I recently met several of my college buddies for brunch at a friend’s charming country house in Rhode Island. We ate a lovely meal by her pool, watched the chickens in her yard and laughed at the bleating goats. And we yakked away the day, literally talking for six straight hours.
While we did discuss our children and our lives, what struck me was the amount of time we spent discussing skin care. I was a happy participant. It is a subject I know well because my daughter often talks about it.
When my niece was in her teen years, her obsession was makeup. She made tutorials for YouTube that were funny and adorable and useful. My daughter barely uses makeup but is obsessed with skin care. We have body-polishing scrub in the shower, several types of “dry oil,” pore strips, lip scrubs and more facial masks than I thought possible — some are made of paper, others come in a tube, while one made of seaweed required hydration and a brush to smear the foul smelling concoction on our skin.
My face lights up when we decide to go to a movie. With my daughter, I just have to say the word “CVS” or the even more wonderful word “Marshalls.” The kid goes crazy in Marshalls, exploring both the brand name products and those from more obscure companies with equal zeal. I thought Kay’s head would explode when she discovered Korean skin care products there. She thinks they are the cat’s pajamas, and since she has read a lot about the topic and I have not, I have no basis with which to disagree.
In fact, Kay once talked to me about skin care, in particular Korean skin care, for three hours. She turned to me at the end of that marathon session and said accusingly, “You aren’t listening.”
“I’m trying,” I replied groggily, “but I just can’t hear you anymore.”
So it came as no surprise that a roomful of women approaching 60 would share their secrets. None of us are looking forward to our birthdays next year, yet we spoke of celebrating together by planning a trip to someplace a little more exciting than our usual rendezvous sites. It should be a spa, of course, and preferably one that does drive-by plastic surgery. I can’t imagine anything else would satisfy.
Carol, it turns out, shares a skin care routine similar to mine. She texted us her regime and I thought, “That seems like a lot of work.” Then I realized my routine was even more complex. Naturally I have several kinds of facial cleansers. I also have makeup removal wipes and toner, both of which are used if I have been wearing makeup that day.
Next is the medicated cream for rosacea. Then comes the StriVectin under my eyes and on my neck. It is actually a neck cream, but I also put it on my forehead for good measure. Once that is dry, I use the hyaluronic acid. I wait for it to dry before putting on the moisturizer. Then I spritz my face with spray that could just be colored water for all I really know. I am thinking I am remiss in not using a vitamin C serum, but also think I should draw the line somewhere, though my resolve is weak. And perhaps I should just start drinking the hyaluronic acid? I understand that if you cut it with vodka, it doesn’t taste as bad.
I keep retinol eye serum at my desk and apply it before work. There are bottles of facial spray scattered around so I can spritz my face throughout the day. I take biotin for my hair and swallow collagen capsules for my skin.
As I write this, I realize I sound insane. The money and time I spend on my skin is ridiculous. I also know that in another time and place, none of this self-care would be possible. It is a luxury. It also means that I fall for advertising campaigns and the inflated promises printed on the side of every box of outrageously priced moisturizer I have ever owned.
Will I continue with this lunacy? Of course I will: It is the fountain of youth in a bottle. Every time I buy a small, heavy jar filled with something light and creamy that melts into my skin, I realize I am rubbing hope and promise into my cheeks. I am the perfect customer because I want to believe that the potions and lotions filling my bathroom really are magical.
To be perfectly honest, I think the stuff mostly works. Looking around at my friends I thought, “Damn, we look good.” Women of our age no longer look like grannies. Our skin may not be dewy, but neither do we look haggard. Growing up, I used to think women in their 40s were ancient. And honestly, the women in old movies — Betty Crawford and Bette Davis come to mind — did look older than their years by at least a decade.
So maybe all this expensive glop I buy is doing the trick. But someone in the group said a word so powerful that it raised the hair on the back of my neck. My fingers tingled and I could not wait to get home to Google it.
For Benjamin Braddock in “The Graduate,” that transformative word was “plastics.” For me that eye-opening moment came when Carol said, “injectables.”