Earlier this week, The Outline put up a story provokingly titled “The Skincare Con.” In it, writer Krithika Varagur argues that the modern beauty-industrial complex is a brilliant scam, one that dupes women into thinking they need to spend money to attain something that doesn’t even exist: perfect skin. The internet’s reaction machine whirred to life shortly thereafter, dispensing response piece after response piece debating the merits of Varagur’s claims. It was all we could talk about yesterday in the office, so we decided to publish our resulting Slack conversation. Read it below, and let us know what you think in the comments.

Harling Ross: Did everyone see that Outline story Haley shared on Slack?

Haley Nahman: I love The Outline. They’re always coming with the smart, contrarian take. This quote from the story particularly resonated with me: “Before you start a militant skincare regimen, it’s instructive to think about why you want one and why it seems like an intrinsic good.” I think it could be applied to a few areas of the beauty industry (i.e. the idea that the pursuit of conventional beauty is an intrinsically worthy pursuit/is somehow empowering).

Leandra Medine: Much more interesting, I thought, was the conversation (feud?) that erupted as a result. I love the internet because a story isn’t just a story anymore; it’s a jumping off point that often elicits a much more interesting or worthy conversation.

Kate Barnett: As someone who’s had acne since my teens, never grew out of it, and currently has deep acne scars from picking that I’m extremely eager to un-do, I appreciate the approach that perfect skin doesn’t exist, and the acknowledgement that “a blemish seems like a referendum on who you are as a person.”

Haley: Right, as something that “MUST” be fixed.

Harling: I definitely didn’t expect things to get so heated. I knew people were passionate about skincare (hence the article), but it’s amazing how the internet has made people so KNOWLEDGEABLE about topics that used to just be hobbies. I think that’s part of what fueled the reaction machine, in this case.

Leandra: Well, I don’t think it’s fair to assume they weren’t knowledgeable prior — just didn’t have the platform to impart the wisdom?

Harling: I think the internet has made that knowledge a lot more accessible, though (reddit forums, etc.).

Leandra: Fair

Haley: Agreed, Harls, everyone has become a skin expert! It’s interesting. That’s why I liked that The Outline was basically saying, “Whoa whoa whoa slow down…do we really need this many steps in our routines?” That said, did anyone have a favorite counter response?

Harling: I really liked Cheryl Wischhover’s response on Racked. She’s their senior beauty reporter.

Leandra: That piece was solid and informative. I love Racked.

Harling: ME TOO.

Haley: Racked is so consistently good!

Harling: Cheryl did a great job of debunking some of the science-related errors in The Outline‘s story. She writes, “I’m technically a member of the Beauty Capitalist Complex. My job is to write about makeup and skincare. I love, use, and believe in skincare. So I suppose that makes me biased. But let’s focus on the science (more to come on this, because — yes! there! is! science!), the BS, and how to use things properly.”

Haley: I liked this point she made, too: “At the crux of [The Outline] article is the argument that we — mostly women, mind you! — are all a bunch of silly pawns with no agency to overcome the stupidity of skincare thrust upon us by the industry. Trust me, I know what I’m getting myself into. Skincare has spawned a community of (mostly) women talking about it and bonding over it. It’s provided common ground. And it’s provided the chance for small victories, even if just over your wily pores.”

Harling: Nylon made a similar argument (that skincare critiques often have a misogynistic bent) in its response piece. There’s an underlying implication that women aren’t savvy enough to see through the B.S.

Haley: It’s an argument that reminds me of Jaya Saxena’s TASTE piece on how things women love are often maligned unfairly. And I do really appreciate that perspective — but I also think the beauty industry overall hasn’t been self-critical enough. As feminism has entered the mainstream cultural consciousness, a lot of excuses have been made for these measures we take for the sake of beauty. Skincare is positioned as healthy; makeup is positioned as empowering. But at the root of it…aren’t we still just spending money, time and energy on our appearance? If these things make us feel better about ourselves simply because we’re told so much of our value is in our looks…then are we ACTUALLY feeling better? Or is that just a shitty consolation prize with no longevity?

Leandra: A couple things — because on the one hand, I feel strongly that there are crevices of genuine empowerment provoked by the beauty industry. My brother used to tell me that I’m so lucky to be a woman because I could wear heels without judgement, and because he’s short, he wished that he could, too. I think about that remark in the context of beauty, and the way in which some men are super uncomfortable asserting their masculinity under the guise of…CONCEALER OR LIP GLOSS even though they’re compelled to try it. Also, we use products as mechanisms to enhance our faces, right? To make us look and therefore feel and thus ultimately BE better.

But!!! On the other hand, I do also think there is a lot of unlearning that we have to do, that we have started to do in the wake of Harvey Weinstein-gate. (I had a conversation with a friend who’s been working in film for a couple of decades and she mentioned that previously, you kind of just knew who to stay away from at holiday parties, who the sexual predators were and how to avoid them, whereas today, we’re thankfully being conditioned to stop in our tracks instead and say, “NO THAT IS NOT OKAY.”) So how much of our feeling empowered by makeup is a function of the actual makeup vs. what we have accepted as fact about How to Be Beautiful? I don’t wear that much makeup, I’ve written about it ad nauseam, and even now when I catch my reflection (and I’m not wearing anything on my face), I think to myself, Man I could use some concealer. How much of that is learned behavior vs. actually thinking I need concealer?

Kate: So, I think there’s a distinction between skincare and makeup, and with makeup, similar to fashion, it can be a mode of self-expression, or simply presenting yourself the way you want to be seen. The piece in The Outline did make me pause in the sense that, well, are you trying to make people feel silly for not wanting acne?

Haley: Yes! I really like these last points. I understand the very real self-esteem boost that can come from feeling like you look “better” — but I can’t help but imagine a world where those measures weren’t so societally defined. Because ultimately…if you have to put on a bunch of makeup (or have perfect skin via chemicals) to feel good about yourself, do you really feel good about yourself? Or does that actually…on a deeper level…diminish your self-worth? Like you are a problem to be fixed.

And I agree, Kate — having a lot of acne or a debilitating skin situation that, say, distracts people when you’re talking, is the part that doesn’t fit into this narrative. I suppose I think more of the skincare craze in terms of the pursuit of “perfect” skin — because that probably doesn’t even exist, and only entered our purview via photoshop.

Kate: Well, I don’t think that’s true. “Perfect skin” exists.

Haley: Fair.

Harling: But the idea of what “perfection” should look like in regards to skin is a social construct!

Haley: Also fair.

Kate: Do you think if more commercial models had visible acne that would change anything?

Harling: I do. A good example is how the bare-faced look is more “acceptable” now that it’s trendy. Trends and the visibility that comes with them definitely have the power to shape our perceptions.

Haley: I think so, too! I always think of Piggs, and how beautiful she makes acne look.

Leandra: That was the point of our acne shoot, too — to normalize it/make it look beautiful! But I don’t want to digress too much. We are living through such a unique time to be writers on the internet!!! Do you remember how in 2014 you could just pen an opinion piece and have it start at the intro and end at the conclusion? Lol if that were to happen today.

Haley: I can’t even imagine.

Harling: I WISH.

Leandra: I don’t wish! I am so inspired by how opinionated we’ve all become, but sometimes I also think: Are we actually opinionated? Or do we just feel like we need to comment? And how aware are we that we feel like we need to comment, as opposed to our actually being triggered?

Harling: True. I shouldn’t say “I wish,” because I do think the current climate makes for better writers. You have to be so much more thorough because the internet holds you so accountable, which is a good thing by and large, though it can feel overwhelming at times.

Haley: I’ve been thinking about this Susan Sontag quote a lot: “The writer’s first job is not to have opinions but to tell the truth… and refuse to be an accomplice of lies and misinformation. Literature is the house of nuance and contrariness against the voices of simplification.”

The internet has become SO reactionary, to a fault. We aren’t letting things absorb and metabolize long enough.

Leandra: No, we’re not. And sometimes, we turn small potatoes into gigantic potato farms. Where do we draw the line between “this is morally conflicting” and “we’re talking about fucking socks here”?

Kate: Is the escalation of “small potatoes” a result of first-person narrative, though? We’re not journalists or novelists.

Leandra: Or essayists!

Harling: Haley and I were talking about this just the other day — how personal essays published online really changed the “ethics” of journalism.

