Skin in the Game

2017 was notable for two things in my world and they are as follows:

  1. I turned 50 and
  2. I finally started taking my skin care routine seriously.

Don’t get me wrong, I have been taking care of my skin with various degrees of success for as long as I can remember, but in 2017, suddenly skin care was more visible than ever, what with all the K- Beauty products going mainstream in Canada and all. At any given time on any given day I could take a look at Instagram and see photos or video of someone in a sheet mask or an eye mask or doing a lip treatment or a neck treatment. Which is, in fact, amazing. I love it, love seeing people all “yeah, this is me, doing my best to not shrivel up to a husk over the winter” or “late night, too much booze, this is my hangover facial lol.” For a lot of years there was none of this candor, there was a lot of “I woke up like this,” and that’s fine too, but beginning last year it was nice to see people being upfront with what they need to – or want to – do. It was hard not to be inspired by this, and, of course, to want better skin in the process.

Then, just at the very end of the year, I saw this article in the New Yorker, and a lot of things kind of fell into place with what I’d been seeing over the course of the year:

The Year That Skin Care Became a Coping Mechanism

Ah, so that’s what was happening last year.

I am ultra aware that 50 is a little late to be jumping on this bandwagon – I mean the author of that article, Jia Tolentino is 28 and even she was told she should have been starting earlier with retinol. (As a very pasty person, I am well-versed in daily sunscreen application, so I’ve got that going for me, at least?)

So I’m not expecting miracles, and I haven’t been doing that shitty a job of looking after my skin, but this past year was the year I really started to notice the passage of time and what it has been doing to my face while I wasn’t looking, and the first year that I really looked hard into the mirror and thought, “Damn, girl.” And not in a good way.

Anyway, in honour of this new regimen upon which I have embarked (I won’t bore you with all the details of creams and serums etc.) I would like to take the opportunity to reminisce about Skin Care Products I Have Known. Because when you grow up female in North America, the bombardment starts early.

The first product I ever remember using on my face that wasn’t for decorative purposes was Clearasil. Ah yes, the acne highlighter! And I say highlighter because the only one you could get when I was in grade 6 was the “flesh” coloured one that was supposed to make your zits look like regular skin! Who had a skin tone that was that sickly, muddy brownish pink hue though, I’ll never know, and it was appalling, honestly. And it dried to a crust that just kind of surrounded your zit and let the zit revel in its own true ugliness, and it just made everything worse. And yet.

Eventually there came into the world the Clearasil vanishing cream that at least allowed darker skinned people to participate in the ritual of applying a zit cream that literally did nothing, but at least didn’t turn you into a stippled, brick-coloured mess whose face would crack at the slightest muscle twitch.

From there I learned that the biggest thing holding me back from flawless teen idol skin was not cleaning my skin well enough, so this led to a vicious circle of washing my face – probably with Noxema – yes, the same stuff our parents put on our sunburns. This was likely grade 8 or 9 for me, and once the Noxema came off, the next step was taking a cotton ball and soaking it in something called Sea Breeze, and swiping that all over my face. To really DEEP CLEAN my pores. Sea Breeze was – and still is, you can still buy the stuff – an astringent that wiped away all the traces of dirt on your face and, in the process, stripped all the natural oils away too! Leaving your face tingling! And sore! And smelling like some kind of blend of gasoline and citrus peel. And I used that shit DAILY. And never once did I put on a moisturizer, because I was so afraid of OIL. Oil, the ads told us, was the devil.

This is why Clean & Clear and Bonne Bell’s goddamn Ten-O-Six toner/astringent were such big sellers. Make the teens afraid of the slightest little bit of oil. Wipe it all away, you disgusting creatures. Worry about blackheads too, scrub the shit out of your face to make sure THOSE never rear their ugly heads. Or take a piece of pseudo-duct tape and attach it to your nose, then rip it off and look what you’ve left behind. Filthy.

Some of the best advice I ever got from my mum when I complained about my skin’s inability to be dewy and glowing and clear was to “leave it alone.” Honestly. And I know she was right. I mean NOW I know. At the time I was all eyerolling and grabbing another bottle of diesel for the face at the drugstore, but she was totally right.

It’s been a long ride to get to the point where I feel like my skin kind of likes me again, and I know now that the thing I avoided doing for so long – moisturizing duh – is the best thing you can do for your face. I still get weird days where my skin looks like hell, but now instead of covering up the issues, I think about what might have led to this. Is my sleep off? Have I had enough water? Did I get windburn out in -25 wind chill walking the dog? (The answer to that one is DEFINITELY in case you’re wondering.)

And when you’re 50 and you have an off day for your skin, guess what ? It’s not the end of the world. When you’re 13, oh man it 100% IS THE END OF THE WORLD. And I am so glad I’m not there anymore. And if I could go back at tell 13-year old Elizabeth to seriously just avoid the “paint thinner on a cotton ball” years, I so would. She probably wouldn’t believe me though. She was kind of a bitchy know-it-all back then.





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