,” or simply “it”—we freely talk about “inner beauty” as something that can’t be faked, as something that has to come from within. And in that sense, I’m wondering if nutricosmetics are being touted as a route to a sort of “inner beauty,” serving as a modern-day extension of Renaissance ideals of beauty and inner goodness. Nutricosmetics promise more than good skin; they promise inner beauty. Not the sort of inner beauty we’re referring to when we talk about radiance or confidence, of course—but I’m pretty sure nutricosmetics companies are banking on consumers making the connection between their product and confidence-as-inner-beauty. And given the ways that we moralize what women put into their bodies, nutricosmetics marketers are probably wise to take that bet. Nutricosmetics attempt to commodify an intangible spiritual quality, using words like glow, energy, balance, and replenishing, by linking it to something similarly intangible (health) via something highly tangible (a pill, a tea, a tonic, a beverage).

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that we equate health and morality (certainly the “war on obesity” and the intense vitriol it brings speaks to that), and that in particular what women choose to put into their bodies becomes a moral issue. (The success of many a trite diet-food campaign—hell, the success of an HSBC ad campaign from several years ago—depends upon it.) Putting the right things into your body is near the top of the pyramid of morality for western women. We link health and morality, and we certainly link health and beauty (I challenge you to find a beauty guide of any length that doesn’t address nutrition and exercise; certainly if I were to write one I’d include health). So nutricosmetics, in linking health and beauty, become a representation of the ways we still link beauty and morality. The pills and potions become the linking object that allows beauty, health, and morality to combine in ways that become difficult to consciously untangle—which is exactly what makes it ripe for capitalist culture, where such elisions and difficulties become the basis for effective marketing.

Capitalism works in part because it takes our private, intrinsic qualities and makes them extrinsic. With nutricosmetics, capitalism takes our abstract ideas about goodness and beauty—specifically “inner beauty”—and transforms them into products we can buy. Nutricosmetics marketing works specifically because it takes our most abstract and intrinsic of qualities—radiance, vitality, glow, “a certain quality,” whatever you wish to call it—puts it into a capsule, and sells it right back to us. Is there a more tangible manifestation of “inner beauty” than a pill that promises good skin?

We talk about how the makeup industry does this, and certainly there’s a moral component to face paint and topical skin care, but throwing health and ingestible products into the mix complicates matters. Where cosmetics enhance and correct, nutricosmetics purport to transform us, literally from the inside out. Cosmetics try to cover our flaws; nutricosmetics try to make us flawless. And specifically in American markets, they do so while allowing us to skirt our old-fashioned Puritan ideals. With nutricosmetics, we don’t even need to do the work of sticking to a “good” diet or eat “right.” All we need to do is buy.

For part I of The Collected Thoughts and Writings of Autumn Whitefield-Madrano on Nutricosmetics, click here.

Beauty Blogsophere 5.5.11

The latest beauty news, from head to toe. 

Note: This roundup is early this week because tomorrow brings a Very Special Guest Post. Stay tuned!

He didn't get Botox, and look how empathetic!

From Head...
Botox makes you a social dunce: Because Botox hampers your ability to make facial expressions—therefore hampering your ability to naturally mimic someone's expressions, which triggers your ability to read them (we all it, without thinking about it)—it may make you less sympathetic toward others. Egads! (Via No More Dirty Looks.)

Playing pretty in rural India: The relatively low price of color cosmetics (as opposed to skin care) has made color cosmetics popular among low-income rural Indians—which accounts for 70% of the population, after all. Researchers expect color cosmetic sales to soar 19% through the next three years—that's a lot. Let's just hope that the photosensitive chemicals in cosmetics that are causing 80 hospital visits a day in the Chandigarh area aren't a part of this boom. 

Must-see manscaping: No, not that manscaping. Special effects makeup artist William Lemon III designed these incredible landscapes on men's faces. Eerie and gentle and beautiful.

To Toe...
Fish pedicure appeal: An Arizona appeals court rules that a salon owner may challenge the constitutionality of the state's crackdown on fish pedicures. That bodes well for the mayor of Swindon, a town in south England, who's opened up a fish pedicure store, Dr. Spafish, in the town's shopping centre. (See what I did there? Centre?)

Classic Car Collectors Against Domestic Violence?

...And the Business In Between:
Mary Kay and domestic violence awareness: Mary Kay has done excellent work around DV research and awareness, contributing more than $11 million to programs in the past decade and pioneering solid research. So I know that the company's recent stunt of pulling up to the Massachusetts State House in a trademark pink Cadillac to raise awareness is more than just a stunt.

Global beauty options: Americans go nuts for Boots, even though my British sources tell me that it's basically like going nuts for Walgreen's. But if the mere mention of "colour" cosmetics tickles you anyway, note that they have a new U.S. e-commerce site. And if Boots just doesn't cut it, check out Cleopatra's Choice, which allows you to shop skin care products by the region they come from. Regional options are limited but diverse. (I am a total junkie for this kind of stuff. It's from Latvia? It must be good!)

Walgreen's masstige plan: Of course, Walgreen's ain't so bad itself. WWD reports (pay-blocked, unfortunately) that Walgreen's—which acquired New York chain Duane Reade last year—is taking a cue from the "Look Boutique" pioneered by its acquisition, which features masstige products in a vaguely spa-like setting, complete with fragrance counters. Look for Walgreen's to become a bigger player in the drugstore cosmetics market...

...and look out Procter & Gamble's clever new campaign: "Have You Tried This?" is explicitly geared toward getting women to put just one more product in their basket at a drugstore. It's always fun to play with new products, but "trying this" means $7 billion to the company (which makes Cover Girl, Clairol, Pantene, Olay, Vidal Sassoon, and more), so just be aware. Of course, since P&G is also one of only fifteen Fortune 500 companies whose boards had representation from all of the U.S. Census Bureau's major groups, I suppose you could do worse.

Avon scandal: Four executives in its branch in China (which has recently switched exclusively to direct sales) were fired for bribery. Looks like it won't hurt the woman-led company, though: After a middling 2010, Avon's profits more than tripled in the first quarter, in large part due to strong Latin American sales.

Merle Norman gets a makeover: Merle Norman is updating to not seem so "old lady," in the CEO's words. As much as I hate sales pressure, I remember going to Merle Norman with my mother as a teenager when I was breaking out; it was one of the only times she and I bonded over beauty, and the only reason we went there was because it was one of the brands that was around when she was a teen. So I'm rooting for Merle!

Cadbury's new skin line: Chocolate producer Cadbury is partnering with Anatomicals to make body products that will promote their three new bars. Listen: I like chocolate. I like body lotion. Am I the only one who's totally grossed out by the thought of chocolate-scented stuff on my body? Those "chocolate wrap" things at some spas make me shudder...

Me using "Vietnamese sunscreen," which, judging by my shoulders, I should have used earlier.

Sunscreen in developing nations: With the sunscreen market lagging (we rich Americans haven't been taking enough tropical vacations—quick, do your part for the sun care market!), research group Euromonitor is urging sun care manufacturers to target "emerging markets," i.e. poor but developing nations, where sunscreen isn't yet seen as a necessity. This needs to happen for everyone's protection, but I can see potential for this this to go horribly awry in some fashion, à la Nestle and infant formula. Albino advocacy groups in Kenya indicate one small but interesting slice of the issue: Because sunscreen is currently categorized as a beauty product, Kenya won't lift the tax on it, even though albinos need a strong SPF (especially in the Kenyan sun) to be protected. 