Leandra: Do you think Joan Didion had any idea this would happen when she first started injecting a personal narrative into her reporting?

Haley: Ha. Probably not…

Kate: I think she would have expected more thorough fact checking on The Outline’s piece.

Haley: I think the problem with reacting too fast is that everyone’s first instinct is to defend what they already believe. It’s human, but it halts the conversation. Or makes it become a fruitless, endless debate. Whereas if you wait it out, often your second and third reactions are more open and nuanced.

Harling: Especially since algorithms are often serving you what you already believe in the first place.

Kate: It also (maybe unfairly) favors cleverness, like this sentence in The Outline piece: “Rich people used to build castles and museums; today they buy clunky smartwatches and personalized vitamins.” She got me with that, that’s a great sentence.

Leandra: Haley, I think you made a great point. Our first products, always, are never as good as second/third takes.

Haley: Yes…that’s why I like that Man Repeller isn’t afraid to come in late with an opinion.

Leandra: Even though Malcolm Gladwell would argue otherwise (he has this theory about varying degrees and prototypes of genius, how some mull and mull and mull and others, like Picasso, just say YOLO and throw until something sticks).

Haley: But maybe that theory is better applied to the writing process — throwing things and throwing things — rather than actually HITTING PUBLISH immediately.

Harling: It’s interesting that sometimes you really do have to let a convo rest before you can fully weigh in, even though the impulse is to jump in immediately. Cold take > hot take.

Leandra: The problem with writing for the internet is that sometimes if you’re too late, your opinion is obsolete.

Haley: Yeah, such a toxic cycle! I see why it continues.

Leandra: But I guess if and when that’s the case, you know for sure the initial subject matter was not necessarily a moral conflict and probably fell into that “we’re talking about socks” bucket. Here’s a question: What do you feel your responsibility is as a writer and an employee of Man Repeller, when it comes to what you share and how you share it?

Haley: I think about this all the time. Because I really don’t want to get caught up in the rat race of reacting, of checking that box of reacting, and of moving on as if that’s enough. It’s hard to know what’s most helpful right now, which is why I’ve started to lean more into living what I believe (in action) rather than just touting it (in words). On social media, for instance, it’s had to take a stand without making it about yourself, and in the wrong hands, that can come off so performative, you know? I don’t have the answer though — I debate myself on this all the time.

But more broadly, I know media has a greater responsibility. As Amelia wrote yesterday: Words very much matter. Not being silent matters! I guess we just have to be willing to mess up in that pursuit, because NOT speaking up can be worse sometimes. I just hope we continue to prioritize quality and thoughtfulness over speed. I love that about Man Repeller.

Harling: For me, I think it’s not putting something up on the internet unless I would feel comfortable defending it. And that’s not something I do in a vacuum — the editing process that Man Repeller has in place (every piece is read twice by two different editors before going live on the site) is crucial in that effort.

Haley: Agreed, Harls!! But I also think that, if the pace isn’t going to slow down, people also have to be able to publicly learn and change their minds. How else will change happen? To that end, I hope The Outline piece gives people something to chew on and question beyond its viral 24 hours, even if everyone doesn’t fully agree with it. I would love to push the conversation around beauty further, but in a way that feels curious and open, and enables all of us to change our minds (multiple times!) if we want to.

Leandra: I think I have a tendency to want to indoctrinate others/impart my belief system on them because I am such a passionate person and when I stand for something, I want everyone else to stand for it. But that is really limiting and does not celebrate perspective or opinion. Lately, I feel like my responsibility at Man Repeller is to not allow myself to fall into the pigeonhole of my own echo chamber or soapbox, and to instead force myself to see outside the parameters of my own vision. That effort is important in my writing, but moreso as a leader, particularly because we are hiring for like, five roles right now, and action is crucial. Saying “we celebrate diverse perspective” isn’t enough, but I think I have leaned on it for a long time. Which is a long-winded way of saying: Similarly to the way in which Man Repeller has always touted creative self-expression in all permutations, right now my responsibility feels like owning up to moral, political, cultural expression in all its permutations, too.

Feature photo by Edith Young.

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  • Polly Jean H

    Hey! Just wanted to say I love the topic, because it bring us one step closer to accept everyone’s beauty, and it makes me think how certain aspects like scars, not having perfect teeth or awesome hair (the list can go on and on), define or have a very big role in consumerism, social circles and sadly self love. Everything is so well done, thought of, trends, methods and product claims that one gets involved in some serious nonsense, it sounds like a masterpiece from a Black Mirror episode. Thankfully, internet brings plurality, democracy and resources, so we as consumers (of products and beauty standards), have the chance to be informed and for once and for all, be able to decide, what makes us feel good in every sense of the word.
    Love is love and beauty is self love.

    • Well said!

    • Cristina

      Yes!! So many times yes. All of these things that are supposed to be perfect and make us feel less than or unattractive. We couldn’t afford braces growing up but guess what? I never not had friends, boys still wanted to date me and luckily, I’ve got a lot of self confidence 85% of the time 🙂

      • Polly Jean H

        For me personally, self confidence is something that I’m still working on, being 32 I’m grateful for this conversations, and hope that all of us can be a part of more loving communities.
        It’s starts with deciding to stand from a loving and respectful place, instead of hate and self loading, and whenever we have some mean thought really think where is it coming from, most likely it well be from a place of not accepting or liking something within ourselves.
        So what I will say is, if there’s nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

  • K

    I really don’t think the Outline article is misogynist. It never claims that men spend their money in any more sensible ways. We (by which I mean all people) like to think of ourselves as savvy and super reasonable in our purchasing decisions, and get offended when anyone says we are not. But we are unlikely to be able to remain savvy and reasonable in the face of hugely sophisticated industries devoting massive amounts of time and money getting us to buy things.

  • mandy

    Although this would never actually happen, I really wish “perfect skin” weren’t a thing that people sought after. It’s exhausting and expensive, and it comes with an undercurrent attitude that acne, wrinkles, signs of aging, scars, discoloration, sagging, fuzz, and other “imperfections” are ugly and unsightly. It’s an obsession for a lot of people (mostly women), and a lot of people are proud of this obsession or look up to it. And because it’s mostly about facial skin, it’s so personal because your face is probably the most broadcasted part of you in real life. I don’t see the skincare industry slowing down anytime soon though.

  • Mademoiselle Catastrophe

    But “perfect skin” is not *only* a social construct. I mean, skin is primarily there for a biological reason. Blemishes, itchiness, acne and the little bastards are body signals that something is out of balance. Then, agreed, constructs add to it, and change a lot from country to countr and from generation to generation: the level of acceptable tan, the desirability of freckles, etc. But let’s not just assume that everything about skin is an external social construction. We are still pretty much biological creatures, after all.

    • Andrea

      I agree, but I think this also points to the issue that we hold “being healthy” in such high esteem. “Oh at least you’re healthy!” “At least you have your health!”

      Lots of people live with chronic conditions and they are NOT healthy, and that doesn’t make them less-than. Acne is a chronic, medical condition in many people, and we treat it as if it’s something someone can make better with some trips to the doctor and taking “better care of yourself.” Yes, there is accutane and everything, but that’s not always worth the side effects that can make someone feel unwell/unhealthy. I just think the quest to always be “in balance,” to borrow your term, is ableist and classist deep down, particularly in a place like America where healthcare is a privilege, not a right.

      • Mademoiselle Catastrophe

        I’m fortunate then I’m not American and my country has a universal care system. Sorry about that! And I actually agree with you. Balance is not the same for everyone! I have psoriasis since I’m 11, and it reappears when I get sick it I’m coping with stress and it used to make me stress even more because it really made me ashamed of those ugly red patches on my skin, and eventually I made it even worse because using prescription creams with cortisone destroyed my skin. Literally. That’s where getting my skin back into its balance has been very important for me, and mostly it’s been about giving up creams and makeup almost entirelt. Mascara and red lips is the only thing I havent been able to give up!

      • Nicole Sepiedeh

        I respectfully disagree that a quest to be healthy or “in balance” is ableist or classist–i would argue that it is intrinsic and biological. All living beings have an innate urge to survive and reproduce even if they are not frontally aware of it. Seeking methods to improve health are at the core of the fixation on skincare in my opinion. While some products and tools to this end may not be economically feasible for many (my self included), the root of the desire for them is entirely human.

