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The Don't Buy List: Crying-As-Skincare, Nicole Kidman, & the BIEB
Plus, a word from Hanahana Beauty's Abena Boamah.
Hello, dewy dust bunnies, and welcome back to The Don’t Buy List.
Some clarification on “dewy dust bunnies”: The term comes from an article I wrote a for The Cut called “Where Does All The Skincare Go?” — and guess what? It mostly goes nowhere. It evaporates off of your face or flakes off with your dead skin cells. In other words, it becomes dust. It lines your shelves, gathers under your couch, and gets swept away by the genuine horsehair bristles of your $63 broom from The Laundress. (Letting my ex-husband keep this very chic and expensive broom is my only divorce regret.) This is why I 1) don’t spend too much time/money/energy on topical skincare and 2) don’t dust.
After seeing some buzz about new skincare brand Droplette, I’ve been thinking a lot about dead skin cells and the stratum corneum (aka the skin barrier, aka the layer that holds all those dusty dead skin cells). Droplette is a device that turns serums into super-fine face mists then blows those mists through the skin barrier with a high-tech air pump. It “very slightly disrupt[s] your skin - just enough to enhance the delivery of molecules,” as the brand says on its site. If you’re a regular reader of The Unpublishable, you can probably guess how I feel about this. (Not great.) If your skincare is disrupting your skin, even momentarily, it’s not skin care. Because here’s the thing about the skin barrier: It’s kinda designed to be all-but-impenetrable. The barrier lets a few ingredients through — sunlight to synthesize vitamin D; the oleic acid in oils to aid in the penetration of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E & K; magnesium and some other key minerals; etc. — but locks almost everything else out. Why? Oh, just to literally keep you alive!! The barrier protects you from death-by-water-logging when you take a luxurious two-hour bubble bath. The barrier protects you from havoc-wreaking pollution particles, bacteria, viruses, allergens, and all sorts of pathogens. It’s part of the body’s overall immune system and has its own skin-specific immune system. (Of course, some sneaky chemicals can swim through, too, ending up in the lower layers of your skin, or your bloodstream, or even your breast tissue. And ironically, two of three active ingredients that Droplette offers in serum form — retinol and glycolic acid — are two ingredients that already break through the skin barrier, no high tech mist/pump needed.) This is all to say: There’s a reason you have to work so hard to get ingredients into the skin in any meaningful way and that reason is… they don’t belong there! Your skin doesn’t fuckin’ want ‘em! Skincare doesn’t have to be — and, in fact, shouldn’t be — hard. It shouldn’t hurt. (Think: microneedling, chemical peels.) It shouldn’t require NASA-level tech. It can be easy! It should be easy!! Because the skin, precious little layer of protective cells that it is, does all the hard shit for you. That’s why I wouldn’t consider something like Droplette a skincare innovation, but a product innovation — one that ignores the innate intelligence of the skin and presumes to know better. (Remember, we are nature, too. Our insistence on manipulating/exerting manpower over our skin is directly tied to the colonizer mindset of manipulating/exerting manpower over nature. And look where that got us! Just sayin’.)
No no no nooooo no no I just got a press release for — I quote — “Nicole Kidman’s new health and wellness beauty line, Seratopical by Sera Labs.” Why why whyyyy?? Why can’t she just stick to the fabulous coat thing? Why crowd the CBD beauty space with another hauntingly frozen Hollywood face? What can we do to stop the celebrities? I’m open to any/all suggestions because BEAUTY CANNOT GO ON LIKE THIS.