New York teen tanners outta luck?: New York legislators are considering a ban on tanning for teens. To be honest, I'd assumed this had already happened. Yikes!

Breaking news! Donald Trump sort of douchey: On the off-chance you haven't read Anna Holmes's Washington Post piece on Donald Trump's sexist antics—many of them relating to commenting on women's looks in inappropriate settings—hop yourself over there straightaway.

Wordy girls: I'm a sucker for analyzing the words we use to describe women. (Copy editing + women's magazines = big surprise.) Luckily, I'm not alone: Sally at Already Pretty looks at what it means to be a lady, and Alexa at the F-Bomb examines fat, slut, and lesbian. (Rather, lesbian-as-putdown, not lesbian-as-lesbian.)

The body of Princess Kate: Virginia Sole-Smith has a wonderful history of reminding us that when we freak out about women's bodies—for good or bad—we're playing into the machine that got us to this frenzy in the first place. Read here why we need to stop freaking out about Kate Middleton's middle.

Deregulating barbershops in Japan: Matt Yglesias comments on the temporary relaxing of regulations for barbers and beauticians in Japan as a response to the trauma over there. He argues that the preexisting loophole that allows beauticians to work outside their salons—say, at weddings—proves that regulation is overall unnecessary, which I disagree with. But the comments on the piece are largely of the "Why does someone as serious and Big Thinky as Matt Yglesias give a shit?" Hmm, maybe he gives a shit because it's a labor concern?

Retouching videos: Both of these are longer than they need to be, but each are worth a quick glance. Anyone interested in this stuff has already seen retouching videos (Dove's "Evolution" being the best and most famous) but what's remarkable here is that you really see the amount of labor that goes into creating an image, as it's basically an ad for Photoshop tutorials. The second is about the ways in which men are trapped by beauty standards. (Via The Beauty Myth 2011.) It doesn't really give new information, but I'm sharing it here because of the reaction I had to it: I felt a hot pang of sympathy for the model here that I haven't when I've seen women being used in this manner. I don't think this means that I'm less sympathetic to women's objectification; I think I'm just so used to seeing women being used in this way, and being a woman myself and bearing all the objectification that brings, that, sadly, it doesn't faze me any longer. Which makes me sad.

Does Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Work? Depends on What "Work" Means

Ready for the grand reveal? Actually, according to my poll results, 56% of you don’t need it at all: The right side of my face received the anti-aging treatment. Twenty-nine percent of you couldn’t tell, and only 15% of you guessed incorrectly. And according to the results of my Visia face scan—kindly performed by Sabina Kozak, the spa director at Sensitive Touch, a medical spa in NYC—my wrinkles really have decreased on the right side of my face:

The Visia scan also told me I was in the 47th wrinkle percentile for 34-year-old women.
Does Kaplan have a course for improving this?

So obvs we should all be swarming the drugstore in search of Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair, right? Not exactly. The other measures from my Visia face scan (thanks to The Beauty Brains for the tipoff about the Visia imaging system, which aids in analyzing your skin's condition) suggested that I had poorer texture on the treated side of my face—hardly a surprise, given the flakiness and peeling I had about two weeks in. So you’re making a devil’s deal—reduced wrinkles for heightened sensitivity—and you might not ever know whether it’s worth it (unless, of course, you conduct a Highly Scientific Experiment like a certain intrepid beauty blogger).

But fine, whatever, some of us will put bat blood on our face if it’ll just slow down the cruelle hands of time, right? So look at my photo again:

Let’s be honest: The difference is minuscule. It’s not something you’d notice were you not looking for it—or, for 29% of you, that you'd notice even if you were (not to mention the 15% who thought I'd treated the other side of my face). In fact, I found it impossible to properly document, because the only way I myself noticed was when I would smile wildly at myself four inches away from the mirror. Then I could tell a legitimate difference in the depth of wrinkles under my eyes and the number of fine lines splayed out on either side of my nose. But unless I spend my life grinning fanatically to increase my wrinkles so that onloookers can tell how decreased they've actually become, no really, it's a moot point. (I might begin to garner a reputation as extraordinarily cheerful and/or as a maniac, which would either shave a few years off or add them on, depending.)

But here’s the thing: Undoubtedly, the cream “worked.” It’s justified in its claims of "fading the look of stubborn...deep wrinkles." (Though its other claims, of “brightening skin tone” and “improving texture” were unproven--do you see any difference in tone? I don’t, and neither did Kozak at Sensitive Touch. In fact, in just looking at close-up photos of my face, she guessed I’d been treating the left side of my face, because of its smoother texture—and this is a person who improves people's skin for a living.) But I recall a back-and-forth I once overheard between two coworkers of mine, in surveying the skin care basket at a beauty sale: “Oh, vitamin C cream, that sounds nice,” one said. The other replied, “Yeah, but does it work?” She said it with a cynical, resigned tone, and years later I keep hearing her voice when I’m contemplating some new skin potion. With, say, mascara, it’s easy to tell if it “works”: Are your lashes darker than they were before? Yes? It's working. Logically the same would apply to skin care: My fine lines were indeed diminished, however slightly, so unequivocally we can say it works, right?

But if the phrase “hope in a jar” is any indication, I’m not alone in illogically wanting a product to “work” in ways it simply can’t. It wasn't so much that I wanted my wrinkles diminished; I wanted the radiance I had in college, when all I had to do was roll out of bed to have the glow that now only comes with a good night’s rest, healthy diet, and exercise. At 34, I’m only beginning to enter the anti-aging sector of the beauty market, and I’m learning what a rabbit hole it could easily become. Because if this cream is the best over-the-counter cream there is, and it "works" but doesn’t work-work, the next step is to see a dermatologist for the prescription-strength version. That cream will work but probably not work-work; then Botox cometh. And then a chemical peel, and then laser resurfacing, and then what’s left but going under an actual knife in order to find what will really, finally, truly work-work?

I wonder if part of the disappointment of the anti-aging market is that it's a misnomer. It doesn't anti-age you; it ages you smarter, that's all. The right side of my face does not currently look younger than my left side; it just looks maybe a little less stressed out or better-rested, like one half of me was doing face yoga while my vampiric, type-A, humorless, haggard side, who is also probably a heavy smoker and named Charlene, was paying visit to the taxman.

I had another realization through this experiment, one that has less to do with how the cream made me look and more with how we look at one another. People had a much higher rate of guessing erroneously when in person as compared with people who voted online and could scrutinize the “data” without feeling uncomfortable. (Workplace tip: Kneeling in front of your coworkers’ desks and asking them to play Fountain of Youth with you is super-awkward, but you become BFFs real quick!) Not only that, but the people who knew me best—close friends, longtime coworkers, even my boyfriend—were the most likely to choose wrong.

Looking at pictures of my squinty eyes on a screen, you can parse out that maybe the fine lines on the right side are a bit finer. But when looking at me—a live, breathing person, one emanating energy and eagerness and friendliness and curiosity and maybe a little bit of awkward nerves—I think people weren’t able to be as objective. Not that my aura is so dazzling (I do eventually tire of the applause, you know), but rather that my humanness—just like theirs—was so present as to overshadow any individual facet of me.

Which is to say: Nobody wants to look that closely. The only times I’m scrutinizing someone’s face is when I'm intrigued by the person, so anything I find is going to be a treasure, or a clue to their inner lives. In the past week I’ve discovered a glimmer of silver eyeshadow on a low-key colleague I always thought eschewed makeup, a scatter of well-concealed pimples on a friend who’s desperately unhappy at her job, and an old-fashioned beauty mark on one of the most casually glamorous women I know. I’m paying attention to their faces and finding these things, assets and drawbacks alike, because the people captivate me. If I’m lucky enough to captivate someone else to the point where they’re mapping my face, I have to trust that they will see my lines as what they are—evidence of nearly 35 years on this planet. Whether a person thinks I look "aged" or haggard versus well-lived and vibrant will depend upon what they think of my presence, not the lines around my eyes.

