As always Jessica, you’ve hit the proverbial zit on the head (ha). My mother (who would’ve been 101 this year) instructed me as a pubescent to use just plain water to wash my face, as she always had. She had great skin (she also used cold cream at night-gasp!). As I was already well brainwashed by 12 by Teen, McCall’s and similar rags I found that preposterous! But over the next few years I found that the less I ‘did’ to my face the better it was. I was fortunate to have not ever experienced breakouts in my teens, so there was less reason to mess about much (I was kind of fascinated by Noxema for a time, however). Not until I was 17 and had a job, could afford to buy my own products and was lured to do so at every turn, did my face start to revolt a bit-thus initiating a viscous, expensive loop to buy more products to ‘fix’ the blackheads and uneven skin tone (sun damage-no sunscreens back then, remember) that were developing. Then, convinced my brows were ‘wrong’, my eyes too small, that I was missing the fabulous cheekbones all the models had, I went all in. Never left the house without first performing an hour long regimen from forehead to neck. For decades. I can’t even imagine how much money I’ve spent over the last 50 yrs on products that have not improved one thing about my skin overall. I even fell for the whole LeMer legend at $200 a pop, a moisturizer totally useless for my ever oily skin. These products will more often have detrimental effects vs anything useful or healthy for skin as your piece here so well illustrates. It’s all about the marketing. And dammit it works. It’s just another version of ‘you’re a women and you’re fantastic but just not quite enough as you are, let me fix you’. Something we have always heard/felt in every aspect of our lives from every corner of the hierarchy from birth. And it still echoes in hour heads every single day.
Amazing writeup. I think I'll send this to my mum. She seems to go deeper and deeper into this "science of skincare".
On the other hand, you touched on something I sadly discovered late into my 20s. My acne didn't react to any skincare if it did, it got worse not better. What helped was eleminating everything and chosing a shampoo and facewash that are based on sugar peptides instead of soap, it leaves the fat barrier of the skin intact and cleans but doesn't rid the skin of the natural oils it produces.
It was developed in a German clinic for patients with severe detmatitis so they could bathe without breaking out. So it is actually science based because it helps the skin do it's thing. My painful, painful acne is gone and I save so much money now only using those 2 products and sunscreen.
It happens. It’s fine. It’s life. - My new motto?! 🖤
One of the best pieces of writing I've read on the internet in a looooong time. Mind, blown. I knew something was up when my hormonal/stress acne cleared up after I was hospitalized for several days away from any skincare products. My skin never looked better than it did emerging from not being touched, poked, prodded, slathered, or stripped for a week. I've adopted the "do LESS" motto for my skincare now and AMEN I discovered this piece & your newsletter now as I teeter on the precipice of my 30s, where fine line freezers and fillers have overtaken my circles and feeds.
I really like your writing. Your articles explode my brain (in a good way), offering a perspective I had never EVER considered. I'm both horrified and elated to have this new understanding.
I asked this question on an old article, but I'm not sure you go back to comment on 'old' stuff, so I'll leave it here.
I'm curious about your thoughts around the daily external influence of our environment on skincare and taking care of skin with that in mind. Mostly, I mean air pollution. It leaves fine particulates floating and depositing on all kinds of surfaces, including your skin.
Also, I was thinking. If you live in a very cold area and you heat your home, your skin will get dry and cranky. I'd love it if you wrote an article offering your perspective on practically caring for you skin, versus struggling to present a better aesthetic that is just a churn for 'big beauty'.
In full transparency, I own a small, herbal skincare brand. But after reading your articles, I've really decided to transform my business away from goop to 'beautify' and back to the roots of it, which was using herbs to 'support' your skin as it is.
Thank you for writing as you do!
I think this is one of the best pieces you've written, and that's saying something! I want to get a bullhorn and read this from the rooftops.
I mean, imagine... how inconsequential we are to beat against what's existed and evolved over millions of years, and say that little wisps like us know it all and that this all-encompassing force is mistaken. It doesn't make mistakes. The planet doesn't either.
Just asked for my first refund from a skincare product! Dieux Deliverance serum - the last skincare product I purchased before discovering this blog about ~3 weeks ago. Feeling happy for getting back the money I spent on a goo which does. . .nothing? Except (probably) gave me my two new pimples? It's hard to resist the pull of marketing, man. Dieux really got me with their whole "science and effective results" schtick. In contrast, on their refund page it specifically mentions refunds for people that have a REACTION to the Deliverance serum. Um, what!? How common is this that it has to go on the web page, and what's the 100% glowing reviews??? Ugh. Time to add another bottle to my dragon's hoard of goos that I'm not using anymore. (How do you deal with your Dragon Hoard once you stop using products? What's worse - throwing them all in the trash, giving them to your friends, or repurposing them in some silly way like dumping everything on your legs.)
This should be required reading for anyone about to spend money on skin-related products (I can’t even called them skinCARE products anymore).
This is a great post and I'm glad for it. I do want to say something about acne, and the way you speak about it here and have spoken about it before:
> Take acne, for example: The condition is tied to gut issues, stress issues, hormonal issues, or genetics. No matter how “science-backed,” no serum goes that deep. The buzzy beauty ingredients inside said theoretical serum can all be otherwise obtained, anyway, from sources that leave the skin barrier and microbiome blissfully unbothered.
