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Beauty How capitalism ruined skincare

Sep. 28, 2021

During my adolescence, I never really thought about my skin. I didn’t have to think about it because my skin was “beautiful” and the “norm.” I know this is a privilege not many teens have, and I promise I’m not trying to brag, but when it came to a skincare routine, I vaguely remember washing my face with a bar of soap and only applying sunscreen when I was going swimming. 

In my early twenties, however, the universe had other plans for me, and I developed adult acne. I dove into the world of skincare not out of curiosity or a desire to try new products but out of insecurity and shame. I was desperate for a quick solution, and pretty soon, it became an obsession. 

I believed that if I wasn’t trying as many products as possible or investing in an extensive routine, then I wasn’t doing everything I could to help my skin. Buying skincare products felt like a necessity.

While I’m not here to cancel the skincare industry (I still love my favorite serum and enjoy discovering new sunscreens, after all), I think it’s important to call out how harmful it can be—because the truth is, I was buying more products than my skin needed. Seriously. If my skin could speak, it would’ve probably begged me to stop. 

In 2020, the skincare industry was worth $145.3 billion. There’s a reason so many celebrities are coming out with skincare lines—we love our skincare! It’s not uncommon to see a “shelfie” on our feeds, and many of us love watching and learning about other’s skincare routines. It’s been a huge part of our pop culture.  

The act of caring for one’s skin has existed for centuries. But its rapid growth in the past few years has popularized the idea that if you don’t have a skincare routine, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Whether this is true or not is subjective. 

What is often missing from conversations around skincare is the actual health of our skin. Learning about your skin and its capabilities can be a complete game-changer. 

For example, our skin naturally produces sebum, which is an oily, waxy substance that coats, moisturizes, and protects the skin. Yes, too much sebum production can be bad, but it’s important to understand its purpose. I mean, your skin is moisturizing itself—that’s pretty impressive. 

The skin also naturally exfoliates itself every 28 days, which is when cell turnover takes place. This may help us understand why over-exfoliating is an issue and why we must be conscious of the ingredients in our products. There may be exfoliating ingredients in a product that isn’t necessarily marketed as an exfoliator. 

Using too many skincare products can disrupt these functions and lead to new or more issues. In some cases, we can even end up damaging our skin barrier. So what would happen if we supported our skin’s natural functions? 

Not all skincare lines are created equal, and minimal and supportive skincare has begun to emerge—including companies that believe in a “less is more” approach and don’t have plans of expanding beyond their essentials. People are discovering the negative effects of using too many products on the skin and are reaching for products that promote strengthening the skin you already have. 

All this is coming from someone who loves their nighttime skincare routine. I treasure the time I spend with myself, and I treat washing my face as an act of care and relaxation, the same way taking a shower is. It’s about hygiene and taking care of the skin that takes care of me. It’s not about achieving flawless skin, because that’s never going to happen. And I’m okay with that.

I look back on photos of my smooth-skinned younger self with very smooth skin, and I’ll admit that I don’t look the same anymore. But my acne scars and future wrinkles are signs of being alive. 

With all this said, I’m not perfect. I still get excited about new products, but I’m working on it. Today, my routine is much simpler, and my skin is doing much better. When I do make purchases, I try to consume with intention. This often means using what I already own before placing a new order. 

Now, skincare for me means caring for the health of my skin—it isn’t just about aesthetics. Informing myself about my skin helps me feel more confident when choosing products. I now feel lighter, I’m saving a ton of money, and my skin is healthier. 

I can’t tell you how many products you should own or how many steps your routine should have; only you can determine that because everyone’s skin is different and has its own set of needs. But when I stopped seeing my skin as something I needed to fix and instead as something that protects me, it changed my relationship with my skin, and ultimately, myself.

Skincare and self-care don’t have to be mutually exclusive but remember that skincare isn’t the be-all-end-all. It can still be special, but you don’t need to overspend or do too much. Let’s normalize “flawed” skin so that we no longer have to carry the burden of not feeling enough as we are.