So, will I keep using this cream? Well, I probably won’t buy it (I got this bottle for free, a perk of working in ladymags)--but I’ll finish the bottle. And in all honesty, the next time I go to my dermatologist for a cancer check
(which you should do, pronto—I did on a whim and it turns out I had precancerous cells, so get your butt in there, missy), I can't promise I won't ask for a Retin-A prescription. Yes, much of what I've written here has refuted the net effectiveness of age creams. Yes, I still want in. 

Even after knowing that people can only tell the difference when pressed, even knowing that I can only tell the difference when exaggerating my wrinkles, even having loosely proved that my human presence is an effective mask for any “fine lines” I might have: The option is there, every night, available. Were I to opt out entirely, I feel like I’d be giving up on the part of me that wants to establish myself as radiant and vibrant. I do the things that actually keep me as radiant as I can be: I eat my veggies, I do my yoga. But those take time, and dedication. And I am, after all, only American: There is a part of my brain resistant to all sense, and that part tells me that maybe a 60-second fix really will help. For 60 seconds every night, I can dab a bit of lotion onto my fingers and pretend like I have a quick pass to "aging gracefully"; for those 60 seconds each night, I have a quiet, divine ritual that reminds me I have a long life ahead, and that this small talisman might help me through it. For 60 seconds each night, there’s a part of me that believes I have access to the sort of older woman I look at and hope to become—and for the tentative now, the only barrier to entry is the occasional twenty-dollar bill, spent on a wishful act of magic, a moment of alchemy, a silent prayer that I have some dominion in the woman I will be in ten years, in twenty, in forty. 

Hope in a jar.

Beauty Blogsophere 4.15.11

What's going on in beauty this week, from head to toe.

Princess Arthchild Gourielle-Helena Rubinstein, Salvador Dalí, 1943

From Head...
Helena Rubenstein portraits: The lady sat for Dalí! (She commissioned him to design a compact for her collection as well.) Twenty portraits of her by various artists are on view at Sotheby's.

Mermaid beauty: Mermaid expert extraordinaire Carolyn Turgeon (author of the enchanting novel Mermaid) interviews makeup artist Rona Berg on mer-beauty. And now that your appetite for fishwomen is whetted, check out the second ad on BellaSugar's roundup of most bizarre beauty ads ever made.

A colorful history: Nice writeup of lipstick's history by Sam Correy. Cleopatra also engaged in mermaid beauty, it seems, adding fish scales for shine to her "lipstick" made of beeswax and crushed ants.

Oily skin win: I love a good beauty experiment! BellaSugar again, this time with an intrepid reporter trying the oil-cleaning method--that is, washing your face with oil.

Barbarella beauty: Die-cut false lashes, printed hair extensions, and nail stamps at this vaguely futuristic beauty show.

Blowout blowup: The Department of Labor has issued a hazard alert on Brazilian blowouts—you know, that hair treatment that dumps formaldehyde (which even some morticians won't use anymore) on your head. I'm pleased but baffled as to why this issue, of all issues, is what is making the government sit up and take notice of the complete lack of regulation in beauty treatments. Is it the scary f-word of formaldehyde? What about the lead, the parabens, the sulfates, the tar—not startling enough? Or is it, as indicated by the action being taken by the Department of Labor, not the Food & Drug Administration, because every time a woman gets formaldehyde poured on her head, there's a salon worker who's handling the stuff too?

...to Toe...
Fancy footballer: Between Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, comedian Tommy Davidson, and Josh Freese from last week's roundup, the pedicure is shucking its cloak of femininity. All the more reason for A Certain News Network and other reactionaries to tone down their freakout over this 7-year-old boy's cotton-candy-colored Essie pedicure.

...and Everything In Between
Johnson & Jobbery: The maker of Neutrogena and Clean & Clear, Johnson & Johnson, was fined for paying kickbacks for contracts under a UN relief program in Iraq. We're talking drug corruption, not an acne scrub scandal, but still, yikes. 

Criminal beauty: Between the teenager being fined $1 million for setting fire to hairspray at an Illinois Walmart, and a curious vandalism of a Florida anti-choice display involving boxes of unopened Mary Kay products, beauty products are playing accessory to crime this week.
Fair Pay Day: Virginia at Beauty Schooled examines the gender gap in beauty work, in honor of Fair Pay Day (April 12). It's particularly interesting in light of Inc.com's report on the fastest-growing industries for startups, which highlighted beauty salons and barber shops.

In the red: Also as a part of Fair Pay Day, Mrs. Bossa nicely runs down the symbolism of the color red in connection to women's labor--paid, unpaid, and paid-in-kind.

Sears & Your Bucks: Sears is ramping up its cosmetics department, in most cases creating a department where there was none. Why should you care? Because Sears is seriously struggling (when was the last time you went to one?), and we as women are a part of its revitalization plan. It's an illustration of our market power, and it's easy to forget that we really do have that market power when we think of the beauty industry as something that merely exploits women's insecurities. It does, to be sure--underarm beautification, anyone?--but let's not forget that the market is a two-way street, and that businesses rely on our dollars to do their work. (Another reminder: Spa-going ladies basically own Groupon.)

Plus-size yoga: The new, cleverly named Buddha Body Yoga studio caters to a heavy-set clientele. I'm all for an environment that allows all participants to honor their bodies...but isn't that what yoga is all about in the first place? Yay for Buddha Body, but boo on the "yoga lifestyle" that has created the need for it in the first place. We've lost the plot, folks, when yoga has become so much about cute Lululemon pants and adorable printed mats, and less about its focus as a mind-body practice that would naturally lend itself to a heavy person wishing to find peace, just like all yogis.

Frankenbarbie: College student creates life-size, correctly proportioned, utterly grotesque Barbie. (Thanks to sustainability blogger Fonda LaShay for the link, even if it'll give me nightmares.)

Beauty in one's Seoul: Japan has long been the Asian leader in the cosmetics market, but Korea is joining the game full-force. With the events in Japan leading to concerns about contamination of Japan-produced cosmetics (which the Japan Cosmetic Industry Association refutes), could Korea make giant leaps in the next year?

Six beauty procedures that qualify as torture: Interesting stuff at Cracked (face slimmers?), but there was a tone here that I found disturbing--there was zero examination or sympathy of why people might choose to do these torturous procedures. An Asian woman doesn't spend two hours a day gluing her eyelids to create a fold because she's vain or has nothing she'd rather be doing; she does it because of the class connotations (including increased job opportunities) it can confer upon her.

Cosmetic genital mutilation? Ghanaian human rights activist Nana Oye Lithur draws a connection between western cosmetic surgery on one's genitals and female genital mutilation. I don't equate the two—but FGM is an abstract reality for me, not a daily reality of my countrywomen, which isn't the case for Ms. Lithur.

The three graces of Hearst? Mediabistro points out WWD's somewhat sexist treatment of three powerful fashion EICs under one roof at Hearst, once the Elle acquisition goes through. How belittling is it to assume that there can only be one top dog at Hearst simply because there are three (very different) women's fashion mags? Nobody's doing a cutesy Condé Nast chart of Daniel Peres of Details versus GQ's Jim Nelson.

