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skin deep

We all have someone in our lives who exists solely to make us feel like we know nothing. For me, this person is my cousin Lisa (heretofore referred to as “Cuz”), a native New Yorker who I love like a little sister. She moved in with us last week to establish residency for grad school, and I’m excited, partly because I know she will provide lots of material for this blog in the coming months.

The first thing to know about Cuz is that she has made skincare her life’s work. She is obsessed. When she first met Tate, he was a 9-month old baby and completely non-verbal. Instead of cooing over him like a normal person, Lisa repeatedly stroked his cheek and asked him, with a straight face, what he did to keep his skin so soft.

When we first see each other after a long time apart, she will always make a comment about my skin. She caught me this time at the end of a week-long trip to Central Oregon, from which I returned with skin so dry and bumpy that if my forehead said “Wilson” on it, you would think my head was a leather basketball. I knew the situation was serious, but she really drove it home for me when she said this: “You know, Clarisonic was invented for the exact skin problem you have. You should try it.” SKIN PROBLEM. I felt like she’d just diagnosed me with leprosy.

Anyway, I was already feeling stressed about my skin when I walked into her room and saw this.


I mean, my God. She’s 26. For comparison, here’s what my 35-year old skincare regimen looks like.


Seeing the evidence of her superior commitment to her skin was bad enough, but then she started talking and it got so much worse. I asked her about her CeraVe night lotion because the drugstore brand stood out from the $2000 worth of high-end skin care products surrounding it. “Oh,” Cuz said, “That’s the only thing that fills in my lines. Like these lines right here (casually touching a finger to my laugh lines as I froze in horror)—CeraVe will fill that in right away.” It was such brilliant timing, because I’d recently noticed that those lines—two hostile parentheses hugging my mouth—were getting more noticeable.

And Cuz was just getting started. When I asked her why she had so many serums, she said, “My morning serum has to have antioxidants. My night serum is more for intense moisturization.”  Having personally discovered serum only a few years ago, the concept of having more than one serum in one’s skincare arsenal was still blowing my mind when she asked me what I used for moisturizer. “A daytime FLUID?!? Fluids are for people with oily skin. You don’t have oily skin.” And then, toners: “I don’t use American toners. They all have alcohol and they strip the skin. That’s why I like Korean essences, they soak into the skin and really prep it for the stuff that follows.” As she talked, I saw the dozens of bottles of American toners from my past flash before my eyes.

By the end of it, I just felt sorry for myself.  What had I been doing with my time?  I felt my upper lip bead with sweat as I began to question everything I was doing and had done to my skin. Expecting sympathy, I told her how stressed I was. Instead of coddling me, she broke it down, cold. “You SHOULD be stressed. You have good skin and you’re not taking care of it.” Hearing that, and looking at her perfectly unlined and dewy face, made me die a little inside.

My friend Pat is a skincare guru who, despite being twice my age, has skin of such surpassing loveliness that you suspect she made a pact with the devil to get it. Her face manages to stay perfectly intact during a vigorous hour of Zumba, while my face melts and slides all over the place like a gruyere sandwich. Between Pat and Cuz, I’m motivated to kick this skincare thing into high gear.

I’ll report back any findings.

50 Comments Post a comment
  1. I love this skincare line to DEATH. You will never need anything else.

    September 17, 2012
  2. Catherine #

    I’m forty and am lucky to have really good skin. 98% of it is genetic — and thank god, because I’m so inconsistent about caring for it. One downside is that I still get breakouts, for which I use a prescription nighttime lotion (works like a charm). My first time going to get the scrip filled, the pharmacist did whatever mysterious typing-and-checking-insurance-thing they do, then paused and said, “Well *that’s* rude”. Seems my insurance wouldn’t cover my scrip because of my age. According to them, people over the age of 30 don’t get acne. Although really irritated I had to pay full-freight, I did appreciate the pharmacist’s outrage on my behalf.

    September 10, 2012
    • insurance companies ruin everything. this is unrelated to skin but mine requires that I pick up my kid’s vitamins in 30 day batches. Why??????

      September 10, 2012
  3. Jan #

    Paula Begoun, and is my skin care Go-to. Science based, nice to read, and her info saves me tons of $$ by helping me to avoid useless or harmful products!

    September 4, 2012
  4. Akie #

    I never know what to do with my skin, since it has always been very oily (if I have enough energy to care at work, I use paper towels as blotting papers) and prone to occasional breakouts, which makes sense given the oiliness. I also live in a very hot and dry climate with A/C everywhere, so I have stuck with combination face wash, oil-free moisturizer and SPF 50 sunscreen. Even when I’m dead from teaching, people still think I’m 21 for some nonsensical reason. Any suggestions for a moisturizer that will be matte even if I’ve got very oily skin? Or what I should do in the first place besides sleep (when I’m done grading, not likely) and drink tons of water?

