While the world has been plunged into (even more) chaos (than usual), Allison Welty reminds us to celebrate the little wins. She writes of tumbling down the skincare rabbit hole and coming out fresh-faced, double-cleansed, and – most importantly – happier in her own skin on the other side. 

I have spent my quarantine learning everything there is to know about skincare. I’m through the looking glass, down the rabbit hole, and I have to say, I love it down here. My skin has never looked better or felt so smooth; and despite the fact that my dog is the only one basking in my new, dewy glow, I know I am not alone in turning to self-care practices amidst the stress of our present time. It is strange, but beauty and insecurities about personal appearance have been in the forefront of this pandemic. In the US, the need to get a haircut became a symbolic rallying cry to open the economy at the expense of human life. The culture sections of major news publications exploded with information for DIY treatments, how to look alive for your Zoom calls, and even documenting the freedom women feel without the pressure to wear makeup every day. It seems being isolated to our homes is altering the way many of us feel about our personal appearance, and I’m absolutely here for it.

My complexion is both ghostly pale and rosier than the many red flags your new Tinder connections are likely waving around.

To say I have struggled with my own skin would be an understatement. My complexion is both ghostly pale and rosier than the many red flags your new Tinder connections are likely waving around. I have rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis, in addition to the breakouts, and veiny capillaries that grace my inflamed cheeks. And because my skin is as sensitive as my feelings, I have more skincare horror stories than the UK has statues honoring human traffickers. That is to say, it is a disturbingly large number. My first trip to New York City at age 15 was marred by the arrival of a cystic zit so large, so angry, and so unfortunately located that my right eye was completely swollen shut for the duration of the trip. The scars of similar legendary breakouts permanently mark my face as they compete for attention with the many blood vessels I’ve broken by pushing sharp metal tools into my skin out of a misguided effort to clear each individual pore. This is to say nothing of the countless reactions, flares, and even chemical burns I’ve brought on myself in the name of clear skin.

The global beauty and skincare industry is estimated to be worth $300 billion and much of the marketing responsible for this success is harmful, to say the least. I hated my skin; and as Julie Beck points out in reference to the famous St. Ives scrub that has scarred millions of teenage faces across the Western world, “hatred breeds violence, self-hatred no less so.” I spent decades applying a scorched Earth policy when it came to my skin because we are told beauty must be painful. In truth, marketing taught us to believe pain is what we deserve for not being impossibly beautiful. We bought in and punished ourselves with abrasive chemicals and paid expensive premiums to our local pharmacies as penance for being flawed. I am happy to say, however, that this is starting to change.

This venture into the online skincare community was genuinely life altering.

My new outlook on skincare started with a random click of a YouTube video, where I watched a vaguely familiar celebrity do her makeup on camera. As is usually the case with YouTube, the auto play of the next video suddenly threw away hours of my time. I landed in a thriving online skincare community, built on the sacred values of a double cleanse (a makeup removing oil followed by a gentle cleanser) and a strong aversion to using make up wipes of any kind. Not to be dramatic, but my venture into the online skincare community was genuinely life altering. Let me explain, as a self appointed graduate of the YouTube skincare academy, I finally learned how our skin functions and repairs itself. Real and knowledgeable dermatologists and estheticians taught me which ingredients to use, how to research products, and the importance of incorporating a vitamin C serum. Above all, though, these videos taught me to be gentle with my skin and consistently preached this gentility over aggression, especially with that delicate under-eye area.

Masks and cremes are key components of most skincare routines | Photo: The Creative Exchange | Licence: Unsplash Licence

The Internet is as hostile as ever, but these videos and the community of people engaging with them is almost joyful. The comment sections for some of these videos are overwhelmingly positive, uplifting, and encouraging. Hostility is reserved for coconut oil, products with added fragrance, or Bella Thorne’s ineptitude. Skinfluencers often drag the overpriced and predatory brands in favor of shockingly affordable lines like The Ordinary. And while this online community serves as some necessary escapism from our present circumstances, skincare is hardly a-political. Brands like L’Oreal are being called to account for institutional racism, and others are being pushed in more eco-friendly directions. The comment section of Naomi Campbell’s “10 Minute Beauty Routine” for Vogue’s channel is rightfully filled with angry references to her alleged involvement with Jeffrey Epstein and Prince Andrew. It is also worth noting that Vogue, while it reckons with its own history of racism, may not ever rectify the legacy of white-centered beauty standards it has been enforcing since its inception. The skincare community has caught on, however, and is quick to demand more equal representation. And countless new brands have emerged to meet the demands of this community by embracing cruelty free formulas, affordable prices, and leaving out harmful chemicals.

My bank account is the only casualty in my quest to build a successful skincare routine. Don’t worry, everyone, the economy will not go down on my watch. However, I’m finally an informed beauty consumer instead of haphazardly throwing money at marketing schemes. Perhaps more importantly, though, my skin and I have declared a truce. I’m no longer setting my skin on fire or drawing blood in the name of beauty. And although this minor, personal victory comes at the onset of unprecedented global crisis and impending apocalypse, I suppose it is a victory nonetheless.

Cover photo: Humphrey Muleba (Unsplash), Unsplash licence

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    Allison Welty is originally from the United States and currently living in London. She has a dual bachelors in History and English, and completed a master's in English Literature in 2015. She is currently completing an MSc studying culture and conflict at the London School of Economics.

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