> The skin is a communication device — that’s one of its jobs. Like, the skin doesn’t exist to look perfect and pretty and dewy. The skin exists to regulate your functions and keep you alive. It’s part of your immune system. So if you have acne, it’s a communication that something is imbalanced elsewhere, whether that’s your external environment or your internal environment. And it’s trying to point you toward what is actually happening, so you can find the root issue and address it. And [topical] products will never be that.
A post liked by the creator:
> Acne doesn't technically have to be dealt with, we all know it's one of the most aggressively treated skin conditions just because of how it looks as opposed to it being unhealthy.
Some people get acne because they're not sleeping well or because their hormones are out of wack. But some people have acne because, as you point out with "genetics", we have unfortunate genes that make painful pustules appear on our faces at the slightest and most mysterious provocations. I don't wear makeup. I gave up cow's milk and I don't eat a lot of chocolate (a confirmed trigger for me). I only got into skincare grudgingly because I was tired of being an adult with severe acne and the over options seemed even worse: hormonal birth control (I did not want hormones) or accutane (extremely severe drug that has been known to cause permanent facial dryness).
Severe acne is not just an aesthetic issue - having acne is painful, makes basic things like touching your face painful, and even if you never pop your pimples, they can still pop on you, which is (once again) painful and also puts you at risk for infection. I loathe "skincare", but out of all the things I've done (and I've been to dermatologists and tried everything, except for accutane), washing my face and putting salicylic acid on it is the only thing that keeps this painful condition at bay.
I don't let my acne stop me and I appear bare-faced in public every day. I try to limit skincare to every other day. Unfortunately, getting rid of it entirely makes me revert to my normal severe acne situation. I think it's important to understand that wanting to get rid of acne isn't something we do just because of beauty culture or vanity or insecurity. It's not that our lives are "unbalanced" and we're failing to deal with some deeper problem. In fact, this judgment (and it is a judgment, this idea that acne is somehow a sign that we are failing to treat our bodies well) is one of the things that makes acne-sufferers be willing to do insane things to get rid of our acne. Sometimes our genes suck, and companies prey on that in a lot of ways. Acne is not an aesthetic sin, but it's also not a moral failure and it's not harmless.
EDIT: I don't want to come off as hostile. I don't know if you've also suffered from persistent severe acne. I'm just someone who has been in this situations for decades now, and I want to share that hearing that acne is because we have "failed to address root causes" and "doesn't technically have to be dealt with" is discouraging. It reminds me a lot of the advice I got when I had chronic depression to take "more vitamin D/magnesium/deal with stress." Some people's issues can be cleared by doing that, and I'm very happy for them, but for the rest of us, hearing our conditions described in this language only serves to further the sense that something is *wrong* with us because we still have acne/other problem people think is easy to solve.
Yes now imagine how much money women can save just by reading this piece and actually doing or shall I say not doing all that “stuff” to their skin! Great hub Jessica!😀
Brilliant post! Convinced me to upgrade to paid <3
So wait...what about the science of red rose 🌹 crystals and infrared lights? You mean that’s not 🧫 🧬 💄!!!!!
Just wanna pop in here to write that Dr. Elsa Jungman’s products are expensive crap and no one should buy them. They, first of all, totally fucked up my skin when I did that micro biome experiment thing she had a few years ago. I finally had clear skin (and a very minimal routine of wash, witch hazel, jojoba oil and SPF on sunny days) after years of struggling with acne, and that totally broke me out. I’m still dealing with the effects years later and am on a more intense regimen now just to clear the infection her products started. Finally I’m on something (medical grade) that works for me, but hope to get back to something minimal soon once the infection is cleared.
Second, the ingredients are horrible. Never rub that much castor oil and Vit E onto your face unless you’re post menopausal and don’t make oil. Or have been on accutane and don’t make oil.
Finally, I just ordered her micro biome test kit out of curiosity, planning to use those sample oils on my hands, legs and feet. They’re fucking rancid. Poor poor quality. Her oils are a scam. Talk about do not buy list.
Wow- this was so good! Thank you ☺️
I basically fist pump in my empty bedroom every time i read one of your pieces; this one would’ve had me turning cartwheels if it weren’t so intricate and wise. If I were a millionaire I’d venmo you a million dollars bc that’s what this piece is worth. Thank youuuuu!
Super late comment but I wanted to say thanks for this and the entire Unpublishable project. On (what I chose to take as) a dare from your newsletter from a previous related post, I stopped doing any skincare. I went from cycling through moisturizers trying to find the "right" product after the one that seemed to be working inevitably caused a huge breakout, fretting about what Ordinary serums I "should" be using every day, sandblasting my skin with chemical exfoliants before parties, etc., to doing nothing but putting on sunscreen as needed and sloppily washing my face with a Cerave cleanser before bed.
And my skin feels wonderful now -- like it did when I was a kid, before, incidentally, I started doing skincare to fight acne. There's no more uncomfortable dryness or tenderness or stinging or cystic zits. It's so clear that my skin is taking care of itself now that I got out of the way. It feels incredibly luxurious and a little subversive & sexy (ridiculous, I know, but...) to roll out of bed, brush my teeth, fluff out my hair and get on with my day.
Giving up skincare has saved me so much time & money and, honestly, has relieved a surprising amount of psychological discomfort. I didn't realize how forcing myself to engage in beauty rituals every day (and always feeling like I wasn't doing enough) was exacerbating both my BDD as well as what I've come to understand as gender dysphoria. Shocking that abandoning a twice daily reminder of how my appearance falls short and how it may fall even shorter in the future made me feel better!