My perusal of the archives of The Atlantic has reached new heights. I’m certifiably obsessed with reporter Timothy Caulfield’s 2015 article, “The Pseudoscience of Beauty Products”: Why the dubious claims of so many skin-care companies go unquestioned and untested. You should read the whole thing — it’s juicy — but this part is my favorite: “Getting straight answers about anti-aging and beauty products [from publishers] is nearly impossible. There exists a confluence of fact-twisting forces: lots of money to be made by manufacturers and providers, huge advertising campaigns that deploy vast quantities of pseudoscientific gobbledygook, a lack of independent research and information, and consumers who desperately want the products to do for them what is claimed. The cumulative impact of all these forces results in a massive bias toward representing a product or procedure as effective. I call this the ‘beauty-industry efficacy bias,’ or BIEB for short. Given the existence of the BIEB, we should always bring a furiously critical eye to the assessment of any claim made by Big Beauty. Phrases such as “clinically proven” or “dermatologist approved” have little meaning because they could refer to almost anything. Do not be fooled by this kind of language, particularly when the presence of the BIEB makes critical analysis of the claims unlikely.” I love the BIEB. I wish I came up with the BIEB. I will be spreading the gospel of the BIEB.
A lot of you have been asking about my skincare routine, and it’s simple: All I do is cry! (I’m fine, thank you, life is just… a lot, ya know)? After a particularly satisfying sob sesh this week, I was reminded of an article I was supposed to write last February called “Why Does Crying Make Your Skin So Good?” But then I separated from my husband, moved back in with my parents at age 30, got stuck with them in New Jersey because of this out-of-control virus thing called Covid-19? Have you heard of it??, kind of gave up on my entire life, and sunk into a deep depression where I did not complete or hand in any of my assignments for two months. (Sorry, Kathleen @ The Cut. I dropped the ball.) The article still doesn’t exist, and I’m going to save the specifics for my forthcoming book, but I thought you should know: Cathartic crying does make your skin really, really good. There’s the emotional release part, which lowers cortisol and thus, strengthens stress-thinned skin barriers. Then there’s the deep breathing/heaving/gasping part, which increases circulation and oxygenation, bringing beneficial nutrients to your face and leaving behind a rosy little flush. Then there are the tears. The tears! As they roll down your face, they “cleanse” — I do have a dermatologist on record for this, natch — and hydrate, like a very, very sad DIY face mist. Tears also have an impressive (if unstudied) ingredient list. They contain antibacterial fluids, barrier-boosting lipids, cleansing potassium, urea (one of the skin’s Natural Moisturizing factors), and even growth factors. As long as you’re not sobbing hard enough to burst a blood vessel or something, you can consider crying part of your beauty regimen. I know I do!
I have a new byline in WWD! It’s an interview with Abena Boamah, founder of Hanahana Beauty. Hanahana is one of the very few brands in beauty that I wholeheartedly support, because it is intentional and sustainable and industry-challenging in every possible way —from ingredients to sourcing to packaging to marketing to pricing to wages. I’d love for you to read the article (Boamah gives a great interview), but if you don’t have a WWD subscription, not to worry. I’m including some snippets that didn’t make the cut here, exclusively for Unpublishable subscribers.
Some of the Hanahana Beauty team is based in Chicago, and you go back and forth. How do you maintain that relationship with Katargia Cooperative in Ghana [the women who harvest Hanahana’s shea butter] when you’re not there?
“The relationship we’ve been able to build with the Cooperative is really genuine and organic. Nat Quiason, our community lead and healthcare coordinator based in Ghana, does an amazing job working with the community. He visits the cooperative on a weekly basis and makes sure they feel heard + supported while keeping our team updated on things going on in the community. Our social impact team, led by Teniola Odunsi, meets on a weekly basis, brainstorming new initiatives and projects. We’re always in close communication. If a piece of press mentions the women, they know about it — because their stories are a big part of the foundation of our brand. Hanahana is Hanahana because of the women producing the raw materials. It would be wild for me to talk about Hanahana and not think about who we’re actually working with. Shea butter has been around forever.”
It has, but you’re showing a new audience what it does for the skin and how it sustains communities. That’s exciting to see, especially because we’re at a point in beauty media where there’s some pushback against “natural” and “clean.”
“We have to remember that natural doesn’t exactly mean good and chemical doesn’t always mean bad. I’m not attached to the words ‘natural’ or ‘chemical.’ I’m attached to the fact that you should know what you’re putting on your skin and where it comes from. Especially for women, and especially for Black people.”
Read the full interview here.