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Another way you might release a flood of oxytocin: Listen to my interview on the Everything is Fine podcast. The co-hosts Jennifer Romolini and Kim France were exceptionally fun to talk with—and they’re terrific listeners. (The podcast is kind of long, so you might want to come back to it after you’ve read this post.)
A couple of curious people recently emailed me about whether a particular product was worth the (considerable) expense. Their innocent question put me in a such a nasty mood that I wrote something ungenerous to one of them, who I happen to know and love. I apologized. And then I wondered why I’d been reactive.
I think it’s because I keep saying that there are no over-the-counter skincare products with ingredients that will make a visible difference in the quality of your skin by halting the aging process, and sometimes it feels like you haven’t heard me. But it isn’t that you haven’t heard me. It’s that you don’t want to believe me—and I understand.
The beauty industry is designed to encourage your yearning, your need to keep trying one product after another in a sad and ultimately destructive cycle of dependency. Even so, I usually say, fine, spend your $250 on a serum that really only moisturizes and maybe not as well as a $12.50 drugstore lotion if that’s what makes you happy. Whatever gets you through the night, right? And then another reader writes to ask if this or that wildly expensive cream really does reduce jowls or under-eye bags—and I’m like, really? You really think this product contains the fountain of youth?
Of course you don’t, which is why you’re asking me about it; the problem is that you’re reluctant to trust your own good sense. Which should surprise no one, because you are constantly being bombarded with messages that are calculated to undermine your belief that you might be able to tell the difference between what’s marketing and what’s true.
If you’re concerned about your aging skin, you might want to take note of these two truths from the Skin Cancer Foundation:
An estimated 90 percent of skin aging is caused by the sun.
People who use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher daily show 24 percent less skin aging than those who don’t.
Come to think of it, no one has ever asked me whether sunscreen does what it’s touted to do or if it’s worth the expense. I hope that’s because you don’t need to be encouraged to use it.
On the subject of what works and what doesn’t, another reader query.
“Ask Val” answers your urgent questions, Vol. 36
Q: I don't have an intense skincare routine; I cleanse and moisturize most nights…unless I forget. And I’m wondering if I can outsource my skincare from time to time. Do facials work over the long-term? How often should I have one? Is any kind of facial better than nothing?
A: When I was a civilian—meaning before I was formally inducted into the Beauty Corps—I hated facials. Not only did I dislike a stranger getting intimate with my face (especially when that intimacy involved painfully pinching my pores), but also the unwelcome post-treatment disquisition about why I needed the products beckoning from the facialist’s shelves. As a beauty editor, the facials I submitted to were swagaliciously free, so I didn’t have to worry about protecting my wallet. Even so, I never really enjoyed them. I understand that some of you find facials relaxing; me, I’d rather have a footcial.
Because I’m biased against facials, I asked HNTFUYF DermDiva Heidi Waldorf if she had wisdom to share. And of course she did.
First, she pointed out that there’s no definition of a facial; it may include a “deep” cleansing (whatever that is), extractions, massage, steaming, a peel, a moisturizer, and even treatment with an energy-based device.
So it’s important to figure out what you’re aiming to treat that your current skincare routine isn’t addressing. If you have acne, rosacea, pigmentation issues, or any other issues that aren’t improving, Waldorf says your first step should be to see a dermatologist, not an aesthetician. These conditions often require a prescription treatment. For example, comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) can be manually extracted—ouch!—by a facialist, but they’ll always return without consistent use of a retinoid. Sun damage presents both health and cosmetic concerns that need to be distinguished by a professional diagnosis. A dermatologist can advise you on prescription and over-the-counter topicals and whether other procedures, including facials, can benefit—or potentially worsen—your condition.
So before you get out your wallet, you’ll want to know exactly what the facial entails and how you can expect your complexion to look afterward. Some treatments can leave you glowy; others, blotchy (and unhappy). Waldorf advises patients to forgo extensive extractions because there are gentler ways to speed the process of eliminating blackheads with exfoliation and suction (like with the hydrafacial device). And a light glycolic and salicylic peel may be helpful for sun damage and acne but is most useful when it’s done regularly in a skincare routine. Also, combination treatments with light laser therapy, LED lights, and other devices give longer-lasting results, says Waldorf.
You can see where this is going. “If you’re happy with your skin, there’s no reason to have a facial,” says Waldorf. “I’d also be wary of buying a multitude of skincare products an aesthetician recommends as necessary to complete your facial experience.
“I’m a 57-year-old cosmetic dermatologist with excellent skin and I’ve had a total of 2 or 3 facials ever. Given a lifetime of sun protection and not smoking, there’s nothing a facial is going to do to improve my skin temporarily or in the long run.
“When a spa opportunity arises, I choose a massage rather than a facial,” Waldorf says.
Though a spa opportunity doesn’t often arise for me, if it does, I’ll catch up with her in the sauna—after my footcial.
Next week, because you asked: My very short, inexpensive, and Waldorf-approved skincare routine.
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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.
Here’s how it works. 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 wildly wealthy (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 rich 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.) There, for a limited time, you can buy Bunny Mellon for only $4.99 (normally $25.98), 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 currently no paywall. I rely on readers for financial support, so please consider becoming a paying subscriber if you can.
Yes, I definitely get tempted to buy those more expensive products but my bank account tells me, "Uh, NO" and the truth is, I have found that Trader Joe's skincare products really work quite well - - at least for me.
Hello, Ms. Valerie.
First time here and what an interesting insight.
When it comes to "treating" the theme of skincare as a magic potion, there are really more to dig into the matter. It's a guilty pleasure, a resultant of many social factors capable of creating a poetical peace and yet at the same time, a hardly fun tale of unbearableness.