Recently, The Outline published a post entitled ‘The Skincare Con’ by Krithika Varagur which argues that the majority of modern skincare is simply a waste of money and that we, as humans, have all succumb to this idiocracy.
As it turns out, we aren’t the only ones that have something to say about this — as beauty editors all over the world have lashed out with their (well-backed) opinions.
In the spirit of a fair trial, we’ll admit that the article makes some valid points. Over-saturation and unclear messaging is definitely a problem in the skincare industry. It’s noisy, overwhelming, and it sends out about as many mixed messages as I’ve had hot dinners.
Questions that keep us up at night include; should you start an anti-aging regime the minute the clock strikes 12 on your 18th birthday? Should you apply a face oil in the morning or at night? How many chemicals is too many? What the F*CK is a peptide?
But to label the entire industry a con, a sham; it just doesn’t sit right.
Let’s start with the use of the term ‘chemical violence’. The case Varagur points to is of a woman who was exfoliating with a facial scrub, rubbing that scrub in with a loofah, applying a serum that contained glycolic acid, and completing her regimen by placing a cream with retinol on top. She then went to her dermatologist complaining of irritation.
Well sure, that’s gonna irritate the living shit out of your skin, because all of those things aren’t supposed to be used together. Of course products can backfire if they’re used incorrectly or disrespectfully or impatiently. That advice is on the internet for anyone who cares to research it.
To blame skincare for that is like flying blind into DIY’ing your own hair dye, then getting ticked off at the brand for creating something that turns green if you don’t follow the instructions.
As beauty editor of Vogue UK writes, “the main problem with dismissing skincare as a con is the assumption that we as consumers simply swallow the information we’re fed without question.”
“Of course some skincare products are overpriced, contain mad ingredients that have little to no effect or make promises they’ll never be able to keep – I’ve rolled my eyes at more press releases than I can count – but others are cleverly formulated wonders that can make a real difference. I have found skincare products that have transformative effects on my skin, and consequently on my self-confidence.”
She then goes on to say: “Also, products aside, one thing I refuse to be told is that spending money on skincare makes me some kind of vacuous moron. The “worth” of skincare is a personal judgement – if you think expensive products make little difference to your life then please don’t buy them. If you’d prefer to spend $50 on a really great lunch than on a pigmentation serum then you absolutely should.”
(Plus, I feel like the term ‘chemical violence’ should be saved for instances like when I took to my newly-dyed almost-black hair with a bottle of fairy liquid in order to try and strip it of its colour when I was 20. It was — quite literally — a dark time.)
And let’s call a spade a spade; the ingredients themselves are not the enemy. The ‘more is more’ mentality is. We want better skin, and we want it now. As founder of Go-To Skincare, Zoë Foster Blake argues: “antioxidants, AHAs, BHAs, Vitamin A, C, E, peptides, anti-inflammatories, physical UV blockers: these, things, work. There are reams of clinical evidence to support these ingredients. And clinical evidence is not just handed out. It has to be earned.”
The thing that I find so personally affronting about this article, is Varagur’s willingness to paint skincare as a narcissists game. Ummm. Can we talk about actual skin problems, like acne and rosacea for a second? As a long-time sufferer of adult acne (and no I don’t eat dairy and yes I do drink plenty of water and yes I do moderate my stress levels), I think I should be allowed to tackle this issue that is painful and sore and y’know, ON MY FACE, without being labelled as a self-absorbed princess who can’t accept herself as she is. Doing so is like saying that someone with alopecia is vain if they choose to wear a wig. Not cool, Varagur. Not cool.
This extends to people who don’t have skin problems too, who simply want their skin to look the best that it can. This is absolutely their right, and you’ll not hear a squeak of judgement from us.
The moral of the story is, you’ve gotta do your research. But then again, this applies to all aspects of life. You wouldn’t buy a car without doing your research, or consulting a professional, so why would you buy skincare without accepting a similar level of responsibility?
A wise woman named Zoë Foster Blake once said, “A smart consumer buys skin care for the ingredients, not the brand or promise.”