        In respect to the article: Those of us with chronic conditions (acne included) should not be written about in such a demeaning way because we want to feel better. I don’t think that this is as materialistic a drive as the author is claiming. It is clear that in a capitalistic economy, companies knowingly or unknowingly take advantage of this intrinsic desire for health; that is a problem. I do think that this is the core point of the article but its execution was unnecessarily cutting.

        • moon_water

          Agreed. Also, the fact that lifelong good health in the US is often only attainable by the wealthy doesn’t mean that no one should strive to be healthy lest they participate in oppressive systems. Rather, it’s a foundation for an argument to INCREASE access to healthy lifestyle choices. Most people want to be healthy, and while it can definitely rise to the level of obsession, I think we should encourage it and make it as easy as possible as a society.

          However, our society being as it is, I do think we should be careful not to equate poor health with laziness or moral failing, since it is so hard to maintain health without money.

          • Nicole Sepiedeh

            bravo! yes totally agree. increasing access to healthy lifestyle choices is key.

      • I disagree with the idea that people with chronic conditions are not healthy. I have a chronic condition and I keep it in check BY being healthy. I think it can be problematic when we project our health values onto others, but I personally cherish my health because being healthy gave me my quality of life back. I don’t think we should look down on people who aren’t healthy, but I’m glad that there are so many resources available for those who do want to get there.

  • mscary

    The critical thinking and questioning demonstrated, not only the discussion above, but in this comments section is exactly why I love MR.

  • Elisaaa

    I love where this discussion went – about the broader weird environment of intense public reaction that tends towards immediacy and away from reflection. But also: are y’all’s slack conversations really this grammatically correct and perfectly punctuated? Were all the shruggie emoji edited out or is NY on a higher plane of slack communication than everyone else?

    • Modupe Oloruntoba

      I wondered the same thing! But I would type as accurately as possible if I knew it was going to be published.

  • DelphineGarnier82

    I just feel that if I want to spend time on skincare because I want clear skin and because I enjoy having a skincare routine, it’s my own business. There are whole other issues I have with this article, but other people have already written articles saying what I’m thinking so I won’t bother getting into it. Plus I’m lucky enough to live in a time where a brand like The Ordinary exists so I have an option where I don’t have to spend a lot. I wish it had existed when I was a teenager.

  • Andrea

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I went barefaced to work on Tuesday because I woke up at 9:30 (I have to be in the office by 9:30), so I rushed out the door without giving my face a second thought. This was the first time in my 2+ years here that I went to the office completely makeup-less and you know what? The world didn’t end, no one told me I looked sick, no one treated me any differently. I loved the feeling so much I forwent makeup this morning too, just because I liked how freeing it felt to not have any, and the idea of the routine didn’t feel luxurious or enjoyable to me, as it sometimes does.

    I’ve had acne since I was 11 years old, therefore I am pretty oily and have lots of scars and small red bumps. Though thanks to The Ordinary, I don’t have any big active bumps for the first time in a long time, so I don’t feel as scared to be without foundation. I’m going to keep taking care of my skin, because skin cancer is bad news and I like to be moisturized, but I’m happy I’m starting to accept my face as it is at the ripe age of 24. I’m pale with a lot of redness, I have acne, my nose gets oily, my eyebrows and eyelashes are super blonde, and so fucking what? It’s my face and it’s me and it’s fine.

  • moon_water

    I found the tone of that article to be quite condescending, while also revealing the author’s ignorance. She seemed to not be aware that many skincare ingredients are clinically proven to be effective. She has also clearly never struggled with a serious skin condition, and seems to lack empathy for those who have.

    For nearly a year, my acne was so bad that I never wanted to leave the house. I sought medical and cosmetic treatments for it (which have been successful) and found a lot of the information on forums like r/skincareaddiction to be very helpful. My skincare routine has made it so I spend LESS time overall worrying about how I look, and I am now able to go without makeup on most days.

    I think it’s insensitive and inappropriate for people like the author whose unaltered looks fit the societal standard of beauty to tell people who don’t (acne-sufferers, people who feel the need to use skincare products for whatever reason) that they should accept their lot and that their struggles to change the way their faces look make them ridiculous and foolish. If people with facial scars and melasma and acne and other conditions don’t feel the need to change themselves, that’s wonderful. But if they do want to make changes, as I have, far be it from me to stop them.

    I agree with the author’s general criticism of the beauty/skincare industrial complex and the need to be wary of self-improvement culture under capitalism (as well as the ultimate futility of chasing perfection in general), but this sort of ridicule directed at what’s ultimately a harmless hobby seems more like an expression of the author’s personal annoyance at girls who use serums than a really well-founded criticism. I’m sure everyone has read Jia Tolentino’s article on skincare as psychological coping already, but it’s a far better treatment of many of these issues: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-year-that-skin-care-became-a-coping-mechanism

    TL;DR, telling women how they should or shouldn’t privately care for their skin is not helpful or revolutionary, especially coming from a person with naturally “good skin”.

    • Rachel Wong

      Yes! Agree a thousand times over

    • Pia Bergman

      I think that pointing out the lack of experience the writer seems to have with acne and skin-related issues is important. A quick google of the author shows her smiling with smooth, beautiful clear skin. Acne, as with other chronic ailments, can really only be understood fully by its sufferers. Acne is truly painful, physically and emotionally! The options available from a medical/dermatological standpoint are very limited. Denying dignity to the people who take hundreds of hours researching ingredients, diets, products, regimens etc to solve or mitigate their medical problems is truly insulting.

  • dietcokehead

    I love every one of my serums and toners and moisturizers like they are my children, but THE ONE THING that resonated with me about The Outline’s piece was the shade on Biologique Recherce, because I firmly believe P50 is a scam and you all need to stop.

    • Magical Unicorn

      Why do you think P50 is a scam? I’m curious.

      • dietcokehead

        It’s just SO HARSH. It’s one of those products I suspect people are hesitant to rule as not working well because they had to save up so much for it. I just can’t see how something sooooo wildly active can be a good idea. Like ok I’ll just set fire to my face, same diff! But I love the occasional alcohol-based toner so I get it. Shit’s divisive.

  • Emily Stark

    I felt conflicted reading the piece because I am certain of the efficacy of my skincare routine. Well, I took a before and after picture in the same lighting and time of day 6 months apart and I could really see a difference. So I started to feel offended reading it because I really did feel proud of my “improvements” and then I felt silly for feeling proud. But at the end of the day, I am silly for it and I don’t mind that at all. I know improving my skin is a superficial gesture and yet I see nothing wrong with that.

    • Cristina

      I’ve had “perfect” skin my whole life until my hormones were like “Hey, you’re 31 now” and this past year has been a roller coaster of vain emotions. This is the first year I’ve invested in products and serums and an actual skincare routine to keep my face from flaking off onto other people. Then there’s adjustment periods to new products and purges. It’s totally superficial, but like.. it is what it is. In my head, when I have a skin issue I’m like “What noooooo this is all I’ve got left” lol. But then I seem like a super biotch for coveting my skin. Ayiyiyiy! Let’s all just have the best version of our skin, regardless of what that ends up being!

  • Julia

    Thank you for sharing this whole thread! I feel like I just sat in on a daily meeting between the editors/writers of MR. It makes me understand and trust your approach to journalism, especially in a time when media is heavily distrusted and scrutinized. This was all so honest, reflective, considerate and thoughtful. I’ve never really seen this kind of transparency from an online journal before. Kudos to you all!

  • I just can’t help seeing an echo between this skincare debate with any and all conversations about body size. If a whole article came out denouncing weight loss efforts and the weight loss industry – a fair criticism – but was written by a skinny woman who admitted that she and her mother had just *always* been able to eat whatever they wanted without gaining weight so other people are wasting their money trying any other method…well, that would be BS. I’ve recently finally come out the better side of a lifelong battle with unpredictable breakouts and cystic acne, and guess what? products made it better!! And while they were busy clearing up my acne, they made other things about my skin better, too!

  • olivecolored

    I don’t agree with the outline’s column, but I find the reaction from racked to be just as problematic.

    The vast majority of skincare products from The Ordinary et al contain chemical compounds that sound impressive but can cause harmful reactions or have negligible benefits. The appearance of your skin is about 90% genetics. Aside form general maintenance ie taking off makeup, exfoliation, moisturizing if you need it and always wearing sunscreen, there just is no magic cream or serum that is going to make you look like a new person.

