12 Steps to Purity

6a00d83451ccbc69e201b8d1035f7e970cTeens going to great lengths to get Kylie Jenner lips has popped in and out of the beauty blog circuit in the past few years, but full lips is not a new trend. When I was finally old enough to wear makeup and take notice of what features I was supposed to be accentuating, plump lips a la Angelina Jolie were the top priority. Then, to my relief (thanks for the genes, Mom), long lashes were the hot ticket. Then it was brows. We’ve moved past the age of 1,000 thick brow trend pieces, and lips and lashes have become a natural part of many beauty routines. We are now living in the skincare moment, and this is both awesome and crippling.

Diorshow1I’m pretty ok with skincare culture most of the time, since nice skin is the one thing I don’t like to be seen without aside from full brows. Thanks in part to the US beauty industry getting hip to Korean skincare, it is now not shameful to admit you have a 12-step skincare routine. I am not reliably a 12-stepper, but my daily routine is anywhere from 9-13 steps. Most guides will settle on at least 10. I’ve recently added an essence – that’s the thing between toner and serums. Elaborate skincare is the perfect outlet for a trip down the self-care rabbit hole. Showstopping lashes are great, but it doesn’t take that long to curl and put on mascara. But spending 30+ minutes on your face, twice a day? That’s a self-care ritual. Instead of being a frivolity, lavishing your own face is now a mark of someone who respects themselves (or treats themselves, depending on your stance on the implied indulgence language of many female habits).

maxresdefaultThe best thing to come out of the skincare movement, other than that I look younger than I did when I was 22, is the sense of community among female identifying beauty fiends. In the days of lips, lashes, and everyone you know owning the Naked Palette, makeup forums were still buzzing, but out in the world there was a sense of keeping the mystery alive. Covering, changing, and enhancing your natural features was all fair game, but it was still a bit shameful to admit to spending so much on Diorshow or that you really weren’t blemish free underneath the BB Cream. Now, people openly gather to swap tips on their elaborate skincare routines. We’ve made headway in women actually being able to admit how long and complicated making the face you present the world can be. But there is a creeping neuroticism lurking beneath the youthful glow.Sephora-CCS4-Clear

Beauty has become less about looking natural than being natural. Two recent window displays at the Sephora along my morning commute advertised water-based products and “superfood skincare.” Glossier, the minimalist beauty brand popular among my demographic, touts that skincare is essential, and makeup is a choice. They are right in that since devoting more time to my skin, I don’t feel like I need much makeup. But essentiality of “perfectly primed skin” carries the message that if you haven’t achieved a flawless face, you don’t deserve to be making that choice about makeup.


Skincare is the third head on the Cerberus of #wellness. Just like clean eating has become a class and moral signal, clean beauty is coded as a path to virtue. If you are what you eat, and you triumph over toxins and “dirty” food, the idea is that you will have the body and “healthy gut” to show for it. And what’s more visible than your face? I can understand it to an extent. I’m a control freak when it comes to my own image, and there’s something about facial flaws that upset me more than anything else. My face is something I can’t hide, and if I can’t present something close to perfect to the world, then I’ve failed at self-management. But if the champions of clean beauty have radiant, youthful faces, invisible pores, and no blemishes, what are we implying about people with scars, chronic acne, and natural signs of aging? Well, it’s the same thing we imply about people who don’t eat “clean.” They’re on a lower rung of the moral ladder that keeps the wellness industry chugging.

We need to remember that perfect skin, like fitness or being fashionable, is not a destination we’re supposed to arrive at. We can get closer to our own personal zero, but the beauty industry must retain an ever loftier goal to keep us buying. Wellness burnout is a real thing, and if you’re panicking over whether you should be buying drinkable collagen (just me?), you may be experiencing it. The beautiful bottles of tonics and serums on our shelves don’t need to be an altar, and my choice to use 10 products on my face is not a virtue. I don’t think we are what we eat, and the truth of our characters won’t be revealed in the absence of fine lines.

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