Please Vote: Which Half of My Face Looks Younger

I'm in the last leg of my anti-aging face cream experiment: Now, gentle reader, it is in your hands. (For those of you just now joining the beauty lab: I've been using an anti-wrinkle face cream on one half of my face for the past month.) Please vote in my poll (upper right-hand corner of the blog) on which—if either—half of my face looks younger! (You can click on the image to make it larger, either for educating yourself re: the poll or to use as wallpaper on your desktop.)

I have my own ideas about which half of my face benefited from this experiment (and so does the skin care expert I visited) but in scientia veritas, so forgive me for not letting you know which half is which until next week.

In the meantime: You came down in favor of me shampooing my hair, but it was neck-and-neck, with only a two-vote difference between the yesses and the nos. (The lone "Thought it looked like hell all along, really" vote I am discarding, as it is unclear if the person thinks I should wash it or merely dislikes my hair wholesale.) I'm hanging on a bit longer as a Hair Warrior—I'm self-employed so "Hair Warrior" is as close as I'm going to get to a job promotion—but the siren song of shampoo is calling.

Vickie Dowling, Psy.D.,Clinical Psychologist, San Diego

Vickie Dowling specializes in helping her patients cope with the emotional effects of skin disorders. She’s uniquely qualified for the gig: A psoriasis patient since childhood, she developed her first debilitating full-body flare in college, a time when many young women’s self-esteem and body image are already in flux. A chronic, noncontagious autoimmune disease in which skin cells turn over more rapidly than normal, psoriasis’ physical effects include patches of dry, flaking skin and/or irritated patches. But it’s the emotional effects of psoriasis that made me want to talk with Vickie: Sufferers report heightened self-consciousness, frustration, embarrassment, and anger. And given the emphasis on women’s appearance, it’s no surprise that women with psoriasis report all these emotions in greater numbers than their male counterparts. We talked about focusing on our gifts, the loneliness of skin disorders, the power of education, and how to literally be comfortable in one’s own skin—a goal that people with and without skin disorders seek. In her own words:

On Her History

Being a teen brings vulnerability around self-image under normal circumstances—adding a chronic visible skin condition amplified my self-consciousness. Entering college, I pretty much had a good self-image—I liked my hair, I had a good figure, and I had good skin. I was pretty spoiled, so to speak, with how I looked, and I kind of took it for granted. I think a lot of us take a lot of things for granted until we have something stripped from us. I don't think I can "what-if" [to think how life may have been different without psoriasis]. I can't roll back.

Not only was my skin inflamed literally from head to toe, I also lost most of my hair. You know how in high school yearbooks, they ask you a question, like what your prized possessions are? I said mine was my hair. So it was devastating—I felt like nothing looked normal. My feelings of sadness, loneliness, and isolation felt almost as if they were permeating my sense of being. I gained weight from medications and decreased activity. I had a limited collection of clothing. It felt pretty traumatic for that age.

Most of my girlfriends were supportive, even if they were ignorant—much like myself at the time. But they were busy students, and they couldn't really help me physically; I really became pretty physically dependent at this time. And many of my male friends simply fell by the wayside. Some of the men I had dated completely lost interest. I felt very lonely—and given my level of dependency, I had to move in with my parents on the opposite coast and a new place. I basically lost a huge portion of my support network.

My very first step to getting where I am now is when I received a brochure from the National Psoriasis Foundation, from my dermatologist. I really think that education is critically important. That education was the first piece of gradually learning that I wasn't alone. I was maybe 20 when I went to my first support group—I drove to L.A., probably an hour and a half drive each way, because I wanted to meet other people who had this. Somebody who knew what I was suffering from.

On the Power of Education

People are sometimes afraid of various disorders—and if it's a skin disorder there's often a fear of contagion. We're afraid of "getting" things. People in our culture are afraid of our mortality, and a disease or disorder kind of brings you face-to-face with limitations and mortality. There's also a curiosity—people don't know what to say when someone is different. People are often embarrassed to be seen looking, or to be looked at. People with amputated limbs, people with crooked teeth, people who are obese, who have facial deformities, spinal deformities, acne—all of these things, they share similar kinds of interest, curiosity, and fear from the public. Many people aren't going to be familiar with a specific condition, so it helps to come up with a pat answer so you feel comfortable, and you educate people. For psoriasis, I tell people my skin reproduces itself faster than yours does—yours takes a month to resurface and mine resurfaces every couple of days. Someone who begins to feel more comfortable in their own skin can remove that basic pat answer, maybe using humor if that feels comfortable. Humor relaxes people. As you begin to feel more comfortable with yourself and others, they will begin to feel more comfortable with you. If humor works for you, then you can share how stigmatizing or embarrassing your condition can be.

I was denied salon services once, when I went in for a haircut many years ago. Since that episode, I've frequently brought up the topic when I've gone in for a haircut, even before they begin. I used to take in National Psoriasis Foundation brochures for the stylists, because I didn't want to go through that experience again—it was humiliating. If you're proactive, you're taking the reins—you're taking charge to the degree that you're capable of. Now, when I bring it up, most stylists are like, "Yeah, we've had training." If you educate others, they can become allies.

On Literally Being Comfortable in Your Own Skin

A gift that psoriasis has given me is that I'm less concerned of what others think of me—both when I'm flaring and when I'm in remission. Of course I like looking good and I don't dress sloppily, but I'm not as concerned with my appearance as I used to be. Before I had the experience of psoriasis, I looked in the mirror more than I do now. I don't avoid them; I just don't seek them out. I don't typically wear constricting clothes; I wear a lot of natural fibers. I think it's also humbled me significantly, and has given me the compassion that I have for my patients. It's really helped me become more compassionate, because I have genuine empathy and actually understand how it feels to be 1) disabled, 2) have to deal with unpleasant treatment regimens, and 3) be concerned with my appearance.

It's also given me a sense of humor, both to help me cope and to help others feel more comfortable in my presence when I do break out. For instance, when I returned from my last absence from work, I joked about my "free chemical peel,” because my skin was constantly shedding—most people think I’m significantly younger than I am. In fact, many people who have psoriasis actually have beautiful complexions when they're not flaring, because they have constantly fresh skin. I try to focus on things like that, and work really hard at changing my perception of things. I reframe how I think about certain situations.

You have to learn to nurture yourself, first and foremost. There's a tendency to be self-critical and judgmental, and most of us place these burdens on ourselves as though they're obligations, instead of making a choice about it. Saying, "I want to do this, I know I'll feel better—my condition X will feel better and I'll be more comfortable" is going to bring you to a better, more comfortable, and healthier place physically, and probably a better, safer place emotionally. Once you do that, you can get into educating and volunteering—helping others helped me tremendously. When you're focusing on others it takes away the focus from yourself.

Another way to shift attention from yourself is to do relaxation exercises—one of the ways that those work is that you're shifting your focus, distracting yourself. Distraction is a great tool for self-care. One of the things that I talk to my patients about, whether they have health issues or not, is thought-stopping. I'll tell people to just say the word stop in their head, and that if they're in a place where they can say it out loud, to do that and clap their hands to place more emphasis on it. I tell them to think in as much detail as possible about a stop sign. Most people think about a stop sign as just a stop sign. But if you really think about it, it's octagonal, it has block capitals, white letters on a red background, the newer ones are kind of iridescent and the older ones have a flatter paint. The newer ones sometimes have a trim around the edge; there's a bolt or screw at the top and the bottom that's mounting them onto the metal post, and some of those metal posts are solid and some have little holes all the way down. There's a lot of detail there. And what does thinking about that do? It shifts your attention. It distracts you from focusing on your pain or discomfort—and that pain or discomfort can be physical or emotional.

