plus, getting to "no" in the eye cream debate
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This week, a few people independently alerted me to a couple of TikTok trends—trends so wrong, I had to confirm whether they were real rather than bad jokes. As my friend Whitney Fishburn of the docu-mental Substack wrote in response to my incredulity, “TikTok is for ding-dongs.” I’m not sure that’s true across the board (have a look @mandypatinktok) but proponents of these beauty trends could use some discipline in the advice department.
If you’re inclined to coat your face with calamine lotion every day before applying makeup, go to your room right now and think hard about the consequences of your behavior. Don’t come out till you fully understand the implications of compromising your skin’s health—with dryness, irritation, and potential damage to the skin barrier—for 24 hours of a matte complexion. And if you happen to be an injection-happy practical nurse who regularly shoots herself up in front of a camera and promotes filler and neurotoxin the way Gwyneth Paltrow promotes wellness and…neurotoxin, go sit in the corner facing the wall. We’ll let you know when time-out is up. (Don’t hold your breath.)
Beauty culture has always been a grand repository of Stupid Pet Tricks, but now that social media takes them viral: Woof.
Wait! Someone way in the back is waving her hand. It seems she has a question. Yes, you in the leopard leggings?
“Ask Val” answers your urgent questions, Vol. 31
Q: I have sun spots on my legs from years of tanning. I tried to have them “burned off” years ago, but the procedure left a scar worse than the discoloration. Am I doomed to hide my legs in pants or tights year-round?
A: First, about your poorly executed or inappropriate procedure: Mistakes can happen even in the most meticulous of medical offices, but it’s critical to see a board-certified MD for any treatment involving a device (like laser or microneedling). As if to illustrate this point, HNTFUYF DermDiva Heidi Waldorf advises you to be wary of procedures treating pigment on the legs, because—especially on the lower legs—there’s a higher risk of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (further darkening of the treated area, more likely among people with more melanin-rich skin).
But she suggests, from least invasive to most, treating your legs with the same standard topicals you might use to reduce photo damage on your face. So, sunscreen to prevent further issues! And a moisturizer (this one comes highly recommended by a reader) to maintain the skin barrier. Then, you might choose from this menu: A retinoid to improve pigmentation; an alpha-hydroxy serum, which can also help with pigmentation and hydration; or a lotion or serum with tranexamic acid or cysteamine. If you see no improvement in several months, you might consult a dermatologist about the same procedures used to treat hyperpigmentation on the face, neck, and chest, including chemical peels, pigment-specific lasers or other energy-based devices, or intense pulsed light treatments.
Here’s a quicker, easier solution you may have already thought of: self-tanner. You may find that it emphasizes rather than diminishes your discoloration, but it’s worth a try. On the other hand, as any cautious advice columnist would tell you: If that doesn’t work, I take it all back and insist on the contrary.
In the Department of Less is More, one of my muses sent me this New York Times story with the headline “Do Eye Creams Actually Work for Wrinkles?” It drags through several hundred words to get to the final answer—almost as if revealing the truth right away might be injudicious for some reason (involving advertisers?). The headline should’ve been “Do Eye Creams Work Any Better for Wrinkles Than Your Moisturizer?” because the story’s last paragraph is all you need to know.
Unless you prefer to use an eye cream, a regular facial moisturizer that contains the key active ingredients mentioned above [retinol, vitamin C, hyaluronic acid] should work the same on wrinkles. If you buy an eye cream with those ingredients, you’re probably just paying more money for less product that has similar benefits.
Book Club News: New Book!
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.
Here’s how it works. Every other month I’ll announce a new book club pick that 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 second pick is the memoir H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. I’ve now listened to this book twice and I’m sure I could listen to it again and still get fresh insights into the author and find new poetry in her language. This is a story about how a woman deals with the sudden death of her beloved father by retreating into herself, keeping only one relationship alive: with Mabel, a goshawk she trains. Goshawks are notoriously difficult and Macdonald struggles to domesticate her. Mealtimes are especially grisly, but Macdonald seems immune to the blood and guts she often holds in her bare hands or stuffs into a pocket. She describes in minute detail the primeval, prehistoric beauty of the bird and her intelligence. The fear of abandonment is strong and Macdonald’s grief seems bottomless till she understands viscerally the healing power of human connection. Like me, you’ve probably never considered becoming a falconer—and you’ll be glad you didn’t when you’ve finished this book! But you’ll get inside the head of someone very different from you, and it’s a fascinating place to be.
To get started, go to chirpbooks.com/val and press FOLLOW to join my club. (Again, it’s free and there is NO commitment.) There, for a limited time, you can buy H Is for Hawk for only $2.99 (normally $19.95), including a 50% discount with code VAL50 if it's your first Chirp purchase.
Val Asks You
Don’t be shy! What’s your most vexing or intractable appearance issue? Send your beauty-related questions to email@example.com. If I don’t have a good answer, I’ll find someone who does.
HNTFUYF, a Payola-Free Zone
Readers, a few of you have wondered aloud to me 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. All posts and the archive are free; there’s no paywall. I rely on readers for financial support, so please consider becoming a paying subscriber if you can.