    When I was in my teens I had terrible acne. I tried every over the counter product at high and low price points, went to a dermatologist, nothing made a difference. Then when I was in my early twenties it simply went away. Without acne I still saw pores that were too large, uneven skin tone, course hairs, the scale kept sliding and I spent thousands trying to find the product or combination of products that would make me look airbrushed.

    You can’t fight your skin like that. What you have is what you have. I used to follow makeup/skin care conversations regularly and the constant obsession with the next thing, how much better the next thing was going to be, it was obsessive and insane. If there truly were a brilliant skincare regime/product that turned us all into glossier ads every woman would own it and we’d be ushered into a new age of attractiveness. People look mostly the same.

    I don’t think it’s misogynistic to imply women can be victims of rampant and unrealistic consumerism, that’s a human condition endemic to both genders. Companies making money off of insecurity and constantly telling women they will be enough if they just have these things – or better yet multiples of this thing – that’s misogyny.

    • Kattigans

      I agree, but think the Outline article missed the mark in conveying the exact message that your last paragraph communicates. I think this may have been where her head was at but she didn’t do herself any favors by being insulting, being ignorant about history, claiming acids are ineffective, and making other dubious claims. No you can’t change what you change and some skincare woes can’t be fixed with a glycolic peel but it doesnt mean those products are all together ineffective, which is what this author claims. I agree that the fanaticism has gotten out of hand but that exists as an extreme and doesn’t represent the whole of women or the whole of the skincare industry. The same can be said for cult-like enthusiasts in the fashion world or car world. It exists in every corner and people can become all consumed. That’s why critical thinking is important, and why its equally important to be wary of sweeping generalizations.

      • olivecolored

        The same way the diet industry rebranded itself as being about “health” not “weight loss,” the beauty industry is now about “natural beauty.” Of course to show off your “natural beauty” requires an arsenal of serums and moisturizers but it sounds more palatable in our less superficial age.

        I think that’s what they were trying to say – but it came off as passive aggressive.

        • Kattigans

          Yeah, and I agree with that too but there’s also a plethora of beauty trends out there so I’m not sure we can claim that a trend carries that much weight to the full degree that it controls and manipulates people’s purchases or completely cancels out the effectiveness of retinol or acids as products. I can understand that if you don’t have “perfect skin” its frustrating that this is one beauty standard that’s pushed and out there as a consumer trend, but at the same time thats a different sentiment than what the Outline author expressed. That may have been her point but thats not what she said. And what she talked about was all over the place so by the end of the article I wasn’t even sure what her point was. I mean she talked about soap, then P50, then discussed glossier calling something “the solution” and said a bunch of other stuff that didn’t make sense.

          No matter what, any consumer facing industry like fitness, skincare, fashion, whatever will always try to sell you something that may or may not make sense or work or whatever. Its up to you as the consumer to be smart and make smart choices because its easy to get caught up in the riff raff. If you want to go make up free then fucking do it and fuck what society says. How is it that this is the way we’re living our lives? Sephora says “no makeup makeup” is the trend therefore I must obey? I don’t think so. I think the aspiration for “perfect” skin can also be separated from the fact that there also real skin conditions out there that plague people and cause severe distress and discomfort, like acne. Why is it a bad thing to want to find or use a product that helps soothe or combat this? I don’t see the harm. If a consumer goes overboard in using an acid then that just sounds more like ignorance than a commentary on social expectations and a brand’s effectiveness. Now if you’re overdoing it on the P50 bc you’re obsessed with looking like Emily Rajatkowski then you may have slight neurosis and should see a doctor.

          • Kattigans

            But I agree there is a huge pressure on women to look a certain way and do not disagree that thats real and part of many industries that cater to female audiences and consumers. But I don’t think the outline piece really got to the heart of that.

        • Kattigans

          Btw, take a look at Jia Tolentino’s piece in the New Yorker. I think her perspective is what Outline was maybe striving for but totally didn’t achieve.

    • I really agree with this. My dermatologist is in her 30s and has beautiful skin, but she is very careful to recommend only using a mild cleanser and moisturizer like Cetaphil. She always asks if I am happy with my skin, which I think is much safer than pointing out every single flaw. I have asked her about things as simple as using a Clarisonic, and her answer is always no. She doesn’t carry product lines in her office and is very cautious about the medications that she does prescribe. I personally don’t feel comfortable ordering products from places like The Ordinary because there is little to no guidance. You are basically on your own.

      I also consider myself a beauty product lover and review products for another blogger. There are a lot of really bad or ineffective products out there and I believe that the appeal of skincare in general comes from the user experience and excellent marketing strategies. Who doesn’t want to use beautiful serums and potions in delicate glass bottles? There isn’t a single universal product that will work for everyone’s skin, and a lot of us are on the hunt for holy grail products. I also get frustrated when I see brands making claims that are completely false scientifically, or using scare tactics to sell their products. Beware those big bad toxins, but crystals at the bottom of the bottle will help! It’s a lot like essential oil brands that claim their oils can cure flu or the ebola virus.

      I didn’t feel that the author was talking about basic skincare like washing your face daily, but was commenting on the state of the skincare industry overall. Like with all things, I think it’s important to do your research and find products that work well with your skin without being swayed by the newest skincare trend.

      • Kattigans

        I have to disagree with some of your statements, but specifically your last paragraph. I don’t think the author knew what she was claiming and as a reader it was also unclear. She made comments about soap, then comments about P50, and then some comments about how skincare products are a scam bc some woman over used acids and scrubbed her face with a loofah. She also made historical claims that were false and acted as if skincare regimes are some new wonder of the 20th century. If her goal was to comment on the skincare industry as a whole well then she did a really bad job at getting her point across.

        • I agree that the article was really brief and didn’t provide enough research to back up her claims. I do sort of agree with her, even though I love reading and talking about skincare, as well as trying different brands. I think a lot of products are just hype and good marketing strategies, but at the same time, if people find comfort and results in them, then that’s great, too.

          I have a rare form of scleroderma that affects my face, so for years, I’ve dealt with looking different than other women. I love using makeup and skincare and try to take care of my skin, but I’m really skeptical about a lot of products and don’t assume they will work for me necessarily. Also, just this week, I’ve had a huge cystic pimple on my chin that I’ve been concealing, and I’m almost 40. I personally don’t believe in perfect skin and know that I will never have it. But skincare is definitely one of my favorite hobbies. I think consumers need to be educated about the products they use, and a healthy dose of skepticism is a good thing in my book.

          • Kattigans

            Totally agree that consumers need to be educated and in my experience there are now tons of articles, videos, blogs etc out there about how to properly use acids, what your moisture barrier is and why it matters, how to not totally destroy your skin over exfoliating and whatever else you wanna know about proper skincare and the use of different products. But her article didn’t read as a call for more knowledge (which there is plenty of on the internet and now in magazines) but was just a slamming and shaming piece rooted in lots of ignorance and scare tactics like using the phrase “chemical violence” –> one woman’s over use of AHA and then scrubbing herself raw with a loofah is not normal and if it was then of course I’d say lets take a step back and reassess.

            I also think if you buy into the bullshit of any product being a straight up miracle worker then that’s a bit insane but there have been products out there like Paula’s Choice 2% BHA solution that have totally helped my now persistent hormonal and cystic acne stay calm and be less severe than it could be if I just let my skin up to its own devices. Sometimes cleansing, toning and moisturizer + SPF is all one needs and my skin’s been in that state where that was all I needed but since I’m not 19 anymore I need a little more help and I’m so happy that the market has exploded with options to fit different needs and price ranges. If anything I think this is helping democratizing beauty and skincare in a way that we haven’t seen before. Drugstore makeup is better than ever, The Ordinary exists, Korean Beauty is available online and in the West, and there’s now a general care and interest in investing in yourself and it being fun if you enjoy it. Why shit all over that and claim we’re all pawns in some scheme we’re unaware of like The Outline article seemingly claims?

            Sounds like someone who tried to make an astute cultural comment and failed miserably.

