Recently I decided I was tired of diving down skincare rabbitholes (that’s a creepily provocative visual, now that I’ve written it out: so confining and dark, yet so … moist, and richly scented) in some endless unsatisfying and expensive search for which exact unguents and potions I should be using and in what order I should desperately trowel them across my face each day. I mean I don’t know if you have noticed but skincare has gotten BONKERS in the last few years: I can’t even understand half of what’s on the market but I’m constantly driven to try it out. Like sure I guess I DO need a 47-step regimen that includes snail mucus and something that’s mysteriously referred to as “essence” and don’t forget the mist which is I think just throwing some fragranced water on your face but it costs a whole lot?

And the MASKING. Why everyone seems to love sheet masks so much is kind of beyond me, I guess I have noticed that my skin feels briefly improved after I’ve endured the sensory horror of having a cold drippy slimy wet thing plastered across me like an Alien facehugger for half an episode of The Americans but dude, not worth it. The magazine articles that talk about sheet masking during plane rides are particularly baffling to me. I truly can’t imagine too many things that sound more upsetting than that, except 1) your seatmate vomiting a partially digested packet of Biscoff in your lap, or 2) the plane careening into the side of a mountain and the passengers being forced into cannibalism while waiting for rescue.

So I made an appointment with an aesthetician, which is one of those words I always have to just start typing incorrectly before spellcheck figures out what in god’s name I’m trying to say and saying it out loud is even worse than tackling “anaesthesiologist.”

(I can’t accurately tell you the difference between an aesthetician and a dermatologist, so don’t even ask, but I guess I think of a dermatologist as someone you go to when you have a rash or a weird mole or you need medical care for your skin while an aesthetician is someone you see when you want to look better?)

The lady I saw was super nice and very helpful and even had me treated during that consult appointment for a cluster of broken capillaries on the bridge of my nose. She took me to a room with a giant Dr. Evil-looking laser (“laser”) machine and with what seemed like one zap (it felt a bit like being snapped with a rubber band) it was done and it cost THIRTY FIVE DOLLARS. I had a tiny bit of bruising but after several days that spot — which I have been blanketing with concealer for years — was gone. GONE. I have no idea what kind of specific treatment that was but if you have a similar issue I highly recommend marching into your nearby medical spa place and telling them you read about a $35 capillaries-B-GON laser on the Internet and you want one too.

Anyway, she also recommend a prescription retinol (anti-aging) and something called hydroquinone (for lightening dark spots), which she said could basically replace all the serums and whatnot, and so I was like SOLD. She did warn me the retinol would likely make my face sensitive for a while (“It can take up to three months,” she said airily) and I basically waved a hand and thought privately that only wusses whine about how a lotion made their face get upset, and what America needs in these trying times is to TOUGHEN THE HELL UP.

Of course three days into using retinol my face felt like it was on fire, then it started flaking, then it launched into what the Internet calls “retinol purging” which is sort of like that dumb horror movie in that a bunch of zits come out of fucking nowhere and try to kill you, and I confess that I was officially triggered. “Sensitive”? More like “the smoking hot ruins of a burning hellscape,” thank you very much. Someone get me an awareness ribbon!

It’s been a few weeks now and my face has mostly calmed down, so hopefully that whole three months thing is for less sturdy individuals (rude flex but ok) and I think I am even noticing some improvements? A slightly better texture, maybe?

Whether or not these things actually make any kind of real difference long term I am glad to be down to a much more manageable routine: cleanse (I double cleanse with a balm and then a mild cleanser), moisturize (currently using CeraVe), then my retinol/hydroquinone (which are both from the brand Obagi, which sounds a lot like Okapi, so what these potions lack in fun packaging and froufrou smells they make up for with a nightly mental image of that weirdass animal that looks like a giraffe, zebra, and donkey went into the Fly telepod and came out the other side like BITCH CHECK OUT MY OSSICONES). I have mostly retired my mishmash collection of random goos although I still sometimes use a toner not because I believe it actually does a single damn thing but because I have some perma-memory of using Sea Breeze astringent a thousand years and being convinced it would change my life somehow and that has mutated over time to a Pavlovian toner application.

I am forever marveling at how strange aging can be and in the department of vanity it is particularly thorny. On the one hand, I do feel like I am less hard on myself than I used to be, and that I can appreciate how beauty means so much more than the ridiculous standards that are foisted upon us in our culture. On the other hand, I don’t love every single change and I never will. I guess I don’t see my skincare pursuits as being about trying to look younger, but rather doing what I can to feel my best in the age I am.

