Aging Ghosts in the Skincare Machine
On expensive skincare and a changing face
Let me start with my skin in the game. In the four months between November 2017 and February 2018, I spent about $520 on skincare products. This number does not include makeup. It does not include shampoo or conditioner. It does not include body lotion. And it is, in all likelihood, a little low. If I pored through every receipt and every debit card transaction, the actual, shameful tally of skincare spending during these four months would hover above $600. Average it out, and that’s $125 a month, more than my $90 Con Edison or Verizon bills, and a little less than a third of my monthly college loan payment, which, at age 55, I’m still paying.
It’s a lot of money, but it’s a lot of skincare. More than a mere routine, my skincare is a baroque dance of cleansers, exfoliators, toners, essences, serums, oils, hydrators, moisturizers, sheet masks, sleeping masks, lip masks, and sunscreen. I perform it — often with the sullenness of a teen — every morning and every evening, and when I don’t, I feel a sense of guilt that I can imagine only as Catholic. My skincare practice is what New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino terms a “regime posing as a regimen.” My skincare is an army of products I’ve marshaled with a single intent: to keep aging at bay.
I am not alone. Last year, the U.S. prestige beauty market — specifically, the stuff sold at marquee makeup stores like Sephora and Ulta or from department store beauty counters — saw sales of almost $18 billion, an increase of 6 percent from 2016, according to market research firm NPD Group. Skincare alone made $5.6 billion of that total, an increase of 9 percent over the previous year. Across America, more women (and men) are anointing, slathering, dotting, patting, smoothing, and massaging their faces with more high-end unguents, elixirs, lotions, and potions than ever before. We Americans are awash in a veritable tidal wave of expensive face glop, and we are gleeful to pay for the privilege.
I have not always cared about my skin. Born in 1962, I tanned with baby oil, washed with bar soap, moisturized with drugstore creams, and daubed my lips with Vaseline. Skincare was something rich old ladies did, and I was neither rich nor old. In my thirties, worried about my forehead lines, I…