          • You make some really great points about beauty products being democratized. In my real life experience, most of the women I know are not particularly interested in skincare and makeup to the extent that I am. I have one friend who is into it, and we share products and swap stories and opinions all the time. I have a lot of fun following beauty vloggers and bloggers online and get a lot of great info. from Makeup Alley and reddit.

            I do think that skincare brands, especially under the category of natural or green products, have exploded in recent years as part of the new wellness movement, and a lot of the products are just basically useless (things like olive oil in a glass bottle and dirt in a jar to mix with water as a cleanser). I also see a lot of completely false claims that are not backed by anything other than pseudo-science and fearmongering. That kind of stuff concerns me.

            If anything, maybe this article will encourage more skincare consumers to take a proactive approach to the things they buy, and not be fooled by things like pretty packaging and gorgeous Instagram posts.

          • Kattigans

            Totally agree with you on the bunk “green” products like selling $30 coconut oil in a jar when the same thing is sold at TJ’s for $5 and can be used the same. That stuff I think is silly for sure and the debunking of green beauty is interesting to me too as someone who studied environmental science in college. Your arguments and concerns are solid and better articulated than The Outline piece!

          • Kattigans, you might like @labmuffinbeautyscience on Instagram, and she has a YouTube channel, too. I started following her recently and she has a PhD in chemistry and does science-based reviews of beauty products. I think she has a video about different acid products from The Ordinary.

          • Kattigans

            Good to know! I’ll check her out. I’ve dabbled in a few The Ordinary products and haven’t seen overwhelming results but nothing thats hurt me either. I saw some ppl mentioning their products in the comments section on this article and saying that they aren’t good…any truth to that?

          • I haven’t personally tried The Ordinary products since I use a prescription Retinol and Azelaic Acid for rosacea. I have heard mixed reviews, but a lot of people seem to love them. Lab Muffin Beauty Science did a video on acids and she uses several from The Ordinary.

          • Permanent Bishface

            I use a few of The Ordinary products and found that they work really well for me in conjunction with other products in a well rounded regimen. Everyone’s skin is different, so what will work for me might not work for you and vice versa. I recommend reading up on what works for people with your same skin type and going from there. They also ding work overnight, which a lot of people seem to expect. Some products you don’t even notice they’re working until you stop using them.

          • Kattigans

            Hey, I have The Ordinary products and like them fine. I don’t expect any product to work overnight. I’m pretty familiar w/ skincare and what works well for me and what doesn’t (trial and error). Appreciate the comment.

          • Permanent Bishface

            Ahhh got you. I misread your comment. Didn’t mean to come off as all know it all, lol. I think some people do expect miracles right off the bat, or for $120 product results from a $10 product. I’ve seen a lot of “I used this for a week and it didn’t do anything!” skincare comments over the years that I’ve been extra into it, which are infuriating.

  • dayman

    Oh man I have so many thoughts on this story.

    On a more superficial layer, I just don’t think it’s true that skincare is bad/doesn’t make a difference. I don’t know how the author can claim that there’s little science in it. I get the backlash against the whole many-step, many-product thing that has been trendy, it can be expensive and it’s for sure possible to overdo skincare and irritate your skin. But I think it’s been pretty well documented that gentle cleansing and exfoliating, moisturizing and wearing sunscreen will improve most people’s skin compared to doing nothing. I think it’s important to remember that skincare is an industry and companies will always try to sell us things that we don’t need, and I’m glad this brings that point up, but that doesn’t render ALL skincare useless and ineffective. It seems pretty clear that the author of the story really didn’t do much skincare research herself before writing when she makes skincare acids out to be bad/harmful/scary–yeah, it’s possible to overdo it, but there’s plenty of research and anecdotal accounts that show that they can be used safely and can make a visible difference in the skin, and I doubt most could do any damage beyond irritating the skin. It seems unfair to denounce it all when there wasn’t even an effort made to understand it.

    On a deeper level though it’s definitely interesting and worthwhile to consider why we even care so much about what our skin looks like in the first place, when I think most people would agree (at least in theory) that personality is more important than looks. But does that make it wrong to want to look more conventionally attractive? Are we perpetuating society’s focus on appearance by buying and using skincare products? This seems like a kind of impossible choice, especially when women always seemed to be judged on our looks to the point that our quality of life can definitely be affected. Should we give up skincare as a statement and hope that somehow that makes a difference (even when it’s impossible to even imagine a world where the majority give up caring about looks)? Another aspect is that for so many of us, myself included, it’s impossible to draw the line of where we maybe actually just enjoy the process of skincare, learning about it, doing the routine, etc. and where we’re just being influenced by marketing and by societal values.

    • I think a lot of people nowadays approach skincare in the way we approach fitness. There’s certainly a chunk of people buying products to “fix” their “problem,” but I think a lot of us enjoy the time we get to spend pampering ourselves and making wellness a priority. Like how there is a group of people who hit the gym in order to slim down or get to their goal, but some people go to a yoga class to relax and center themselves. There’s a lot of intangible benefits that are sometimes accompanied with results, and sometimes not.

      • dayman

        That’s a good point! It seemed like Varagur really brushed off people enjoying the actual routine part, like that was stupid if the routine didn’t work, but why not put some stuff on your face instead of watch tv or whatever, if that’s what makes you happy and relaxed? Everything doesn’t have to be productive all the time! It does annoy me though that companies have gone and run with the whole self-care aspect of skincare and try to use it to make us think we need more things all the time to accomplish self-care!

        One of the things I did like about the story was the idea that skincare doesn’t need to or shouldn’t be an area of constant improvement–I think it’s way too easy to think oh, my skin’s not perfect so I need to try more products.

  • I think we’re in desperate need of beauty criticism, which is why the piece on The Outline was such a disappointment to me. I’m glad the author rocked the boat and started a conversation, but I found the article so poorly researched and confused with all those odd tangents and alarmist claims.

    I’ve been writing about beauty myself for a few years now, and I go to great lengths to write critically about the topic. It really bums me out when skincare consumers and writers are more or less labeled vapid and shallow by writers outside the industry, because it’s not true!

    As I mentioned in my own response to this piece there are a number of writers writing critical pieces that actually succeed at making their points without being belittling or getting their facts mixed up, like Jia Tolentino and Autumn Whitefield-Madrano. I really enjoyed Racked’s response as well since they debunked so many of the factual errors in the original piece.

    I’m glad you guys took the time to discuss it on your platform as well, I always enjoy your pieces for their nuance in particular.

  • Eliza

    That article makes me irrationally angry for several reasons… It’s just parrots this idea that it’s SO UNCOOL to CARE. “Like, oh, you don’t EMBRACE your terrible skin? How ~*~uncool~*~. Such capitalism. Such Marketing. Wake up Sheeple!” To say that most skincare is a waste of money just shows that she has never dealt with serious acne. Like, my face hurts when I smile my acne. I can get down with the idea that companies make money off of insecurity, of course, but skincare has helped millions of people (not just girls) with a physical problem that causes physical and emotional pain. There is measurable proof of this. To discount all of that in the name of some righteous rant against consumerism and RICH PEOPLE (???) is ridiculous.

    • Kattigans

      Your parody of her message reminds me of the hipster trend wherein “hipsters” put down anything mainstream for that fact alone. The author of this piece just sounds ignorant and douche-y. She builds up facts and stories, like the woman who over used acids, as if thats the norm like all of us who have bought into the effectiveness of Differin gel are actually walking around with our faces red as beets without knowing it. She sounds smug and like she got high one night, had some “deep” convo with her friends and realized she cracked the code on skincare being bunk and just had to reveal it to all us plebes out there. Like aren’t all consumer products, at the heart of them, intended to sell and make money? Same thing for fashion. Why the fuck are any of us even putting thought into clothing and style because isn’t that part of the capitalist complex as well? Hell, lets all get naked because come one guys, like Givenchy doesn’t give you wings and is a farce! So effing stupid. Glad she can save tons of money not buying Paula’s Choice. She’s really rocking the world with her superiority.

      Ugh, can someone take out the trash? Outline is starting to stink.

    • Valerie

      I agree and also? This needs a TL;DR. My skin, my money, my rules. The real love among women would occur if and when we respected both those who let it go AND those of us who still invest in treatments.