You have to let yourself be sort of emotionally comfortable too. A lot of people with psoriasis have to pick and choose clothes that are going to be physically comfortable but allow them to feel less self-conscious. Many who have psoriasis chronically will hide it—they'll wear long sleeves, pants, long skirts, even when it's warm out or when it's irritating. They'll wear lighter-colored clothes. I'm wearing darker-colored things now that I've avoided for years and years. I love it! I actually went out and bought several black and navy sweaters because I hadn't been able to wear them in years. One of the things that I feel lucky about is that I've worked through some self-consciousness. I don't draw attention to myself, but I won't make myself uncomfortable for how I look.

You have to practice to become comfortable in your own skin. Just like when you're learning to walk as a toddler, or when you're learning to ride a bike, you fall down a lot. You've got to practice, practice, practice—and it's the same thing with being comfortable with yourself. It's not something that came easy to me at first. I can speak quite simply and easily about it now because I'm practiced at it, but it wasn't always easy. You have to recognize that it takes time, and you need to give yourself permission to make mistakes. Often, people believe they have to be perfect, even in building this skill, and that's not the case.

Beauty Experiment: Update and Confession to the Scientific Community and the Community at Large

Monitoring the progress of my first official beauty experiment, applying anti-aging cream to half my face. I'll wait until the end of the monthlong experiment before issuing any conclusions, as I wouldn't want to tamper with the results, and refraining from hypothesizing is as close to double-blind as I can get (short of hiring someone to apply cream to my face while I sleep, which seems a tad drastic, especially as this project has had a difficult time finding funding from the scientific community at large). Still, I feel it only fair to alert readers of a potential contaminant in the experiment: The half of my face receiving treatment has started to noticeably flake, in a direct line down my nose, and in order to provide corrective measures I have had to add a moisturizing cream to the regimen.

Let the official experiment log, i.e. this weblog, reflect my personal conflict over adding a factor to the experiment midway through, in what I admit is a rather haphazard fashion. I felt it better to attempt a corrective course so as to not begin the experiment anew (and since in other capacities besides that of chief scientist, I'm a laydee who doesn't want to walk around with half of her nose shedding). My hope that my integrity remains intact in the eye of the public.

Thank you, and good day.

Beauty Blogsophere

What's going on in beauty this week, from head to toe. 

From Head...
Photoshop yourself...with makeup: I'm behind on this, but when I read about Make Up For Ever's ads with no airbrushing, I got excited. Then I saw that the ads were to promote their HD line of makeup, the idea being that you're basically airbrushed the minute you start wearing the stuff. Nevermind! (Also note the awesome oh-hi-armpit poses and fish-lip faces that nobody, ever, has looked like except when taking their own snapshot, probably after a couple of G&Ts, or am I alone here?)

"I feel like a queen": I'm just a hair skeptical of the Dove campaign, but still took delight in reading about their newest model: a 99-year-old Israeli great-grandmother.

Avon calling: In other senior beauty news: 82-year-old Texan man is recognized as Avon's oldest male rep.

Science sez: On the clean beauty front, a group of influential scientists have officially put forward a call for greater regulation in chemical testing. You know, chemicals like the stuff that goes on your lips, your skin, your eyelashes, your hair. (Thanks to No More Dirty Looks for the tipoff—and in general for their keen attention to this stuff.)

...to Toe 
Snakeskin pedicure?!?! I thought we were supposed to be getting away from scaly feet?

Is it worth the vegan beauty brigade's trouble? Girlie Girl Army, take it from here.

One false step: When I first saw this bit on toenail extensions, my eyes rolled back into my brains. But then with the pictures (not for the foot squeamish) and accompanying text that makes it clear this is sort of reconstructive surgery lite, it made me feel warm and fuzzy about the thought of fake toenails. (I'm of the "my feet need to breathe" camp, not the "feet are disgusting and should be covered at times" camp, and if I lost a toenail it would really bum me out aesthetically.)

...and the Things in Between 
"Skin balls" (ewww!): This happens to me all the time! Why some body butters "roll off" your skin.

My favorite coverline ever was "Erotic Sex!": Dense but worthy scholarly writeup on Cosmopolitan magazine. It's not that it tells you anything that the irregular reader of Cosmo doesn't know on some level, but it does a nice job of breaking down the data and examining the male gaze aspect of a magazine geared toward women.

Do we want models to look like us?: Glamour called out research that indicates that women say they're more likely to buy goods when the model looks like them. It sounds encouraging, but note that the scholar behind the research is also the CEO of an inclusive modeling agency (plus-size, older, even disabled). I'm eager to see what he does next, since he seems like he understands both the pull for non-alienating models and "aspirational" images. I'm just hesitant to hail this as a sea change quite yet.

Dads in the house: Nice essay on helping your daughter navigate making her way through the beauty myth. Step one: Don't ogle women in front of her, duuuuh.

The Good Girl's Drug: If there's a young woman in your life struggling with food issues, particularly binge eating, please go and buy a copy of this book now. Food: The Good Girl's Drug by Sunny Gold is a fantastic mix of personal story, hands-on advice, cheerleader, and sage. Binge eating can be overcome, and this book shows you how. 

I think I'm a Duchamp: Seems I'm not the only one who hates having her body referred to as a piece of fruit: An Australian underwear line is trying to rebrand women's body types to recall great artists—Rubens, Da Vinci, etc. A mild improvement, I suppose (less judgmental, to be sure), but the fact that the word "rebranding" was the most appropriate word I could find here says something.

Qu'est-ce qu'il y a? We American ladies are still after the Frenchwomen's je ne sais quoi? Apparently we're even taking product design cues from them. The airless pump? The mass brands designed to look like high-end, thus creating my mock-favorite word of the week, masstige? That was them.

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Do Anti-Aging Creams Work? A Potentially Weird-Looking Experiment

Please allow me to present my first official beauty experiment! Each week or month (depending on the challenge) I'll be doing a different beauty experiment. These will range from the external and product-oriented (finally, an excuse to, say, wear turquoise eyeliner!) to the internal and self-oriented (going for a week without looking in a mirror) to everything in between. If there's anything to report during the experiment, I'll keep you updated; if it's more about the end result, I'll just post the results at the experiment's end.

First up: I'm going to start using anti-aging cream...on half my face.

Which half of my face will be the lucky recipient of anti-aging cream?
Will the other half be sent home with a dinette set?

We've heard ad nauseam that anti-agers don't really work. In fact, it's hard to think of another product category that's such an object of skepticism but still manages to make incredible sales—with mascara your lashes are either darker or they're not, but with anti-aging creams, who's to say whether you actually look younger? Still, even skeptics say that retinols might do something—prescription-strength retinols in particular, but even over-the-counter stuff has a decent reputation among dermatologists. Beauty editor Ali has faith in retinols, but I thought that her explanation of why expensive skin creams might "work" better applied to anti-aging: "If you just shelled out $300 for a cream, your brain is in this mode of, This is going to work. You have that optimism that can actually make you radiant."

Now, companies have access to all sorts of weird measuring tools that can actually measure whether or not their snake oils reduce wrinkles. But I don't give a shit if my wrinkles are reduced 50%; what I do give a shit about is if I look better, you know? Fifty percent might mean jack squat on my face. What I want to know is: Does this retinol actually have an effect on my appearance? The optimism won't really come into play, and I'll be posting pictures after the fact so you can guess which half me looks 34 and which half of me looks 34 with reduced wrinkles.

