I work as a copywriter for a skincare company. It’s a credible company – I won’t name it, but I’m cynical about the beauty industry and the hideous ways it creates, encourages and then profits off women’s insecurities, so I wouldn’t work at this place unless I knew it was operating on a different level.
Where I work, we have a code of conduct: no claims of anti-ageing or doing the impossible; reasonable attempts to recycle and behave ethically; and we work with ingredient suppliers who’ve undergone vetting for animal testing and how they treat their staff. Now, since I’m not going to name the company, this isn’t an ad. It’s just to establish where I’m coming from when I offer the following advice.
Here are some things I’ve learned while working at Unnamed Credible Company. They may seem bleedingly obvious. If so, my apologies.
1. Nothing in a bottle, jar or tube will make your skin younger. Some ingredients will soften, some will lighten, some can temporarily fill in the gaps caused by wrinkles but that’s it. There’s no fountain of youth. Photos in advertisements that suggest otherwise are doctored.
2. Companies know you know this, and that you don’t want to hear it. They know you want to believe someone out there can ‘fix’ you and make you look the way you want to, which is why all of them openly offer promise, hope, dreams, transformation – they can’t deliver. Most convincing liar wins.
3. All beauty companies are attempting to profit off the green dollar, and science. It’s a tricky piece of spin but they’re managing it.
Companies use words like organic, pure, fresh, natural and so on to look green. These are slippery and unquantifiable words – even organic because there are so many different, bickering, certifying bodies, different standards in every country, and almost no punishment for infringement. The brand of cereal I sometimes buy is called Norganic, to take an example from another industry. It’s not organic, it’s not natural (however you define that) but the name and packaging are designed to push all my worthy, responsible consumer buttons.
Without a hint of irony, the same beauty products that present as ‘modern worthy’ will attempt to look good via science – moisturisers include ingredients whose names must boggle any actual scientist, companies claim to have Institutes and Academies and show models in white lab coats on their advertisements, meaningless but impressive-looking graphs, charts and animations show how the product is doing whatever they can stretch credibility to claim.
We want our products to be green, and to offer the best science/technology can deliver, so that’s what they tell us. The truth is almost beside the point. As with the economy, it’s a confidence game.
4. Don’t use anything with alcohol in it. It dries out your skin and can aggravate it. There are products out there designed to remove grime and oil, and things made for oily skin that actually do work – they don’t have alcohol in them.While it sounds counter-intuitive, drying out oily skin is not the way to go: you need to lightly moisturise it so it can find some balance in oil production. Skin that is artificially dried out will often go into overdrive and produce more oil.
5. Your skin does respond to some things so that it will feel better (not itchy or dry or cloged) and look better (clean, moisturised – not younger but well-cared for). Drink water, exercise, sleep (not on your stomach though); wash twice a day because when your pores are clogged with dirt and sweat you get breakouts; use a moisturiser day and night – if your skin still feels stretched after you’ve had it on for ten minutes or so it’s not rich enough; use sunscreen; buy a hat. Sugar will cause breakouts, coffee dehydrates, soap with lots of fragrance in it will strip the good oils off your skin, a crappy diet does show on your face since skin is an organ that helps eliminate toxins – put a clove of garlic in your shoe and by end of day you’ll smell garlic coming from your skin. Not a sophisticated scientific experiment, but you get the point.
6. The cost of a thing is not the same as its worth. Very expensive cosmetics sometimes contain expensive ingredients but not always. A lot of the time the cost of the product is part of a larger branding/positioning exercise, and helps cover the considerable expense of advertising in high-end press and on tv, and of packaging. If you want to buy something expensive, sample it first (it’s the least they can do for you, really, since they’ve marked it hundreds of percents). Cheap or expensive, you can only tell if something suits your skin by using it. You’ll be told it works for everyone, but nothing does.
7. There is absolutely no benefit to testing on animals. It’s stupid science, and ethically indefensible.
I try to look after my skin because it’s my shell – it helps hold me all together, it’s part of my defense system, it’s part of how I look to the world – and I only get one. I look after it, because it’s me. I look after my teeth, hair and muscles too, always bearing in mind that Seinfeld said that if a car required as much maintenance as a human body we’d never buy it, but I’m stuck with it…
It’d be nice if our skin didn’t age – I don’t like the brown spots, wrinkles, dark circles more than anybody else. But it does age. So treat it respectfuly, gently, thoughtfully, so it’ll be healthy and resilient when you’re much older. And don’t believe the hype.