  • Troublepuss

    I’m 48. I came of age at a time where we used tetracycline, Apricot Facial Scrub and Sea Breeze to fight acne, then would put baby oil on our faces to lay out, then slather on Noxema to cool the burn! Thank God my dermatologist urged me to break that cycle and embrace daily sunscreen and Clinique! I’m a skincare junkie and am addicted to monthly facials, as well as trying new at-home treatments. Facials relax me more than massage and I truly enjoy my little morning and evening rituals. Yes, it’s nice to have gone to my 30th high school reunion as the only woman without Botox or fillers. But it’s even nicer to not have had skin cancer!

  • Kattigans

    This is a really interesting discussion. I haven’t read the piece that was originally published so I’ll have to check it out but I will say that I’ve never struggled with hardcore acne but I do struggle with cystic breakouts that as of late have been more consistent and linger longer. I don’t think using skincare products to combat this is a bad thing but do think (and know from my own personal experience) that the tendency to over obsess about these pimples is very real and can take a major hit on self-esteem. Part of what’s contributed to that is seeing all these images out there of models with “perfect skin”. I think, at least for me, when I’m feeling self-conscience and focusing on a major personal flaw, like a bad breakout, then all I can really think about sometimes is that and then it doesn’t help when I go onto The Reformation (for example) and see all the models with “perfect”, dewy skin. Because lets be real, that is the look thats peddled as aspirational and what’s considered beautiful even if its not realistic for all or most people. I also think skincare insecurities aren’t just limited to women, but it so happens to be more socially acceptable for me, as opposed to a man, to wear makeup to conceal my blemish if I want to. Or hide my dark circles or draw emphasis somewhere else like wearing lipstick to bring focus to my lips and not the huge, painful pimple on my cheek.

    The plight of good, perfect skin is also often advertised and seen as a sign of “health” even if having acne, as we now know, has nothing to do with being healthy (a lot of the times its hormones, genetics, maybe diet, or even environment). Other skin issues I can’t attest to as much other than the allergic reaction I have on my chest where I break out in red blotchiness from the sun, drinking wine, or getting nervous. That is equally annoying and has garnered comments but Ive learned to deal with it.

    Acne is a horrible thing to experience and truthfully even if we saw everyone in advertisements walking around with it I don’t think people’s plight to achieve acne-less skin would diminish.

    • Kattigans

      I want to just add that my insecurity about my skin while look at The Reformation models, or beautiful IG people, lasts for all about 30 seconds while I’m scrolling through the content. I don’t instantly turn into a basket case and then feel forced to order 3 more bottles of Paula’s Choice.

      Everyone’s skin – just like their hair is different- and we all have our own woes and hang ups. Some of its socially driven of course because up until very, very recently there was a standard of beauty but I also don’t feel like I have to see a model with acne to feel good about myself as well.

  • Lindsay Heyman

    There’s a lot I don’t like about the Outline article, but I think what irks me the most is the implied air of “I’m better and realer than other women because I don’t care about my skin,” which feels like a half step away from “I’m not like other girls”, arguably my least favorite sentence of all time. Not using serums doesn’t make you a better, cooler, realer woman. Sorry, hate to be the one to break that news. All women are real regardless of if they use a few serums or not. Suggesting the contrary is just petty and immature, and isn’t even truthful if it’s truthful journalism you’re after. It really feels like the author wrote this article to feel better about the fact that she doesn’t use a lot of skincare products. I don’t use a lot of stuff so other people shouldn’t either, and if you do you are a vApiD wOMaN. It’s almost like women are nuanced and intelligent and capable of more than Buying Frivolous Things! and Looking Perfect For Their Husbands!

    Simply talk to any human woman about her skincare routine (or lack thereof) and you’ll find that reasons for skincare (or lack thereof) run the gamut and probably are not 100% derived solely from the societal pressure to look good for others for external validation. I wholeheartedly agree that’s a big issue that we need to continue to talk about, but belittling people who are trying their fucking best in an area that affects the author approximately 0.00% feels really dumb and not productive.

    Opinion pieces masquerading as anything other than that, opinions, is lazy at best and bordering dangerous at worst. That being said, I really appreciate the way you all at MR speak to each other when discussing divisive topics like this with respect and curiosity. We need more of that.

    • Kattigans

      Really well said and I haven’t even read the article yet. I’m so over the competitive narrative of women comparing themselves and what they do or don’t do to other women as a way to pass themselves off as better. Its a really stupid ass way of relating to people and I agree that women are intelligent. I have agency over the choices I’ve made with my skincare and its not fully grounded in caring solely what others or society thinks of me. My boyfriend could give 3 shits if I have a pimple but I don’t think I’m vapid because I do care.

      • Lindsay Heyman

        Thanks! Yeah putting down other women to make yourself appear cooler is something I reallllly don’t tolerate. I use a lot of skincare and it is my choice and I enjoy so what’s the problem? You’re going to tell me I’m lame or less than because I choose to do so? Miss me with that shit.

        • Kattigans

          Update: I read the article and omfg. The author sounds like an idiot. I don’t know who her editor is but referencing a Harvard Study with no link? Claiming things about history that are misleading and false? Making grandiose statements about human history and biological evolution that makes no sense? Wow, so this is journalism these days? Makes total sense in the Trump era.

          Her use of a few women who misused acids as if all of using a retinol cream are walking around looking like peeled tomatoes and like we got played by Differin gel? Girl byeee. The internet can be a powerful tool so clearly these women went overboard and just failed to google “how to properly use acids in skincare routine”. Plenty of info out there.

          It sounds like the author is on some rant against women and the skincare industry even though she doesn’t seem to know that much about either. She sounds very judgmental for no reason.

          P.S wrote all my comments while wearing D.E’s TLC mask **shrugs shoulders**

          • Lindsay Heyman

            The only real positive I took away from the whole article was her invention of the term “chemical violence,” which I can tooootally get behind. I’ve been SO desperately looking for a way to give my lovely rose-scented routine the badass edge I crave, and I think I finally found it!!!

          • Kattigans

            Haha chemical violence was a nugget even if pejorative in context

          • Avie

            I agree with you, I read it few days ago, and it said like using skincare is useless and just waste money. I’ve been suffering acne since I was fifteen until now (I’m 22) and I use my korean skin care routine few months and it did improve my skin. So, that article is just irrelevant.

          • Kattigans

            Exactly! If the article was trying to create some cultural dialogue about the beauty industry and the unattainable ideals it places on women well then I think it failed miserably. Instead she shamed consumers, made false statements and just sounded like a general douche.

            I also think if you buy into the bullshit of any product being a straight up miracle worker then that’s a bit insane but there have been products out there like Paula’s Choice 2% BHA solution that have totally helped my now persistent hormonal and cystic acne stay calm and be less severe than it could be if I just let my skin up to its own devices. I wouldn’t have even known about PC if it wasn’t from reading ITG two years ago. Sometimes cleansing, toning and moisturizer + SPF is all one needs and my skin’s been in that state where that was all I needed but since I’m not 19 anymore I need a little more help and I’m so happy that the market has exploded with options to fit different needs and price ranges. If anything I think this is helping democratizing beauty and skincare in a way that we haven’t seen before. Drugstore makeup is better than ever, The Ordinary exists, Korean Beauty is available online and in the West, and there’s now a general care and interest in investing in yourself and it being fun if you enjoy it. Why shit all over that and claim we’re all pawns in some scheme we’re unaware of like The Outline article seemingly claims?

          • Maddy Paul

            I googled her, and she has pretty fantastic skin…. It’s easy to be on your high horse when I can’t find a blemish on her face.

    • Nicole Sepiedeh

      love this! amen

  • Hannah Laub

    First of all, the reference in The Outline piece to Michel Foucault’s “Discipline and Punish” seriously made my butt itch. Anyone else?

    Secondly, the paragraph about SOAP.

    “By the way, all soap was once considered unfit for human use, because washing and bathing were categorically unhygienic before the advent of piped water in the 19th century. Even after that, soap use only became widespread because companies like Procter & Gamble spent so much advertising their product in new media that a whole genre of television came to be called “soap operas.” Perhaps our generation will yet have the serum web series.”

    That paragraph is dangerously misleading. Despite the origin of soap, it is one of the most cost-effective ways of significantly decreasing the passage of diseases including cholera. I point you all to this TEDtalk: https://www.ted.com/talks/myriam_sidibe_the_simple_power_of_hand_washing

    This may seem like an irrelevant point, but I think it is a clear indication of the carelessness and lack of research put into this piece. The significant lack of sources, as well as the clearly cherry-picked source quotes which directly supported the author’s points, were bad enough. But to play off one of the most important public health inventions of the last 2 centuries as a consumerist TREND? Come on, girl. Your head is a little too far up your butt.