Caveats: I have "fine lines," not wrinkles—I am, after all, only 34 and have been pretty careful about not over-sunning myself. Plus, my parents have fewer wrinkles than most people their age, so I'm pretty well set up. Still: I see the lines that weren't there before, and while I'm not freaked out about them I also know that the worry lines that have popped up in the last year or so make me look, well, worried. Not older, but worried—and nobody looks their best when they appear stressed out. (What's that you say? Try stress reduction instead of anti-wrinkle cream? Yeah, sister, it's on my to-do list.)

The product I'm using is Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Moisturizer, which promises "Noticeable results in just one week!" I'm going to be generous with them and give them a whole month to turn one half of my face into a glowing, porcelain version of its current state. It's on.

Beauty Blogosphere

What's going on in beauty in this week, from head to toe. And ending with some older-gentleman NSFW material! (Fear not, it has nothing to do with Donald Rumsfeld.)

From Head...
Say "Airbrush!": Panasonic has a new camera that Photoshops you without Photoshop. I get toning down shine and even putting on blush, but there's a function that can make your eyes appear larger in proportion to your face. Call it the anime function. (From Jezebel.)

Me as captured by the Lumex FX77 camera. (Or me as anime character, by Svetlana Chmakova, who manga'd the CosmoGirl staff back in the day.)

Say "Glamazon!": The ladies at No More Dirty Looks are hosting another beauty challenge—all you have to do is put on some fabulous makeup (preferably with natural beauty products), snap a picture of yourself, and send it to them. The idea is to examine the spectrum of beauty (they'd earlier hosted a no-makeup challenge) and to showcase that clean beauty is just as glam as the toxic stuff. You could win a $100 gift certificate to Spirit Beauty Lounge, too.

Whitewashed beauty counter: It's hardly news that makeup companies are a source of dissatisfaction for women of color, but to see it laid out graphically at Those Three Graces shows how difficult it really can be.   

Smart girls: Nice insight on the differences between high-achieving girls and boys: Girls are less likely than boys to persevere through mentally challenging tasks, and in fact the higher the IQ, the less likely the girl was to stick with it. Heidi Grant Halvorson speculates that girls are likelier to view their talents as something innate, not something that can be developed. I wonder how that intersects with beauty? On one hand, your face is your face; on another, there are all sorts of enhancing measures we can and do take.

...to Toe:
Fish pedicures are under investigation. Which is sort of a shame, because it's the extent of what I know about the offerings of Malaysia (that's where they originated as far as I can tell), and it got me set to go visit. Is it an animal rights issue? Exploited labor?

...and the Things In Between: 
Never Say Diet! Virginia of Beauty Schooled is now the iVillage body image expert, which means that her smart, sane, and critical (but still fun!) eye on beauty is officially expanding. Check out her Never Say Diet posts there!

It's still OK to talk "Black Swan," right?: Claire Mysko's interesting take on how people reacted differently to Natalie Portman's and Christian Bale's weight loss for recent roles. (Neither of which could compare to Bale's frame in The Machinist. Yikes!)

Feeling worthy after ED recovery: I know Eating Disorders Awareness Week is over, but I found this essay on what you really give up when you recover fascinating. Sometimes it's difficult for ED patients to acknowledge what their illness gave them--the things that were cleverly disguised as benefits--and this is a frank take on it. (From a raw foodist, at that! My knee-jerk reaction is that raw foodism is a quick veil for an ED, but Gena seems to have a genuinely healthy philosophy on it.) Thanks to Cameo at Verging on Serious for the tipoff!

Bonus: Men!
Rouge rogues: What's up with men stealing cosmetics? Lipstick is sort of the teenage-rite-of-passage shoplifting for women who might be prone to such behavior (ahem) but some of these are pretty big hauls. I don't condone thievery, petty or otherwise, but it's interesting how there's sort of a perverse inequality here: I couldn't find any police reports of women stealing more than a pocketful of cosmetics, presumably for personal use, but some of these dudes were clearly taking large amounts for illegal resale--sort of the difference between having money and being wealthy, but in the criminal element. Where my big-haul ladies at? (Um, stay where you're at, please.)
Male skin care is a booming business in China. The most frequently cited reason for delving into the skin care world is job-related, but the male-female ratio is so skewed in China that I wonder if being forced to compete so heavily with other men might be a factor too? 

In defense of body hair: Kate at Eat the Damn Cake implores us to leave hairy men alone. For all the scrutiny of women's bodies, overall people feel much more free to comment negatively on men's bodies--especially when they're furry. And why do our tastes in body hair change so frequently? What happened to the Burt Reynolds love?

No Shampoo Goes Upscale

 The Unwashed took a vote; she's our new representative.

We, the Unwashed, have gone haute: W magazine has a piece about not washing one's hair; the writer went six weeks* without shampoo and chronicled her results—it's a well-written piece worth checking out. I'd also like to confess that I have been skirting the issue that the writer ends on: Yes, your hair can smell a little funky after a week of not rinsing it. But in my case it really does take a week, and so I just rinse it. I've entrusted my boyfriend with the task of gently breaking it to me if I ever really need to just wash up already (all of you are far too genteel to use the word scalpy** when referring to my essence, I know).

As for my update: My hair looks better than ever, especially once I decided to really rock the bedhead look and tease it a bit, with some Bumble & Bumble hair powder in for good measure. It doesn't feel as silky with the texturizing powder in, but it makes me feel just un peu de rock star, so I'll keep it. I also took a big leap and got my first haircut since quitting the shampoo. I'd rinsed my hair the night before so I wasn't presenting the stylist with a week's worth of grease and hair powder buildup, and I just asked them to only wet my hair instead of shampoo it. Nobody thought twice about it. And stylists usually comment on how healthy my hair is (I don't color it, that's pretty much my secret), but this time engendered raves.

I'm only now realizing that as fascinated as people are with the whole no-shampoo thing, nobody could seem to care less about the fact that my face has gone unwashed for the same amount of time. I don't know why that is—back when I was using soap/shampoo, I was much more likely to skip a day of shampooing than I would be of face wash. Maybe it's because plenty of men don't use soap on their faces, so it doesn't seem as out-there? Or because people have all sorts of ways we wash our faces—bar soap, liquid soap, creams, foams, even oils and grit powders—so it doesn't seem as drastic? Or maybe because you can look at my face and immediately tell there is absolutely nothing different about it, whereas hair requires a bit more investigation—an investigation that's potentially intimate for both parties? (Only one friend has admitted to covertly sniffing my hair while hugging me.)

In any case, now that W is catching on I feel, for the first time ever, like a trendsetter. Be on the lookout for other Autumn Whitefield-Madrano maverick moves: Quit shopping and wear the same five thrifted cashmere sweaters in Monday-to-Friday rotation until they die a proud, pilled death! Master the art of subway-sleeping so that you can get away with a smaller purse because there's no book in it! Transform your nervous habits to your beauty advantage—have you ever seen a pair of lips more exfoliated than mine? All you have to do is rub, dahling!

Thanks to No More Dirty Looks for the tipoff!

*The word wimp seems unkind, but I'm coming up on six months here, people.
**You wouldn't notice this unless you were, say, a month into not washing your hair while reading it, but The Corrections contains the phrase "scalpy smell" no less than three times. (I skimmed over all the Lithuania stuff so it could be even more.) Perhaps Jonathan Franzen is a secret devotee?

