Is The Skincare Craze Actually Anti-Feminist?

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Charisse Kenion / Unsplash

I have never considered myself to be a “high maintenance” girl. I grew up in a household where beauty routines consisted solely of washing faces and maybe slapping on some tinted moisturizer on, particularly special occasions. I have never seen my mother wear makeup. Aesthetics have always come second to health. I revel in the luxury of working from home sometimes, because it means not having to spend 30–40 minutes creating an optical illusion of a face by “contouring” here and “highlighting” there. I am, perhaps, the most surprised of all by the fact that I have recently become nauseatingly obsessed with what I like to call “aggressive self-care” particularly in the form of overpriced skincare products. How did a girl like me end up so covered in charcoal, rose water and collagen-infused creams? The simple answer might have something to do with hormonal shifts and aging skin.

However, I’m starting to think that this skincare mania has less to do with adult acne and more to do with the nature of being a woman in our current political climate.

It seems I am far from alone in my skincare fetish. In recent years, an increasing number of Americans have quite literally been buying into the trending cosmetic skincare phenomenon. Even back in 2014, skincare was the largest category in the cosmetics industry, accounting for nearly 35.3% of the global market. Today, the products in the global skincare segment create a $121 billion industry, with no signs of slowing down. According to a recent report by Lucintel, the worldwide skincare products industry is forecasted to reach $135 billion by 2021. That’s a whole lot of glittery peel-off face masks.

The skincare industry has recently witnessed a dramatic shift from older consumers to a growing younger consumer base. Consumers are starting to use cosmetic skincare products at an increasingly young age, which means marketing strategies are being adapted to account for this shift. According to a 2015 report from TABS Analytics, millennial women ages 18 to 34 are the heaviest buyers of beauty products in the $135 billion cosmetics industry.

The skincare craze is a multi-faceted phenomenon and can likely be attributed to a number of factors. Hormonal shifts in the late 20s mean many women experience problems with acne for the first time in their lives during this time of adulthood. It’s no coincidence that older millennials are the demographic largely responsible for driving growth in the skincare industry. Although it is likely that much of this surge in skincare is strictly practical, I argue that this may actually be indicative of a larger social shift driven by this particular demographic of women. Sound far-fetched? Hear me out. We’re about to get dark up in here.

Let’s be honest. Things are bleak out there politically, socially, and from a feminist standpoint. Thanks to Ivanka’s dad, we’re all unclear as to what our future as Americans, global citizens and women looks like. Heck, the way things in Washington are going, it seems unclear as to whether or not we have a future at all. Could it be possible that the skincare industry is just capitalizing on the modern woman’s desire for a sense of control during these tumultuous times? I argue, yes. For myself and many other women, skincare has become a ritualistic, self-affirming coping mechanism. Skincare is a nice, controllable project for the twenty-first-century woman and *bonus* this trend comes in beautiful, highly Instagram-able packaging. I’m no beauty blogger, and I still cannot for the life of me figure out how to do a GD cat eye, but my bathroom is becoming increasingly social media worthy thanks to my multiple $35 bottles of fucking rose water that I now spritz on my face morning, noon and night.

In addition to Ivanka’s dad backhandedly driving the skincare craze, it’s likely that we also have the good old fashioned patriarchy to thank for this trend. It’s easy to convince ourselves that these skincare routines are done from a place of self-care or love. There may be some real and honest truth to that. However, next time you whip out the collagen-infused, snail-cum-based sheet mask, I urge you to take a closer look at what’s driving this practice. Are we really starting to take care of our skin in our mid to late twenties for ourselves? Or are we doing it to look good on our Bumble profiles or for every man we may or may not fall in love with on the F train on any given morning? Is this whole skincare preoccupation really just driven by the fear of being unfuckable by the ripe old age of 28?

Here’s the thing, though. I’m currently sitting in a Brooklyn coffee shop drinking a turmeric latte made with oat milk. I didn’t even know oat milk was a thing until today, but I’m not mad about it. I go to yoga multiple times per week, and sometimes I smudge my apartment with sage or palo santo or whatever, and I don’t really know why. This morning I did an anti-wrinkle sheet mask, and last night I put this ridiculous Darth Vader looking thing on my face in hopes of somehow shape shifting into Natalie Portman upon removal. There is a whole lot of hypocrisy in my argument, and perhaps that’s part of what I’m trying to examine here. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m not above any of this. If it makes you feel like the best version of yourself to present as a dewy Korean pop star then, by all means, proceed. I just want us all, as self-proclaimed feminists and “self-care” gurus to at least start to examine the relationship between these identities and the message that we’re sending to ourselves, and all the sweet little future women I see zooming around on scooters all over Park Slope every day.

When it comes down to it, one of the best things we can do during this deeply disturbing time in American history is take care of ourselves so we can take care of each other. We may as well face the apocalypse wrinkle-free and sans pores. TC mark

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