Leave Your Skin Alone

At the risk of sounding like a total hippie, I wish women would stop listening to “The Man” and leave their skin alone. Who, you may ask, is “The Man” in this statement? Big cosmetics companies and their well-paid marketing teams, plus the print magazines that are supported by those cosmetics ads, plus every expert who goes on TV, oh, and a dermatologist or two.

Think about it: cosmetics in the US alone are a $60ish billion industry ($170 billion worldwide in 2007). Another source puts the worldwide figure at closer to four hundred billion.

Sure, big numbers, you think, but so what?

Let me take a step back, in fact, let’s go all the way back to me at age thirteen sitting in a dermatologist’s office. For years I’d suffered from red cheeks and bumpy arms and legs that my mom usually suggested addressing with loofah scrubbers and other exfoliants. This dermatologist suggested just the opposite.

She told me to stop washing my skin. I’ve been following that advice ever since.

Now, before everyone yells “Ooh gross!” and wave their hands around to banish the image of my disgusting diseased epidermis, let me share her theory. Most people in this country, she said, don’t really get that dirty on a day-to-day basis. When you’re in the shower, a lot of dust and debris gets rinsed off just by standing under that running water. Is it necessary to also scrub away at your arms and legs? Maybe once every couple of weeks, she advised, unless you start working in an emergency room or running marathons.

Trust me, I’m a very clean person. I’m a bit of a germ-phobe, keep my kitchen shiny, and always smell of sugar and spice ‘n everything nice. But I have chronic dry skin and this doctor’s advice was true: limiting direct soap-to-skin contact keeps my skin soft and “normal” looking. If I started taking soap to my arms daily I’d look like I had red freckles everywhere.

Of course, one could buy expensive creams to combat that . . .

There are regions of one’s body that require a daily wash, yes. But even the rather tumultuous vaginal area benefits from a mild cleanser–you don’t want to mess up the pH down there.

This minimalist skincare regime grew when I was in high school and discovered that I was applying foundation to cover up redness that the foundation was causing. When I didn’t wear foundation, my skin looked fine. When I did, I’d have blotchy cheeks by that afternoon. I tried different formulas and eventually thought, why bother? Blush had and has similar effects so I skip that, too. Powdering my nose: guaranteed blackheads. Yum! Wait, wasn’t the powder supposed to cover those up? Yet it causes them. Hmm.

Believe me, abandoning the foundation-blush-powder mask in high school was scary. Whether we’re taught by female relatives or just learn through cultural osmosis, most women grow up believing that you don’t look “finished,” “together,” “polished,” or “pretty” without a “face on.” What if your skin has imperfections? Color variations? What if it betrays what you’re eating and drinking, puffy after a night of partying and red after drinking too much coffee?

You could listen to those signs and take better care of yourself . . . or you could buy something to cover it all up with.

I’ve had girlfriends over the years who’ve struggled so much with acne and other skin issues and then I watch them apply foundation with a trowel or cover their faces in “pure” mineral makeup and think, How the hell can this be helping?

Yeah, yeah, I know, call me a hippie. Y’know, Janis Joplin couldn’t wear makeup either; it made her breakouts even worse.

Stick with me just a little longer and walk with me on an imaginary journey down the skincare aisle of your local grocery store, drug store, or beauty supply–wherever it is that you purchase your toiletries. With me? Okay, so you’re walking past shelves of bottles. There are shampoos and conditioners to clean the grease from your hair, and then add some back. There are body washes full of drying soaps and sodium-based ingredients–but they all smell really great, right? Then you pick up a lotion to put on after you’ve washed your body. Because it’s dry. Don’t forget an oil-removing cleanser for your face, and a night cream, and a day cream, and an eye cream, and then something to cover it all up with every morning. Liquid? Powder? Liquid-that-becomes-powder?

Most women with “normal” skin would not need to moisturize often if they weren’t using body washes that are so full of drying soap-and-salt ingredients they might as well use dishwasher soap. Would you need all that makeup if you ate more veggies, drank more water, and stuck with a bar of Neutrogena and a pot of Olay?

But wait, if you did that, that doesn’t sound like it would cost that much money.

My wild conspiratorial suggestion is that these industries make billions of dollars off of our gender because they first create the need by fucking your skin up under the guise of cleansing and exfoliating it, and then they sell you the “solutions” that probably aren’t much better. Yes, I am comparing these companies to drug dealers. If you don’t like that idea, I dare you to go without makeup for a whole month.

Oh, right, I know–you can stop any time you want to.

There’s a reason we don’t talk much about beauty on this site. We think you look great just the way you are. Plus, it’s all going to get rubbed off during sex anyway–why not spend that money on lingerie and toys instead of scrubs and soaps? If you think your fella will mind, ask him what color lipstick you were wearing yesterday, and then ask him what he thought of the sex you had last night. I’m bettin’ his memories are a lot clearer on the latter topic than they are on the former, and in that regard, men just might have their priorities straight.

At least you’ll never see a guy studying the “natural look” . . . in makeup.

2 Responses

  1. I’m very lucky that both my parents encouraged us to avoid make up growing up, and my Hubby likes my normal look. He strongly dislikes the smell and feel of lipstick and most other cosmetics.

    I got similar advice from a dermatologist in high school; she told me to use plain soap to wash my face, and avoid all the skin “clearing” products. Unless I spend a day out in the yard covered in sun block and bug spray, I just generally rinse off in the shower. The only reason I use lotion right now is because I’m pregnant, and this little stowaway is messing with my hormones. Otherwise, I agree completely. Avoid all that extra junk whenever possible!


  2. De

    I’m going to have to quibble with you about “soap”. Most of what is on the market is labeled “bath bars”, and not soap. Ivory is one of the only soaps on US grocery store shelves, and even they have started messing with their hundred year old formula by adding fragrances and petroleum ingredients.

    Soap, chemically, is basically a salt created from emulsifying a fat and an alkali. The first example of soap date back to Babylonian clay cylinders from 2800 BC. Glycerin soaps are made using the same process as traditional soapmaking, except that the product, instead of being poured once emulsified, is boiled, alcohol and sugar are added to separate the glycerin from the rest, and then the glycerin is poured. (Assuming natural glycerin. Most glycerin bars on the market are actually petroleum based chemical concoctions and cannot be labeled “soap” under FDA regulations for retail sale.)

    My point is this: since the dawn of recorded humanity, people have been mixing alkali with fats to create soap. Sodium hydroxide is an alkali that once mixed in an emulsification changes it’s chemical load and structure and becomes a salt. NaOH is not the enemy. 🙂

    That said; I milk goats and make soap, so perhaps, as the local underground soap pusher, I may be biased. 😉


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