    I look forward to hearing about your adventures, yoona–my mother didn’t start getting into makeup until I graduated from college, and she’s in a similar situation of going crazy from all the things she thinks she’s missed. My father was convinced that all Asian women appear to be a single age for vast stretches of time—ie you look 17 through your mid/late twenties, abruptly become 23 until your early 40s, etc—so I think you’ll be fine. Besides, it’s your kids that will suck up all your vital energy like the tiny adorable vampires that they are!

    September 1, 2012
    • sometimes i worry that the skincare hysteria is completely a manufactured thing and that it’s better not to mess with skin at all. but if i go down that road i start to freak out

      November 1, 2012
  5. Randle #

    Love your blog–every time I read it my bursts of laughter drive my roommates nuts (a plus?). I had this same “skin care intervention” experience with my cousin, who is 26. I felt the exact same way, except I’m 24! I think I’m becoming the monster I feared though–last year I mocked her as she asked customs officers why she couldn’t please keep her gallon freezer bag of liquids/creams. Now, I avoid petroleums and phenols, own more than one toner, and fear parabens (what are parabens?)…My new answer? “Yep, my skin is aging–you know why?? Because I’m aging. We all are, and none of your creams will stop it!!!!!!!” And I think it beats the alternative.

    August 31, 2012
  6. KEP #

    My friend Emily (who knows your friend Lindsay) sent me this post because I am a skin obsessed being and she thought I might appreciate it. She is/was correct. I very much want to be your cuz’s BFF. I also perused (or stalked) your blog and I think you are equally as fantastic. 🙂

    August 31, 2012
    • ah, emily is lovely. skin nerds unite!! and thanks for the feedback.

      September 1, 2012
  7. missmarple69 #

    My skincare regime is rather hit and miss which does concern me, however I find it all so confusing as to what products are best for my skin.. I have combination skin plus skin sensitivity so can not use highly perfumed products, and I don’t have an endless budget either.. So when choosing any skincare products I have to consider is it really needed or and is there a lower cost alternative.. Don’t get me wrong I have spent money on high end products and they do help, I just need to up my game and get into a proper routine…. :)) lol

    August 31, 2012
    • I thought all the verbiage was marketing stuff but apparently all those words mean something if you are paying attention

      September 1, 2012
  8. If she does do a guest post, I would love to learn how to take care of my own skin. Even dermatologists have failed me. I am a desperate 23 year old with horrible acne and combination dry-oily skin. Reading your post makes me want to fix my skin asap, although due to past failures I’m not super-optimistic about my success without help.

    August 30, 2012
    • we will get her on it, my dear. she has promised me a list, and i’ll see if she will respond to your comment as well. do not despair.

      August 30, 2012
      • Thank you kindly! It is much appreciated.

        August 30, 2012
    • Lisa #

      Hi this is Lisa the Cuz. I can’t promise this will work because I don’t know the severity of your acne, but some of my friends have sworn by 10% glycolic acid moisturizer. DDF has a whole line of products, but for a cheaper version, there’s Alpha Hydrox which is sold on for like 10 bucks. I have combination skin and I’ve used the latter with great success, but not on my face. Salicylic acid, for me personally, does nothing. And I seem to remember some combination of 10% glycolic acid with benzoyl peroxide being the recommendation on as well.

      August 30, 2012
      • Lisa #

        I completely forgot to add that the Clarisonic is a worthy investment for those who are acne prone

        August 30, 2012
      • Thank you so much! All the stuff I’ve ever tried has been salicylic acid or peroxide and they’ve never done much, so I’ll give glycolic acid a try. I really appreciate it!

        August 30, 2012
  9. As somebody staring down 60 I realized with a shock I probably won’t be around to see how much a difference all these new products will make for all of you once another 30 years rolls by. I can say in my heyday (way back when we used words like heyday) we were mostly concerned with growing out the awful perms too many of us got in the 80’s. There was nothing said about SPFs – not even in what passed for sun screen(then called tanning lotion because it was all about the getting more golden).

    I will say this (and then go lie down): I vacillate between amused and furious that skin care products are marketed as anti-wrinkle and anti-line using 20-something y/o models. If you want me to spend my hard earned money on skin care rather than, say, wine? At least show me somebody within a decade of my age in the ads. Then you’ve got my interest if not my patronage. I can’t say how the serums might help somebody my age look but I sure as hell know how the wine will help me not give a sh*t.

    August 30, 2012
    • i do find the use of age-inappropriate models and airbrushing pretty maddening as it applies to skincare. i don’t really care about fashion spreads–brush away, it’s all fantasy anyway–but with skincare it really gets close to deceptive advertising

      August 30, 2012
  10. Alison Kean Campbell #

    Ps running out to buy cerave now!!

    August 30, 2012
  11. Alison #

    Just when I had convinced myself that ONLY I could see those laugh lines parenthesizing my mouth and that in any event they ADDED CHARACTER!

