Welcome readers new and old (and middle-aged)! In honor of the physical therapy exercise I’ve been encouraged to try called “The Dead Bug,” please tap the little ❤ above, which increases joint flexibility in everyone over 45.
Your response to my under-$50-dermatologist-approved skincare routine was big—over 13,000 of you read it—which got me thinking about what you want to see here. You’re definitely interested in skincare (no surprise), and also in what works so you don’t waste money (again, no surprise). This information, though useful, puts me in a bit of a bind. Because there really isn’t a whole lot more to say about what to buy when it comes to what you might need. Now you know those pricey creams you wish you had the extra cash for won’t serve you any better than a fine drugstore cream. That’s good news (unless you just sprang for a $490 jar of a boutique elixir) and I’m glad to be able to set your mind at ease.
But let’s say you’ve chucked the skincare you haven’t used in years (or, importantly, tried without “success”) and your bathroom vanity now contains just four products…how long before you succumb to the siren song of marketing magic? Here’s my guess: only as long as it takes for you to again start examining your face for flaws—and have you already nimbly jumped that shark?
Not unrelatedly, there’s a story in the New York Times about a TikTok trend you might be curious about. It’s called “skin cycling” and I chose not to mention it in my recent skincare post. Why? Because it’s just a catchy name for the sensible routine I suggested and I think it might make the routine feel more complicated. Don’t exfoliate too often and avoid it if your skin becomes irritated; use a moisturizer liberally when your skin feels dry; etc. But the title of the story, “Should You Be ‘Skin Cycling?’” made me wonder if I should be. And if I might need more products? Different products? Better products? 💰💰💰
From the NYT:
The concept is pretty simple: a four-day cycle that alternates between the use of active ingredients and “nights off [for recovery].” On Night 1, cyclers apply a chemical exfoliant; on Night 2, a retinoid; and on Night 3 and Night 4, a moisturizer. Cleansing is always the first step.
… TikTok videos with the hashtag #skincycling have billions of views. But dermatologists have been recommending routines with minimal products that promote the rotation of active ingredients for decades, albeit with their own spin and product recommendations. What was missing was a catchy name and a viral platform.
So with a catchy name and a viral platform, a new beauty trend was delivered howling into the world. And billions of people are eager to welcome it in the hope that it will bring joy into their lives (by giving them a better complexion). But a new trend can’t be bare for long; it needs a wardrobe. From a press release I received last week:
…Similarly to your workout routine, recovery is an essential practice within skin cycling… But what specific recovery products should you be adding to your skin cycle?
Constant HNTFUYF readers know you won’t find the answer to that question here. I’m bringing all this up because it’s a good example of how the beauty industry works to exploit our vulnerability—our deep yearning for “improvement.”
Of course you want pretty skin because…not dead yet. A healthy-looking complexion lets our comrades know we’re potentially fine helpmeets and partners. So it’s not just a vanity issue. But our desire to keep trying new products, one after another, isn’t really about getting a healthy complexion either. It’s about regaining some semblance of control over our skin, not an altogether useless objective—but a precarious one in the end. Because, being mammals, our skin has a fairly predictable trajectory; like any organic material, it evolves. We can aspire to be a Tour de France team of skin cyclers and still our face will age. And when we begin to notice our skin has aged, what do we do? We look for something to stop the process. We can, in fact, slow it down (see sunscreen and retinoids) or speed it up (see sun exposure, cigarette smoking, and pollution). But…what the beauty industry is selling us isn’t a solution. It’s hype.
Like any co-dependent or addict, you’re likely to slide back into your (dis)comfort zone of yearning and disappointment. It happens. But you can strengthen your resolve—and increase your happiness—by learning to look at your face as if you were a human being, rather than as an object to be judged and criticized. Find detailed instructions for that exercise here.
How Not to F*ck Up Your Face is a reader-financed publication. To receive all new posts and support my work—have I saved you at least $50 in skincare products?—please become a paid subscriber. Each weekly post costs you only $1.25! Thanks.
Finally: Last week I received three emails from readers asking about treatments for thinning hair. I’ve written a post about that but I’m going to get into it further in a future one. Hang onto your hat.
HNTFUYF, a Payola-Free Zone
Readers, a few of you have wondered if I get a cut from sales when I mention a beauty product. I do not. I only mention products I’d like to buy myself, and therefore think you might like, too. I share this so you know my recommendations are offered without obligation.
Book Club News: New book about a rich lady who lived a long time!
Though I’ve been a latecomer to audiobooks, once I discovered them I couldn’t get enough. I borrow them from the public library, but as I’ve mentioned before, sometimes the library snatches them back before I can finish. So I'm happy to share I'm partnering with Chirp to organize an audiobook club of biographies and memoirs called “Unfiltered Women.” Two things: It’s free to subscribe and Chirp offers great deals. Plus, you obviously get to keep the book to listen to at your leisure.
Every other month I’ll announce a new book club pick we’ll listen to together. You’ll have a chance to share your thoughts on the book a few weeks later and hear what other readers thought, too. My third pick is the biography Bunny Mellon: The Life of an American Style Legend by the superb reporter Meryl Gordon. I’m not alone in wondering what it’s like to be remarkably rich (consider the success of shows about the Kardashians and the “real” housewives). I don’t watch those shows, but I do love to read about the wealthiest of the wealthy. For me, the story of Bunny Mellon—a serious, high-society horticulturist (she designed the White House Rose Garden), patron of the arts, and wife of multimillionaire Paul Mellon—is like a piece of chocolate cake; I don’t want a steady diet of it, but it’s delicious. How well-off was she? Though she owned many homes (in the Caribbean, Paris, New York, Cape Cod, and Nantucket), her main residence was a 4,000-acre estate in Virginia with its own mile-long airstrip to accommodate her private plane. Unlike some other socialites of her time like Slim Keith, Mellon was not a great beauty. But she surrounded herself with beautiful things: gorgeous table settings, magnificent bouquets, exquisite gardening outfits designed by Balenciaga and Givenchy. The most satisfying takeaway from this account of a long and privileged life (Mellon lived to 103)? In spite of the opportunities open to them, the rich are no happier than you or me.
To get started, go to chirpbooks.com/val and press FOLLOW to join my club. (Again, it’s free and there is NO commitment.)
Val Asks You
Don’t be shy! What’s your most vexing or intractable appearance issue? Send your beauty-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. If I don’t have a good answer, I’ll find someone who does.
I think you’re spot on with hoping to have some control over aging. I am turning 70 ….. 70!!!!! in a couple of weeks and my head is filled with dark thoughts every time I look in the mirror. I mean how did I get here? If it would just stop raining it would help I think Oz is going to float away never to be seen again, I keep expecting Noah to knock on the door. Anyway I’m nearly 70. I feel 40 but look 80 and I know in my heart the creams and exfoliants aren’t going to do anything useful. All that’s left is to smile …. hugely!!!
Val… thanks for the preview of your upcoming hair article. One thing I’d love to see more supported is the normalizing of wearing hair. I’ve personally struggled with hair loss since puberty. While, I’ve taken finasteride, spironolactone, use minoxidil, and various vitamins, I found the thing that gives me immediate results 100% of the time is a well placed, high quality hairpiece. I don’t wear it all the time and I’ve never kept it a secret, but I always get the impression that people are gossiping about me behind my back. Sorry my hair isn’t thIck and my scalp shows! I’m now 51 and sort of feeling a bit of smug validation now that my friends are dealing with thinning hair. When I suggest a topper or clip in extensions, the reaction is, “I could never.” Why not?