    • JennyWren

      This really reminds me of Rousseau’s noble savage paradigm. This sort of harkening back to a mostly fictional time when we didn’t have all these *complications* like cellphones and vaccinations and soap. Yeah, we didn’t always have soap and we didn’t always have an average life expectancy in the low eighties. The modern world is certainly not perfect and not everything is getting better, but for a whole lot of people it’s preferable to the 1600s.

    • I’m dying at all of this. Plus, in a piece that kind of assumes that it’s left no stone unturned, why is there no mention of sunscreen?! I don’t think people have ever been as conscious of the necessity of wearing it every day as they are today, thanks to the renewed focus on skincare as a long-term investment in your health (not just a short-term investment in your appearance, but there’s also nothing wrong with that because we’re all just trying to survive under the racist capitalist heteropatriarchy. Suck on this glow, bigots!) Skin cancer is so common and can be so deadly—you can’t claim that it isn’t a necessity for EVERYONE. US sunscreens have sucked for ever thanks to FDA regulations, and only now that there’s more interest in superior K-beauty formulas are we getting anything comparable that you’d actually want to put on your face every day. I’m here, I’m queer, and I’m gonna live forever with great skin!

      • ellen

        This is what I was going to say! If nothing else (and IMO there’s much more) we can thank this skincare movement for a renewed enthusiasm in the daily application of sunscreen, and no one can deny that is a bad thing! It is now “cool” to be conscious of exposing your skin to UV rays, and people (hopefully, maybe) no longer engage in the risky behaviour Troublepuss mentioned re: applying oil and sitting in the sun for hours on end. Yay for skincare! Yay for sunscreen!

    • Valerie

      True! Sounds like a lazy hippie’s rant.

  • Kattigans

    I already commented but after reading the piece and reading through the MR discussion, I think there are some major lessons to be learned from this author. 1) there’s a good way to provide social commentary but it usually won’t bode well if you attack an entire reader base or at least the base you’re trying to “enlighten” (in this piece its women), 2) why does this woman care what other women or other people are doing? Especially when there’s anecdotal evidence that disproves her claims. 3) we live in a consumerist, capitalist society. This permeates all and any industries wherein which goods or services are for sale. Of course, companies will pray on insecurities in the hopes that they can sell more even if it means their product is bunk or not. That’s why its important to use critical thinking and not succumb to any old trend out there just bc, for example, an IG model is selling it.

    I think its extremely irresponsible to equate women’s interest in skincare and skincare effectiveness with the idea that us buying skincare means we are without agency in making the choice to do so and are instead at the mercy of big bad corporations. That’s simple not true and is almost the most un-feminist wanna be feminist thing I’ve heard as of late. How does shaming women and minimizing skincare conditions and their psychological effect on both men and women effectively help us boycott skincare products or the industrial complex that some skincare companies may be guilty of? I would have appreciated the authors evaluation of the skincare/beauty industry and the unrealistic standards it places on women (and men!) and what can be done to change this other than telling us we’re dumb for using retinol.

    Isn’t that almost like attacking women or men who are interested in fashion just because the fashion industry contributes to unrealistic body image, unrealistic trends of spending lots and lots of money, can also be elitist, and all other criticisms that have been made? I’d like to think, that despite us living in in the Trump era, that journalists can start to give women the benefit of the doubt that we are in fact capable of making informed decisions about our interests and how we spend our money. I stayed away from Sephora for a year and a half because I had to cut back spending but that in no one diminished my interest in products, beauty and using a serum on my face at night.

    **there are def other things wrong with the Outline piece but those were a few that stood out to me

  • one thing that often disappoints me in conversations about makeup/skincare/~beauty that focus on the relationship between individual women’s agency and misogyny is that they accidentally neglect other societal forces that impact women’s relationships with beauty, like physical safety and financial security. Idk maybe these thing show up more often in conversations where marginalized speak because we feel them more acutely or have become hyper vigilant and are constantly seeing ways in which they effect us.
    like there’s that study that found that being attractive or well groomed meant that women earn more; it has been repeated several times and its results have consistently shown evidence of a positive relationship, controlling for race.

    but what does that mean in conjunction with the study that showed that (backing up tons of women’s anecdotal experiences) a majority of people have a prejudice against woc because of their hair. what the hell does black attractiveness look like? bc that’s what i’m going for even though i probably couldn’t describe it as anything that any skincare routine could do for me. i want to be followed around stores less often, i want to be taken more seriously, i want more respect for my physical space.

    what does the connection between attractiveness and income mean when many trans women have been open about passing as being a crucial aspect to their safety as well as their self expression?

    i first started wearing makeup because i was selling clothes to white women in Nordstrom. the process of applying and wearing it every day was pretty similar to any other small thing i’ve been socialized to do: in turns it was exhausting and experimental and exciting. but it got me thinking about my relationship to beauty. and while i’m definitely not done thinking about it, i am sure that on the days when im not planning to recreate a look from v93oo or testing a possible foundation match or mixing my prescription medications with my toner, i’m going through the process because it feels like a real risk to go without it.

    i appreciate that manrepeller has openly stated a goal to celebrating diversity, i’ve found it a odd that the conversation on skincare and agency has stayed so narrow on lots of websites, not just this one. (and i too love racked and Wischhover’s response piece.) idk some of my earliest lessons about personal grooming were becoming responsible for not going to school ashy and ensuring that i was friends with a girl whose mother made her pack lotion in her backpack. and none of those memories feel like a scam to me, the performative aspect was never a secret, it was just another part of being a black girl.

    • Kattigans

      i’m going through the process because it feels like a real risk to go without it –> see this would be interesting to explore and think many women can relate even if you are a skincare or makeup enthusiast. I have hormonal acne and its taken a lot for me to let go about stressing out about it and just let it be what it is. Although I do use products to help combat it. I think the mentality and relationship to makeup or using products is interesting and something that was not explored in the Outline piece.

  • JennyWren

    SUCH a great article! Thank you for putting this together, it’s a great example of why I keep coming back to MR.
    In terms of the state of the beauty industry as is, I will admit to a certain scepticism as to whether anyone truly *needs* an eleven step skin routine. Like if you enjoy it, whatever who cares, #whoareyahurtin’anyway, but I am not convinced every one of those steps is doing that much. But I think it is a really good thing that people are becoming more knowledgable about their products. Think of how expensive retinol used to be, and how we’re now getting more affordable versions. I don’t think that would have happened so quickly without the current trendiness for all thing beauty-related. While there is a lot of (non-injectable) filler out there, there ARE effective ingredients and products and to dismiss them as puff is, in my opinion, disingenuous.
    I also think that, given the predominance of minimalist trends and lifestyle approaches atm, the desire to reject a more involved cosmetic routine way itself be a trend-led decision?
    I think it’s interesting that we are hearing now about how we are supposed to not be using any products at all. It reminds me of the no-poo movement in that it seems to be advocating a blanket solution to a more nuanced and individualised situation. Some people don’t need to shampoo their hair, and some people do best shampooing twice a week, and for some of us it’s everyday. And those are all fine! Maybe you are sorted with the clinique three-step routine, maybe you just need sunscreen, maybe you need a few more products. Those are all equally valid options!

  • Lauren

    Sheesh, I can appreciate a contrarian take as much as the next gal but this isn’t the first Outline piece I’ve read lately that’s been incredibly condescending and rife with privilege. I can only hope that the insightful conversation above surrounding privilege, comfort, and introspection was held at the Outline as well.

  • Maddy R

    WOWZA. Forget about “The Skincare Con”, this was the best thing I’ve read on MR in a long time. These are exactly the kinds of conversations the internet needs to be having!!!

    Truly thoughtful conversation– that values 3rd opinions over 1st opinions– is SO COMPELLING. It feels like food for my soul. And it makes me sad that so few of the published responses took the care that you ladies did to really explore. Admittedly, much of your exploring depending on those already-published responses, but that you even see the value in “com[ing] in late with an opinion” is SUCH BREATH OF FRESH AIR. Seriously.