    August 30, 2012
    • mine add character…the character of john wayne

      August 30, 2012
  12. I’m 38, and have finally in the last 2 years achieved the best skin I’ve had since I was a child. I react to so many products, even the natural hippie ones, that I finally gave up: I stopped washing my face. This is easy since the only make-up I ever use is mascara and maybe a little mineral eyeshadow. I rinse with water and remove eye make-up with olive oil or a super gentle eye make-up remover. That’s it. If I need extra moisture in the winter, I use a couple drops of oil—grape seed, avocado, or coconut. This approach has changed my world. Srsly. Super, super happy skin.

    August 30, 2012
    • refreshing. i suspect your approach would not work as well with people who wear makeup. i only wear blush and mascara but if i couldn’t wash that blush off at the end of the day, i’d go mad

      August 30, 2012
  13. Tami #

    I too have a “Cuz,” from NYC but it’s not skin-care products, it’s clothing. Even at my best, she walks in and makes me feel like a hillbilly, IN HER PAJAMAS.

    August 30, 2012
    • oh Cuz does that for me too. my best friend commented once that i dress more downtown for a couple weeks after Cuz leaves. i have no idea what will happen with her in permanent residence

      August 30, 2012
  14. Sarah #

    Crap. What about no skin care routine? I’m overwhelmed thinking about buying ONE thing. I’m counting on my grandmas genes.

    August 30, 2012
    • sarah, i’m counting on my genes too, but i have a feeling our skin deals with environmental stress (not to mention bad diet) that our grandmas didn’t have to deal with. better safe than sorry? i have a feeling Cuz would say to at least start with a moisturizer with SPF for day

      August 30, 2012
  15. Courtney #

    I have to meet this woman. I have 4 tubes of Kate Somerville Exfolikate in my bathroom as we speak. I know an awesome facialist very near you who your cousin would love. Although I admire anyone who is product savvy, I am a firm believer that although products are nice, a hefty use of modern technology is required if you really want to have nice skin, particularly once you become an actual adult, which she is not. She’s like a toddler skin-wise. The pain is yet to come. BTW you have to see Dave and his 30+ lbs weight loss.

    August 30, 2012
    • send me a pic of dave, immediately, but leave out his mandals. i am sure you will meet Cuz very soon. so you recommend the kate somerville? i hate facials. every time i get one all my zits pop out to say hello, no fail. and you know i’m a big fan of modern technology

      August 30, 2012
      • Courtney #

        A good facialist leaves you looking fabulous, and if breakouts are a concern, mine uses LED lights so you are sure NOT to break out. You’re going to freak when you see Dave. We’re getting all his suits re-tailored.

        August 30, 2012
  16. 1suburbanchic #

    While reading this post, I suddenly got self-concious about the bags under my eyes… so i grabbed the closest thing to a spoon I could find (a metal letter opener) and pressed under my eyes! Thanks Cuz!

    August 30, 2012
    • hilarious. the panic is contagious, isn’t it??

      August 30, 2012
  17. This whole post left me at the edge of my seat, stroking my cheeks and contemplating life.


    August 30, 2012
    • you are so funny. i am working on getting her to guest post on just what you demand

      August 30, 2012
  18. I loved this post and your low-key humor! I hate people with perfect skin!! I’m into that strange stage in my mid-30s where I now buy Neutrogena’s “anti-wrinkle / anti-acne” cream without any hint of irony.

    FWIW I’ve struggled with acne and the accompanying side-effects of the regular treatments (tetracycline gave me permanent age lines on my chest 10 years ago when I went out in the mild English sun for 2 nanoseconds without protection, minocycline gave me migraines, I was too scared to try Accutane, and ProActiv prematurely aged the skin around my eyes) for years before cutting out dairy, and it’s made a world of difference. I no longer get the cystic acne. I still break out a little, but at night I use a combination of the Neutrogena anti-wrinkle/acne, a little of Dr. Weils for Origins Mega-Mushroom serum (it’s expensive, but it works for me… Sephora has started carrying Origins too, so they might give you a sample to try… it’s perfect for reducing stress-y and irritated inflammation without over-drying), occasionally with a dot of benzoyl peroxide just to keep things in check. Origins products are the first I’ve found which consistently keep my skin moisture balanced.

    August 30, 2012
    • i love origins, and i love mushrooms. i am totally going to get a sample of that mushroom serum. also very interesting what you said about cutting out dairy. thanks for sharing, laura

      August 30, 2012
  19. I’m still reeling from that photo of her dresser. And I’m impressed with your three-bottle regimen–mine’s just one! (gasp!) Can’t wait to hear more about this pressing issue.

    August 30, 2012
    • i could study that photo for days. or i could just go into her room and stare at it. but i don’t think staring at it is going to help me. i need to take action. where to start, is my first issue.

      August 30, 2012
  20. You have inspired me to do something for my skin care too…and all thanx to Cuz:)

    August 30, 2012

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  1. Friday Faves | Blueberries & Basil
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