Can Skin Care Exist Separate from Harmful Beauty Ideals?

Can Skin Care Exist Separate from Harmful Beauty Ideals?

In a society dominated by inequality, self-care is increasingly becoming “a complex strategy” – so how can we take care of our skin without becoming overly reliant on harmful beauty ideals?

Can Skin Care Exist Separate from Harmful Beauty Ideals?
Can Skin Care Exist Separate from Harmful Beauty Ideals?

If you talk to people about their skincare habits, most of them will tell you that they engage in skincare for various reasons, but most importantly because they want to “take care of themselves.” Over the past few years, “health” has become one of the most prevalent social cultural issues for obvious reasons such as increasing climate change, ongoing cost-of-living crises, and the prediction that it will cause thousands of premature deaths or the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing (according to the Ministry of Health report, 20,000 people have died from this disease in the United States since the beginning of October and the number of deaths in Palestine has exceeded 25,000).

We are living in a society dominated by inequality and the result is death everywhere. While the world is erupting, health, self-care has been “marketed” as an essential form of self-protection. Once a passionate political philosophy, self-care has now been “reduced” to consuming products like foot baths, scented candles, and of course, skincare products.

Fear of aging is not new, but it has a negative impact on our health and happiness. A 2002 study by Yale University found that negative thoughts about aging reduced human lifespan by 7.5 years.

Skincare products are marketed as items that boost confidence, help us gain control, and essentially provide a sense of calm in life. However, it’s not surprising that humans often do the opposite. In 2020, Refinery29 reported an increase in gerascophobia, the extreme fear of aging. Nothing highlights this more than TikTok videos spreading about 10-year-olds sharing their skincare routines, including anti-aging products to prevent wrinkles. The fear of aging is not new, but it has a negative impact on our health and happiness. A 2002 study by Yale University found that negative thoughts about aging reduced human lifespan by 7.5 years. Another study conducted in 2020 also found similar results that age discrimination leads to worse health outcomes in humans, including depression, some physical health conditions, and shorter lifespan than normal.

While skincare is seen as a way to “take care of oneself,” the skincare industry continues to “reinforce” common fears about aging and our appearance, causing consumers to always fall into a state of anxiety. To convince us to buy products, brands must first convince us that there is a problem to solve. How much glycolic acid will be sold if no one has heard of the phrase “large pores”? You won’t need to buy retinol or moisturizers if wrinkles or “dry” skin are not an issue. In fact, oily, dry, and normal skin types were created for marketing purposes, not by medical experts but by the founder of the brand Helena Rubinstein. Meanwhile, the razor company Gillette has created a cultural expectation that women should shave body hair.

Many of us know that the beauty industry (specifically skincare) is very “sophisticated,” but sometimes knowledge can leave us feeling confused rather than empowered. Skin is the largest organ in the body and of course, we should take care of it – but how do we do that without becoming too focused on appearance or worrying about aging?

Beauty content creator Ankita Chaturvedi sees skincare as one of her most important “rituals.” She believes that to have a healthy relationship with skincare, one’s actions should not stem from fear. “Clearly, this is easier said than done because the skincare message is very subtle. One day, you’re sitting thinking, ‘Oh, maybe I should start thinking about Botox,’ but you don’t even remember who said that to you or where you first read it,” she says. Regardless of this, Chaturvedi asserts that her skincare methods, including simple habits like moisturizing and wearing sunscreen to double cleansing, are actions she does for herself. “My skin looks better after I take care of it and that makes me feel comfortable.”

James Hamblin argues in his book Clean: The New Science of Skin and Skin that one reason why skincare makes people feel satisfied is because it can make them look better – that is, fit the modern beauty ideals – which makes society treat them better. “There are very practical ways in which appearance signals how people treat each other,” he writes. That’s one of the reasons why we strive for skincare, makeup, and clothes shopping, we do it not only for ourselves but also for others. “Our society celebrates the use of products regardless of the outcome,” beauty journalist and critic Jessica DeFino told Dazed. “Especially in beauty, appearing as though you’re trying to meet beauty standards is almost more honored than not. In fact, skincare has nothing to do with it.” 23-year-old Sanya also used to have a deep skincare routine but gave it up after working at the billion-dollar beauty brand Glossier last year. “At Glossier, I lied to people about whether I used or liked any products, especially skincare products, and then they praised my skin and I felt like a fraud,” she said. Even after getting deep into the skincare industry and seeing how deceptive it is, Sanya admits that she couldn’t not believe in it. “I’m not sure I would easily give up skincare if I didn’t have almost perfect skin. I’m still very afraid of aging so the only product I still use is sunscreen.”

DeFino believes that you can take care of your skin without necessarily adhering to beauty standards or anti-aging centers, we just need to think differently about our skin. “I think the frameworks, rules are to remember that your skin is also an organ like any other. Whether you take care of your other organs or not, you can do the same for your skin.” If you have a problem on your skin, it may be related to something else happening in your body or your environment, and that’s worth exploring. Instead of saying “I have to remove this patch of scales on my skin” try thinking “Oh, that’s interesting. What’s causing it to happen? Maybe my body is giving me a signal that it needs something from me, maybe hydration or electrolytes supplementation?”

Health expert Jasmina Vico calls the skin a reflection of what’s going on inside us. “The skin is an organ that operates as part of a larger system, it can tell us about what’s happening inside the body such as dehydration or lack of nutrients but also the support it needs from the outside.” For Vico, taking care of the skin means understanding its relationship with the rest of the body and therefore understanding what signals the skin may be sending to you. “When informed, you will be much less influenced by trends and advertised ingredients because you know what your skin needs to function best.” The important thing to remember is that your skin is like a dense forest, it’s home to many different types of microorganisms capable of taking care of our skin and body. Although it may feel anxious to know that there are small bugs living on the surface of the skin, they remind us that the skin is a part of something much more important than appearance. DeFino explains: “If you research about the skin microbiome, you’ll find that there are microorganisms on your skin that can be traced back

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