“I kinda think skincare is a scam,” I said to an old colleague, as we discussed whether we’d invest in cosmetic surgery or other treatments if we had the money to do so.
“Sure, it might make your skin better,” I said, before gesturing at an expensive cream promoted by an Instagram skinfluencer. “But does this particular product make it £145-worth better?”
My colleague didn’t have to say anything for me to know she disagreed with my suspicion surrounding an industry celebrated by people with much clearer complexions than me. Who was I to question the validity of the industry when my skincare regime of soap, water and Sudocrem clearly wasn’t working for me?
It’s true that I have bad skin. I have acne that’s worsened in the run up to my period. I also suffer from eczema that makes my hands so dry and raw that cuts often appear on the delicate pieces of skin between my fingers. Eczema recently appeared under one of my breasts too, leaving a red rash that I soothe with prescription cream kept in the fridge. It’s for this reason that I can’t claim to have the answers. I don’t know the secret to a flawless complexion or silky smooth digits but that doesn’t mean I have to accept the advice given to me by people who’ve not had to tackle a zit since high school – something that’s more likely to be down to good genes rather than their passion for keeping up to date with the latest skincare advancements.
Exploring the skincare world for the first time
Despite my skincare scepticism, I recently became more willing to experiment with different products. Just the other day I was in HomeSense looking for expensive cleansers available at discount prices. I didn’t find a cleanser and instead emerged with a Valjean Labs Revive & Renew Day Serum and Sleeping Mask. Filled with collagen and peptides, these products promise to rejuvenate the skin by deeply moisturising and increasing elasticity. Apparently, they’ll leave my skin softer, firmer and more supple, while fruit enzymes will help to gently exfoliate, illuminate and energise my skin.
When I woke up the next morning, having used the products for the first time, my skin did feel better but there’s no way of knowing whether there was an actual improvement or the products had simply had a placebo-like effect on me.
How can we hold an industry accountable for results we don’t expect to see for decades?
With so many people wondering how to delay the aging process and looking for the best anti-aging creams on the market, it’s no wonder that brands are producing so many products they claim will prevent our skin from showing signs of aging. But no matter how many times these products claim to “restore the elastin fiber architecture of the skin” or insist they have the power to “change the anatomy of a wrinkle”, no cream will stop your body’s biggest organ from doing what it’s designed to do – age.
The really frustrating part about anti-aging products is that it’s difficult to hold the companies that make them accountable. Brands encourage you to start using them from a young age in order to get results but by the time you reach prime wrinkle-getting age, it’s too late to call them out. Besides, who’s going to kick off about the ineffectiveness of 40-year-old anti-wrinkle creams that ripped off our grannies when there are products on the market now claiming to be more advanced and effective? Of course skincare wasn’t as advanced in the 70s, we’ll reassure ourselves, before handing over good money for products that our kids will likely turn their noses up at as frown lines spread across our faces.
I remember contemplating the authenticity of anti-ageing creams at a young age. I must have been around 10 when I saw an advert for an anti-ageing cream and turned to my mum to ask her what would happen if it didn’t do what it promised to.
“Could you take it back it if it didn’t work?” I asked. I imagined returning to Boots in my fifties with grey hair and wrinkles, annoyed that the cream I’d been using since I was a teenager hadn’t prevented the crows feet appearing at the sides of my eyes.
Even then, I couldn’t understand how companies could promise to prevent ageing when their ‘brand new skin technology’ hadn’t been around long enough to fully test the results.
It might be good but is it £145-good
It was only this year that I stepped my skincare regime up a notch, ditching the soap and nappy rash creams and replacing them with Micellar water and a cooling Aloe cleanser from The Body Shop. I love the idea of ‘taking the day off’ before climbing into bed. I can also appreciate the clean and refreshed feeling this skincare regime gives me before I head out the door in the morning. But I resent being told to spend £145 on a cream filled with acids (since when did acid become a good thing?!) by a lass on Instagram with swipe-up privileges and a financial incentive to sell as many of these products as she can. That’s not to say I’m against affiliate marketing or have anything against these skinfluencers. I make money by recommending products to others too, but I still have this reluctance to really invest in products that aren’t backed by science and are promoted by people who are often still just as spotty as I am.