Ultimately, I think skincare is about hope, and as long as you aren’t going broke or making yourself crazy (see also: clammy, supple rabbitholes lined with benjamins), hope is never a bad thing to have.


12 Responses to “Painfully vain pursuits”

  1. Andrea Gelenter on November 23rd, 2019 2:38 pm

    Wow…Sea Breeze. Just the other day, on my way home from work, Sea Breeze randomly popped into my head, and I wondered if it still existed. Promptly forgot all about it until just now. A million years ago, I too, thought it would change my life. Now it brings up good memories of summer camp. Weird.

  2. Ann Foley on November 23rd, 2019 3:58 pm

    “Someone get me an awareness ribbon” brilliant!!!

  3. Nicole W on November 23rd, 2019 4:04 pm

    I’ve had an extremely crappy crappy crappy couple of weeks and this made me laugh several times over. Thanks for this, Linda. Also, I have a spot on my face that I’ve hated for years. $35?!? If it costs only twice that much I’m in! You may have inspired me to actually do something about it. Thank you!!! Oh and SEA BREEZE omg lol

  4. Mackenna on November 23rd, 2019 6:19 pm

    I’ve dumped skin potions for laser treatments at a dermatologist clinic. So far have virtually eliminated my rosacea (Cutera’s ExcelV laser), boosted collagen, removed broken capillaries, massively improved skin tone, removed brown spots, and gotten rid of a couple of suborbital veins that were causing me increased embarrassment and inordinate amounts of time with concealer). It cost a few thousand dollars but for me has been totally worth it. When I consider the amount of $ I’ve spent on serums, ointments and creams – and makeup, I’ve probably saved in the long run. So I’m sold on lasers but also aware it’s best done by medical professionals, not “technicians”.

  5. Anonymous on November 24th, 2019 1:20 pm

    I’m so there with you but not yet ready to admit I need an aesthititican however the hell you spell it. I’m so far off not even spell check helps.

  6. Bree on November 24th, 2019 4:36 pm

    Your laser reference did not disappoint!

  7. Donna on November 25th, 2019 12:12 pm

    Really? 35$? Dang! Good to know thanks!

  8. Alison on November 25th, 2019 5:06 pm

    Aging is so weird. I’m the same in that I’m so much less hard on myself than I used to be (honestly there was nowhere to go but up) and for the most part I genuinely like myself. But if my whole face could stop slouching, that would be great. Anyway, my dermatologist suggested the laser for all my broken capillaries and you’ve convinced me to call and schedule.

  9. Joanna on November 25th, 2019 9:37 pm

    I did the laser treatments on the spider veins on my leg last summer. It was a massive web that had been there since high school. It cost $100! And I can wear shorts without people randomly gasping OMG what happened to your leg! $100!

  10. Mary on November 26th, 2019 12:40 pm

    Most days, I don’t even wash my face. Some days, I use an entire regimen. However, my equivalent to the age-related deep dive into facial care products is my collection of supplements. I have all these bottles lined up on my counter, and every morning, I dutifully open them up and shake out whatever number I need of each of them and swallow them down, usually with a diet soda. Many of them are gummies, so it’s almost like a snack!

  11. Shawna on November 27th, 2019 2:23 pm

    I had some capillaries burst on the bridge of my nose and one cheek during my first pregnancy, and 3 laser zaps total and $135 Canadian took care of them. Money well spent.

    I don’t really wear makeup of any sort unless it’s a rare special occasion, and my skin is okay. I wash my face with a fine terrycloth washcloth and moisturizing cleanser in the shower every other day and put vitamin E moisturizer on when I get out of the shower. The biggest thing that makes a difference for me though is the fact I take hormonal birth control pills every single day with no break as a migraine control measure, but it has the delightful side effect of giving me mostly clear skin (and no “time of the month” ever, which is amazing!).

    The amount of time and money women spend on makeup absolutely shocks me when I look it up online. (Seriously, google it!) When I’m in a meeting at the office I’ll sometimes deliberately check out who else is wearing no discernable makeup, and 99% of the time it’s the men and me. But I always think “well, we’re supposed to be valued for our brains here, not our faces, and if the men don’t need to wear it, I don’t either.”

  12. Kim on December 12th, 2019 12:23 pm

    I’m turning 51 in February and you helped me decide a trip to a Face Skin Professional is a worthy birthday present to myself.

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