A Brief Interruption of Theory, Discourse, and Analysis in Order to Talk Mascara

I’ve always been curious about the job of a beauty editor because it seems like they’re privy to information the rest of us aren’t—I mean, how many of us have the word beauty in our job titles? And, of course, most ladymag readers share that curiosity, hence the whispered, insider-y tone of most beauty pages (and the reaction Ali gets when she divulges her job to a new acquaintance: “First they say, ‘Oh, how fun!’ Then they want me to look at their skin. I’m practically a dermatologist by now”). So even though traditional beauty tips are roughly #84 on my wish list for what this blog might put into the universe, now is as good a time as any to share the most useful and surprising (eyeshadow primer? really?) tidbits from my interview with Ali.

1) What anti-aging cream actually works? “After interviewing hundreds of dermatologists and hearing the same advice every time, yes, I now use a prescription retinoid. It’s called Renova; it’s a creamier version of the drug that’s in Retin-A. You have to ease yourself into it, using a pea-sized amount every third day for a while, because otherwise you’ll get red really quickly and then you’ll stop using it.”

2) Try an acne system, not just an acne product. “I’ve used the same cleanser for two years—Proactiv, I swear to god, that shit works! Doctors can prescribe benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid together, but a single over-the-counter product can’t have both. I think it’s one of those FDA monograph things. So the systems work because they have a benzoyl product and a salicylic product, but you’re using two products so you get them both without having to see a doctor.”

3) Buy the good sunscreen. “People always want to know what you should spend money on. Sunscreen you should spend money on. SPF means nothing because it doesn’t measure the UVA protection. And UVA blockers are really expensive, so cheap sunscreens don’t include them. But nobody wants to buy the good stuff, because it’s expensive! And if you’re wearing it correctly a bottle will last you two days, tops, at the beach. Look at the back, for the drug information—each of those drugs protects you from a different range of UV light for different amounts of time, so you actually want a long list. Neutrogena makes a good one—but it’s still $12.99.”

4) If you care about “clean beauty,” Burt’s Bees is the way to go. “I’ve been to their factory, I’ve interviewed their cosmetics chemist. Their lab isn't even a traditional lab, it's in the middle of the office, because they don't use chemicals so they don't need lab ventilation. They have big bags of sugar and coconut, but they make products that work, and it looks cute and you feel happy buying it. There are other companies that do the same thing but they charge a lot more for it. Burt's Bees is more expensive than some drugstore brands, but there's a reason for it.”

5) How the “natural look” breaks down: “People say to me, ‘You're so pretty, and you're not wearing any makeup.’ I probably have 17 products on right now! I put on SPF 30 sunscreen, every morning—if you interviewed enough dermatologists you'd do that too. Then tinted moisturizer; I'm still looking for the perfect one. If my skin is looking weird I'll use Armani foundation; it’s real sheer and melts in. Then concealer, because everybody needs concealer even if they say they don't; I use Estee Lauder Double Wear, it doesn't crease, and I've tried a ton. Then eyeshadow primer in lieu of eyeshadow, because you know how your eyelids might look bluish and pinkish and weird? This evens it out. The primers I’ve tried aren’t all that different; if it's eyeshadow primer it works. Then I curl my eyelashes. If I do nothing else, I curl my eyelashes—all you have to do is squeeze! No product! Then mascara; I use Blinc, this weird Japanese thing that freaks everybody out because when you wash it off it looks like your lashes are falling out, like little spider legs all over your sink, because it wraps each lash in this mascara tube. Then blush—Julie Hewitt has this rosy cream blush, very sheer—and bronzer on top of that. I still haven’t found the perfect bronzer. On my lips I put on lipstick or lip balm or whatever I'm testing at the time. So if people think I'm pretty without any makeup, I'm like, Shit, you could look like this too! Women think that there are pretty women and not-pretty women. But it's all what you do with what you have.”

6) Primers aren’t necessarily a rip-off. “You don’t have to put makeup over primers. People always freak out over primers because they think it’s priming you for something—like, great, another product I need? But you can use them alone and get good results. It actually does something.”

7) If your favorite item is discontinued, look at partner brands. “All these brands are owned by the same handful of companies, and the same labs do their products. So you liked Prescriptives, which was discontinued? You should look to Bobbi Brown, Estee Lauder, MAC, and Origins—they’re all owned by the same company that did Prescriptives, so they have the same R&D as Prescriptives. If you Google it you can find out who owns what.”

8) Check out return policies. “It’s great being a beauty editor because I get to actually try everything, whereas the woman in the drugstore would have to buy it to try it. It could take years of testing to find out what works for you.” [Drugstore return policies vary: CVS and Rite-Aid seem the most return-friendly for opened cosmetics, followed by Walgreens (in-store credit). For a more thorough (but not user-friendly) rundown of return policies, go here.]  

9) Know where to look in magazines to find what editors actually endorse. “The beauty editors’ picks page is usually mostly truthful. If I work at a magazine and there’s a ‘My Favorite Beauty Products,’ page, I’m not going to pick some product just because they bought a full-page ad. The line credits in the stories, that’s where sometimes you throw the advertisers a bone. There’s still that separation between edit and ads in that sense, but everything else being equal and I just have to mention a shampoo in a hair story, why wouldn’t I put in an advertiser’s? But I’m not going to claim it’s the greatest shampoo ever in the beauty editor’s picks.”

10) My personal vindication: You don’t need to wash your face that often. “You’re stripping it. Just do it at night to take makeup off—if you don’t wear makeup, you can just splash with water.”

11) And you definitely don’t need a toner. “Toners are bullshit.”

Ali, Beauty Editor, New York City

In her 10-plus years as a beauty journalist, Ali has worked at some of the biggest ladymags out there—bridal, teen, lifestyle, more—and is now department head at a major publication (trust me, you’ve seen it). But I’ve worked with dozens of beauty editors; what made me track down Ali for an interview was that we’d joked before about “girls like us”: curious, intelligent women who always wanted to dig a little deeper. I assumed that we’d share the same healthy skepticism of the beauty industry, so I found her healthy—but not entirely skeptical—take on the beauty industry compelling and illuminating. In good ol’ service magazine fashion, I’ll be posting her inside-scoop beauty advice later (first up: toner is a scam); here, she talks about raising her eyebrow at the green beauty movement, why we shouldn’t blame the industry for our self-esteem woes, and the survival of the prettiest. In her own words:

On Evolutionary Theory
I think cosmetics make people feel good about themselves, not bad. It's healthy to want to look beautiful. Mental patients don't brush their hair or wash their face; they don't care about what they look like. Evolutionarily, we're meant to peacock around and look good to attract a mate, and these companies assist in that. You could say, Okay, but they're preying on women's insecurities. They are, in a way, but they're also creating an industry that does some beneficial things. I almost think that fashion companies prey on women's insecurities more than the beauty industry. That's an industry making a fortune off women feeling bad about themselves—those Victoria's Secret models? Compared to beauty ads, the ideal they present is even more unattainable. Then again, Victoria’s Secret models do have those beautiful lips and gorgeous hair. I don't know.

In college I did my thesis on the theory that there is a universal standard for beauty, and it was largely influenced by Nancy Etcoff's writings; her book, Survival of the Prettiest, touches upon how it's healthy to want to be pretty. And that, weirdly, the same things people think are pretty in the Unites States are pretty across borders. Lipstick deepens the red color of lips in the same way lips darken during arousal; when you're in love, your pupils dilate, and mascara gives you the same look. It's a part of our process—I don't think it's unnatural. A lot of women take it to this whole other crazy plastic surgery level, but mascara and lipstick? It's just part of being a woman. They used kohl on their eyes in ancient Egypt; we use eyeliner. The same things make women attractive, and there are evolutionary reasons for it.