There’s the argument that their skin would be worse if not for these products and I’m not saying that’s a lie. But I hate to say it, honey – if you’re dropping hundreds of pounds on one product, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for me to question its validity when you still have pimples on your face.
Comparing yourself to celebrities will never end well
Many ordinary consumers long for products that celebrities swear by. “If it’s good enough for Kim Kardashian, it’s good enough for me.” But here’s the thing – Kim Kardashian has money to burn. She’s so rich that she can afford to spend thousands on skincare that makes only a marginal difference to her appearance. Considering she’s also had cosmetic surgery, has makeup artists on speed dial and can outsource the editing of her social media photos to professionals, comparing yourself to her seems like a pointless endeavour. I’m not sure it’s realistic to expect your skin to look as good as hers when you earn £25,000 a year, live in one of the most polluted parts of the UK and can’t afford personal chefs to take care of your meals for you.
Having cottoned onto the fact we’ll purchase anything they’re selling, some celebrities have brought out their own skincare ranges. I don’t know about you but I have no interest in purchasing a product a celebrity has oNly jUsT iNvEnTeD. I want to know what they were using before. I want to know whose product made their skin look so good that they decided to capitalise on peasants’ desire to emulate it.
One skincare product leads to another
In my attempt to take the health of my skin more seriously, I’ve learned that the industry thrives on selling you products that are often designed to be used in conjunction with others.
“Solution helps other products do their jobs better,” Glossier claims in an Instagram post. “Since skin and pores are as clear and clean as possible, serums, moisturisers and treatments absorb more effectively.”
I cannot say whether this is true or not but one thing’s for sure, it’s clever marketing. If you’ve invested £50 on a new treatment that doesn’t seem to be having the desired effect, seeing a post like Glossier’s may reassure you that by investing in one last thing, you’ll get the results you’re after.
Your skin probably does a pretty awesome job without being covered in acid and oils
One thing I find particularly interesting about the skincare industry is its ability to thrive at a time when we’ve never been more obsessed with consuming only natural ingredients while also doing our bit for the environment. We have people obsessed with clean eating and sustainability, smearing their faces with chemical exfoliants that emerge from plastic bottles that end up in landfill.
While detox cleanses have us overlooking the vital work that our kidneys and liver do for us, the skincare industry has us forgetting how brilliant our skin is. Thanks to thousands of years of evolution, our skin is designed to naturally protect us against diseases and foreign bodies, regulate our body temperature, prevent water loss and soak up Vitamin D – yet we’re convinced that unless we slather ourselves in expensive creams and treatments, we’re failing to take care of one of our most vital organs.
In reality, when we pile on product after product in our quest for perfection, we run the risk of making a mountain out of a molehill and doing significant damage to our skin.
When I was younger, my parents used the phrase “don’t make a pig’s ear of it” to discourage me from tampering in some way with my body’s ability to take care of itself – like if I was to pick at a scab, for example. Making a pig’s ear of it is something that some skincare enthusiasts end up doing in their quest for perfect skin.
In the Reddit post: “How I Healed My Severely Damaged Skin From Over-Exfoliation“, AJones9 talks about how an esthetician warned her she’d essentially turned her skin into one giant wound after using a series of products that left her skin unable to do its job. The poster said: “One morning I woke up and my skin was EXTREMELY dry and tight. I put makeup on and about an hour later I basically had a dead-skin beard around my chin. I scrubbed all of this off and to my horror I realized I had hundreds of what looked like irritated small welts all over the lower half of my face. My pores were HUGE, I had clogged pores all over my chin and jaw, and I had patches of this sandpaper like texture all along my jaw line and and cheeks. I also developed the worst acne I have EVER had. Not only that but my face was extremely red and puffy looking.”
What’s truly shocking is that AJones9 seemingly had good skin to begin with. She hadn’t had spots for years and simply wanted to make her skin more ‘glowy’.