    And about the article..I feel conflicted. I have the kind of acne that is distracting to other people. Recently I have begun to avoid people I know bc I don’t want them to see my face, and I KNOW that the right skincare and some stress management (that’s the kicker) could pretty much fix it. So as a human being in pursuit of skin that simply looks unremarkable and “normal”, my first read of the article kind of left me with my hackles up.

    BUT, the overwhelming reaction that “YES. THERE. IS SCIENCE. !!!.” makes me uncomfortable. Forgive me for saying this but, does it almost feel like we are talking about two different kinds of science here? Or perhaps confusing science with personal choice? I’m sure the author of the article is not denying that exfoliants exfoliate, or that retinoids firm your skin. And [as a person who is about to start using a retinoid] I think it is fair to take a critical look at what we even mean by “healthy skin”. Yes, maybe my acne scars are about to go away and my skin will look smoother, but I also will be willfully compromising my skin’s natural ability to deal with sunlight and produce vitamin D.

    • Kattigans

      I’m not sure where you got your fact about retinol interfering with your skin or body to produce DNA but as someone who uses retinol I’m pretty sure thats not true. Use an SPF when you use retinol, same thing for using vitamin C, and you’ll be fine. You don’t need to avoid sunlight all together. Retinol is a derivative of Vitamin A and vitamin A has been shown to help with skincare woes like acne. Consuming (as in ingesting) too much vitamin A can be dangerous, but thats not the same as using a topical retinol.

      • Maddy R

        Fair. I did not mean that Retinol specifically impairs your body’s vit D synthesis. Just that by making your skin that much more vulnerable to sun damage, and hopefully wearing sun screen ALL the time and staying out of the sun, you are cutting your body off from it biggest natural source of vitamin D (also misleading. I do realize that sun rays don’t actually have vit D IN them). Vitamin D deficiency has its own host of very real problems. This is obviously not a side effect specific to retinol, but I was trying to highlight the fact that we often make choices in the name of (scientific) skin care efficacy, that in the context of whole-body health, are a little more complicated. And I’m NOT saying that people should stop wearing spf. I wear spf every day, but I also know that I’m vitamin D deficient, and that this effects my mental and physical state in a number of completely tangible (and clinically studied) ways.

        • Kattigans

          I don’t see the link in your argument about choices specifically the choice to use retinol. I also think you’re mistaken in your understanding of how SPF works. Wearing SPF doesn’t prevent your body from absorbing vitamin d from sun exposure. SPF blocks UVB light which does cause you to lower some vit d absorption but not to the point that any healthy adult should be concerned with. You being vitamin D deficiency can also be combated by taking a supplement. It sounds like your deficiency is caused by other factors and doesn’t have to do with using SPF or retinol. And that using those types of products wouldn’t impact your deficiency anyways or cause a healthy person to all of a sudden become deficient.

          I would urge you to research your statements before you post them or even share them privately because they are misleading and false information like this is what perpetuates misinformation in the beauty world and health/wellness world.

  • Celine Six-Roth

    The title was meant to grab readers’ attention. Whatever makes you feel beautiful should be good enough, even if it means doing nothing special. Varagur seems to be repudiating what she can’t have. “I don’t want to be compared to airbrushed super hot girls on Instagram so let me criticize their skincare/makeup habits.” It’s straight out of the 48 Laws of Power playbook.

    A few of her points were valid, however. One point that made sense was that overlapping products can cause serious damage. But there are beauty bloggers and others who give excellent advice where that is concerned. Also, ingredients matter. Quite a lot of skincare products contain alcohol but that doesn’t mean they are bad. Even organic, cruelty-free skincare products without alcohol have damaged my skin. High end brands like Dior, Guerlain and Shiseido all damaged my skin. I spent tons of money on foundation to cover it up. 99.99% of foundations on the market break me out. My skin is now blemish free because I bought and tested everything until I found a combination that works best for me.
    Our society is misogynistic – how else would you explain the women at the checkout counter, male and female colleagues, the hostess at a restaurant or a pharmacist pointing to (usually small) blemishes on my face and recoiling in disgust? I focus on skincare, even though I love myself with spots, because I want people leave me alone.

  • Aydan

    I also appreciated Greta & saoirse to let acne exist in ladybird! And thank you Manrepeller a million times over for that acne article. As a NEARLY 28 year old who typically only has one or two dots, I ended up with an explosion on my face this week (thanks hormones) and its been my every waking thought. I don’t cover up because I know its my skin saying I need to breathe, I need to expel this dirty stuff, etc. but it doesn’t keep me from being self conscious. All consumption is a choice and there’s something so glorious about not only the beauty industry itself but the kind of friendship it develops for all of us! I will continue to love reading about the next latest product and consuming in a way that makes sense for me!

  • parkzark

    Very thoughtful discussion! I wanted to leave this blog here for all of you: https://simpleskincarescience.com/

    The writer of the blog is brilliant, hilarious, and insanely informative. I highly suggest you give it read. His writing is a reminder that skincare doesn’t need to be some frivolous pursuit!

  • Court E. Thompson

    This is why I love this site and team. Brilliant!

  • BK

    such a disappointing article. Reading the title I thought it would be something uplifting and mostly follow the course of debunking the idea/definition of perfection and discussing the subjective implications of any type of perfection, follow up with a few opinions by dermatologists or something about modern skincare, what ingredients are useful and what are bollocks and a couple of cautionary tales about overdoing it. Instead all there was was this really distinct tone of shame that soaked the entire article. Like, shame on us for being duped into using skincare we purportedly probably don’t even need, shame on people for being so obsessed with skincare they need to start a subreddit about it. I’m not hugely into this field because I’ve got quite fine skin and have never had the need to be – and I’m aware that’s a very privileged position to be in and I’m grateful for it. So, I can only imagine what conditions like cystic acne, eczema etc would be like to live with, and I’m guessing would a tough road to travel at times, and that article wouldn’t have been a nice thing or useful to read. People shouldn’t be shamed for taking care of themselves or seeking help to do so.

  • clarethetable

    “But at the root of it…aren’t we still just spending money, time and energy on our appearance? If these things make us feel better about ourselves simply because we’re told so much of our value is in our looks…then are we ACTUALLY feeling better?”

    adding my name to the long list of people who think Haley might have snuck in and read our journals and/our therapists’ notes

  • Gene Day

    It would be nice if we could all just get along and support decisions others make for themselves as just that, for themselves! Also Caroline Hirons addressed the mentioned outline artic in one of her ranty posts (which are constructive and informative, not catty, ever) and did a good rebuttal of ll the irksome points.

  • Permanent Bishface

    I’m super into skincare. I’ve managed to go from a PIH ridden, oily skinned, hormonal acne prone woman with large pores to one with smooth, young looking, clear skin at 46, and that’s all from using skincare. All that to say that I rolled my eyes at that article hard, and joined in on the roasting. She obviously didn’t do any research and only included information that supported her holier than thou beliefs on skincare.

    I don’t care if others are using skincare to look good for society or not, tbh. I am using these products because the issues I had were stressful and ugly to me, and I made them worse with my anxiety and ADHD driven dermatillomania. Having clear, youthful skin makes me happy and less anxiety ridden, and that’s all that matters.

  • Megan Dodge

    All of this just made me want more Glossier

  • Modupe Oloruntoba

    I have read this and a few other dissections of the piece by The Outline, but I could not finish the article in question (each dissection quotes her in paragraphs, so maybe I’ve read half?). I am sure both would send me into a wild, unreasonable rage of personal offence, and I made a decision not to pressure myself to ‘read that thing the whole internet is reading’ when I know it will make me red band mad – call it self-care.

    That said, the author (I don’t remember her name or bio photo and will not look it up!) can keep her ill-informed, misleading, cherry picking, condescending “insight” – Curious hobbyist or super fanatic, we are all perfectly capable of interacting with the world of beauty and skincare with an intelligent, discerning eye, thank you very much.

    PS, I ordered Glossier Solution from half way around the world (even using a 3rd party shipping service since they don’t ship here) because I turned 25 and I think I deserve better skin – not perfect skin! – than what my genes, hormones, and bad habits 🤷🏾 have handed me. Always being the youngest on the team or in the room is enough without the oily, scarred skin of an awkward teenager. I am treating myself to a clinically proven take-me-seriously confidence boost, and that doesn’t make me naive.