Nefertiti to Cleopatra: Really, it's just a matter of time before we all look like Liz Taylor, right?

On Feminism and Self-Esteem Crises
I remember a study about aging that we did at a magazine where I used to work. Using objective measures, experts estimate about 10% of the population looks younger than they are. But when we asked people about themselves, 80% of them think they look younger than they are. Eighty percent! And when I worked at a teen magazine we did a survey; one of the questions was whether the girls thought they were above average in appearance. The majority said they were! And that’s the teen years, when there are supposed to be all these problems with self-esteem.

But it’s not going to make news if you say, “Oh, girls are happy with themselves.” What kind of headline is that? And what makes news is what we gather around. But I feel like people sometimes use the big bad beauty companies and their advertisements and quote-unquote unnececessary products as an excuse for why they feel bad. You don’t want to feel bad for no reason; you want to latch onto a reason for these insecurities we all have, so you don’t feel crazy, so you don’t feel like you’re unbalanced or negative. There are people who just don’t feel right inside, and it’s easy for them—and I don’t blame them—to say it’s because, “Oh, I’ve been looking at these attractive women.” But I think you have to abandon those external forces and look inside and be like, "Really, why aren’t I happy?" It’s not because you don’t look like some ad. If we excavated each woman’s insecurities, like they do on a Hoarders episode, there would be deeper things going on.

We’re not meant to sit in front of computers and go to offices; we’re meant to be hunting and gathering, so obviously our brains are misfiring in some ways. I’m sure some feminists would be like, “No, I’m totally normal—it’s society that’s wrong.” But I don’t know. I think some feminists might resist talking about beauty because they think the minute they open that discussion, it belittles their bigger points. But the fact that more feminists aren’t really talking about beauty and our insecurities about how we look in that way is part of why some of these things are still going on. It’s at the heart of what they’re trying to get across.

Some of my friends from college are journalists who really delve into current events and these intellectual topics, but they still e-mail me all, “Where do I get this beauty procedure done?” I’m like, “You see? You still need beauty advice even though you’re these smart feminist girls!” I guess that’s what I struggle with about this industry, personally—I feel like what I’m doing is not nearly as important as what they’re doing, like they’re “real” writers, and I’m a selling machine. But then I try to remind myself that people really like reading this. When a reader writes in about having large pores, she feels a whole lot better after I write to her with some tips or do an article with advice. Still, I don’t feel that intellectual legitimacy. But it’s funny that some people look down upon a journalist like me who’s in women’s service magazines. I may or may not want to know about the third reich of blah blah blah, but they always want to know what lipstick to buy!

On Trendsetting
The source of the best trends, if you really trace it back, it always starts with that person who isn’t necessarily physically attractive but is wearing something all balls-to-the-wall, I’m-awesome, look at me. And if you want what she has, you look at what she’s wearing and you copy it. Sometimes you meet these women and they have this aura about them, like electricity comes out of them. I’ve interviewed plenty of celebrities, and they have that. Like, Megan Fox has that. She’s also beautiful—I can’t even look at her, she’s so pretty—but it’s not just about that. People like her, who are so secure, so comfortable with themselves, they put you in a comfortable place and you feel better just being around them. So you look at someone who has that quality and you’re like, What does she have that I can get? And if it's black nail polish, then at least you can get the black nail polish.

But it isn’t always a person who starts beauty trends. You know how all of a sudden the same color is everywhere, like seafoam green? In Paris there’s this color show where they do textile and color trends. I swear to God, I think it’s one person who decides it all!  All these beauty companies send their product development people to the same forecasting companies and conventions, and then spring rolls around, and Orly, OPI, Revlon, you see their nail polish collections and it’s all seafoam green, coral, yellow, and gray. Same exact colors. I don’t think it works that way for fashion—there really are some artistic innovators in that industry who everyone knocks off, like Miuccia Prada. But these beauty companies aren’t reacting to anything in the zeitgeist—right now they’re developing products for 2013. They’re creating the zeitgeist.

On Green Beauty and Big Business
You could go to the Environmental Working Group and they’ll take any ingredient in a beauty product and tell you it’s going to kill you based on one study done 500 years ago on a rat in China. But I walk around New York every day breathing in carcinogens and eating red meat, and I just think no matter how careful I am about the beauty products I use, there’s no getting around exposure to harmful chemicals. You'd have to live in a bubble to get back to having a clean slate and then use natural products. There are people who have sensitivities to phthalates or parabens, but you could be just as sensitive to an all-natural essential oil. But people are into being green. That’s fine, except when you’re dealing with companies that lie. A lot of the big companies do that, just putting bilberry extract in their products—except it’s way down the ingredients list—and slapping a leaf on the package.

Some of the great, small brands that are green get bought up by the big ones. That doesn’t mean they’re going to change the products and make them shitty—a lot of times it’s better because now you have this huge R&D machine to work with. Clorox bought Burt’s Bees, and when I went to the Burt’s Bees factory and asked about it, they were like, “It’s the greatest thing ever—they let us continue doing what we were doing, but we have an infusion of cash so we can do more.” Not all acquiring companies do that. Some of the big companies treat lipstick the same as diapers; they move their CEOs around and it’s always some dude who has the MBA calling the shots and treating all the products the same. But other companies—Avon, for example—have strong female leaders and I think you can see that in the way they respect their customers.

On “Does It Work?”
There are some companies that can back up their claims, but if you were a regular consumer you'd never know. That’s because if these companies actually made the claims they technically could, their products could be considered a drug. For example, Olay: Their anti-aging creams do reduce wrinkles—better than some prescriptions—but if they claimed it that way on the box the FDA would investigate and they'd have to turn it into a drug, and then they lose money. But companies that can show me in-house studies—independently performed, double-blind—they're legit.

I think what makes it “work,” though, is if it makes you feel better. In a way, who cares if it’s going to make your skin look a certain way? Results are nice, but sometimes it just feels good to put on expensive face cream. If you’re spending $300 on your cream, of course you’re going to think it’s working better than your friend’s $30 cream—even though it might not really be. It’s like the confirmation bias in psychology: If you put money into something, you’re going to see any type of evidence supporting your belief that it’s working. It’s the placebo effect half the time. If you just shelled out $300 for a cream, your brain is in this mode of, This is going to work. You have that optimism that can actually make you radiant. If you’re thinking, Oh, I just got this $5 bojangle cream, I don’t give a shit—then no, it doesn’t work. If you squirt on a cheap, drugstore face lotion and you squeeze on an expensive department store one, you’ll notice a difference. One’s silkier and has a nice fragrance, even if they both do the same things to your skin. You want to believe in the dream.

Our Very Well-Moisturized Chinese Future

To be frank, I don't usually pay much attention to the whole China-and-or-India-is-going-to-take-us-over-soon stream of news. I want my country to be a global presence and global protector, but given that we've failed so miserably in the latter I often just take a que sera, sera mindset and just hope that my new Chinese-and-or-Indian global emperor will give me health insurance already.

Seeing the numbers here, though, made my eyes pop. In 2010, high-end beauty product sales increased 4% in the U.S., 3% in France, 2% in Italy, and TWENTY-SIX PERCENT in China. Twenty-six percent! The future not only speaks Mandarin, the future is armed with Chanel.

Also interesting in the report is that "prestige beauty" posted the biggest increase in skin care, whereas the mass market saw its biggest increase in cosmetics. Are poor women sticking to the maxim of the lipstick economy while better-off women make a longer-term investment in their body's largest organ? (Not that most of it works anyway.)