The beauty expert’s fix doesn’t involve buying a single product.
The other day I had lunch with my friend and fellow beauty editor Jean Godfrey June. After we hugged, she held me at arm’s length and proclaimed, “Your skin looks fantastic!”
It was like hearing “You have the most beautiful red hair.” Red hair being a trait I was neither born with, nor have ever possessed, I would never expect to hear that compliment. And having good skin is as foreign to me as being a ginger.
As soon as puberty hit, with it came the pimples, pustules, and pores practically the size of my nostrils, all of this glazed over with enough oil to elicit fracking. A year of Accutane in my early twenties helped curb the breakouts, but the pores and pockmarks had already laid the topography.
“You’ll be happy when you’re sixty,” the dermatologists would all say, as I’d reach for another tissue to dab at my cheeks as if they were a slice of Neapolitan pizza.
Facialists took a different approach to my pizza face back then. Oh, the skin shaming! There was the product pushing, of course; the accusatory interrogation (When was your last facial? Who did it? What are you using now?), but what I mostly encountered were reactions that I can only compare to an auto mechanic’s upon seeing a smashed car brought into his garage.
I’d listen to the exasperated sighs from behind my soaked cotton-ball eye pads as the damage was being assessed, then finally hear the prognosis: “I can’t possibly get everything done in one hour. You need to come back next week.”
“Sure,” I’d mumble, just to shut her up, making a mental note to add her name to my “Experts I’ll Never Cover” list.
One particularly cruel termagant stands out, even though it happened decades ago (lucky for her, I can’t recall her name). She was so full of accusatory vitriol that when she asked what I used on my face, I simply spat out, “Butter!” (It’s what they all seemed to be accusing me of, anyway).
“Hmmm. That’s not good,” she replied, joke completely lost on her (points for her focus, I suppose).
“I’m kidding,” I laughed. “This is just how my skin is. Not my fault. I swear I take care of it!” I’d add, the laughter by this point having morphed into incredulity, frustration, anger and, ultimately, tears.
But she wasn’t listening; she had already filed her self-satisfied Guilty verdict, then shut the door, leaving me in the dark while the face mask dried. I can so vividly remember those tears slowly making their way over my clay-and-sulfur-masked cheeks to my chin, plopping onto my neck and chest as I concentrated on controlling my shortened breaths. That frustration and, yes, shame, never leaves you.
And so on this recent sunny afternoon at ABC Kitchen, I did not know what to do with Jean’s compliment. It stayed with me, and I began wonder, Do people think that I have good skin? Were those dermatologists’ words and wisdom finally coming true some 20-plus years later? Has all that sebum and sunscreen finally paid off? Even facialists are complimentary now. Of course, I always take “You’ve got great skin” as “You’ve got great skin—for someone your age.” The bigger question I have, though, is: Is good skin in the eye of the beholder?
I think we can probably agree that the attributes of good skin are pretty universal—firm yet plump, soft but not slackened, dewy (Jean’s favorite descriptor) and with a warm glow, but far from red. My friend Nathalie is the poster child for good skin. The operative word being “child.” Nathalie is 16.
“You should hear her when she gets a pimple,” her mom, Geri, said, rolling her eyes.
“Call me next time that happens, kid. I’ll set you straight,” I scoffed, admiring her flaw-free cheeks. “You have no idea how lucky you are.”
Or maybe she does. For every rosy-cheeked Nathalie-at-16, there is a pimply-chinned Jane-at-16. Did she simply win the calm hormones lottery? Or does she take better care of hers than I did when I was her age? While we’re at it, maybe Nathalie doesn’t subsist on a diet of licorice, chocolate, and potato chips, as I might have. We are back to blaming what we eat for how our skin looks again, aren’t we? I certainly am. Any time I sneak in a gummy bear or seven, I pay for it with a face full of red blotches the following morning. Thank goodness for those iPhone camera filters. When can we apply those filters directly onto our faces?
In my friend Courtney Maum’s book Touch (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, out next month), her heroine, Sloane, is a trend forecaster with a strong beauty background. Among the products Sloane and her teams predict or invent are cell phone camera-activated makeup and products that let the wearer decide what kind of texture she wants to feel on her face. Well, Sloane, I’d like something akin to Farrow & Ball’s Dimity with a Full Gloss finish.
Of course, there are beauty products that do a formidable job at faking good skin. L’Oreal’s Revitalift Miracle Blur and Dior’s Pore Minimizer Primer are two of my smoothing favorites, and Laura Geller’s Spackle empire addresses a bevy of complexion issues. La Prairie even created its Pure Gold Radiance collection to impart that magic end-of-day gloaming on skin. Which brings me to my proposal: Let’s help our complexions out by adjusting the atmosphere a bit. I’m not talking the serious EPA-related dangerous ozone stuff; I just mean the lighting around us.
First on the docket, banish fluorescent lighting. Seriously, who benefits from that awful shit? Does anyone really need anything so severely glaring and unflatteringly bright? It seems like punishment to me. Actually, why not save fluorescent lighting for prisons? Or courtrooms? Better yet, interrogation rooms! Leave me under fluorescent lights long enough, and I will talk.
We recently went to our friend’s house for dinner, and when we walked in, the lights were dimmed low, and candles graced the dining table. Our hostess confessed with a self-deprecating laugh that she had purposely turned down all the lights and brought out the candlesticks because her skin had had an adverse reaction to a cream her dermatologist had given her, and she didn’t want us to see how bad it looked.
All I saw was how cozy the room looked. But, yes, her skin looked just fine in that light. Can skin be hygge?
So please, consider the dimmer. I’m not necessarily suggesting turning the lights down to candle level every time you walk into a room, but imagine how a warm glow would soften the mood—be it a staff meeting or something as quotidian as lunch in the cafeteria. I bet we’d all feel calmer, cozier and—quite possibly—happier. And on a superficial level, our pores and wrinkles and dark spots would be less visible, therefore making us feel less self-conscious about them. Heck, maybe more of us would even start to believe that we really do have good skin. Even if we don’t have a friend as supportive as Jean telling us so.