What “The Skincare Con” gets wrong about my relationship with beauty and mental health

When I hit puberty, like so many other adolescent girls, my skin began to rebel against me. I tried every old wives’ tale and skincare hack in the book. Toothpaste, peroxide, baking soda, and cold cream were regular ingredients in my acne-treating concoctions. When those didn’t work, I tried all the creams, gels, and pastes that the pharmacy had to offer. I even tried a few treatments prescribed by my dermatologist — but nothing worked.

My twenties felt more like my teens because of my skin issues. I was certain that I’d always have these problems and I was ashamed of what my broken out face “said” about me.

It wasn’t until my late 20s — when I read an online article about common issues that worsen acne — that I made an incredible discovery. I learned about dermatillomania, a mental disorder characterized by the chronic urge to pick at one’s own skin, often so much so that the skin is repeatedly damaged.

I had dermatillomania.

It made sense. Even as I read the article, I recognized that I was sitting there, unconsciously picking at the blemishes on my face. The issue had never been my acne — which, in retrospect, was pretty normal in severity. The problem was that I was scratching, picking, and probing these imperfections to the extent that they weren’t able to heal. They were being regularly exposed to trauma and irritants, and I didn’t even realize it.

Soon after, I started to see a therapist and I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I found that my anxiety triggered the dermatillomania, and my treatment helped to ease it.

However, it wasn’t until I changed my skincare regimen that I really saw an improvement.

I switched to a gentler face wash, began moisturizing regularly, and used soothing face masks and acne patches to minimize my temptation to pick. And it worked! My acne scars faded, my face was brighter, and my monthly breakouts were able to heal and vanish. Skincare gave me back the confidence I didn’t know I’d lost.

In short, skincare changed my life.


So when I saw the piece entitled “The Skincare Con” on The Outline, I was more than a little miffed.

The frankly condescending piece is a look at our supposedly blind addiction to skincare and how the beauty industry takes advantage of consumers. Claiming it’s common to find groups of devotees who “brag about spending most of their paycheck on serums” and that a study found “no one really knew what moisturizer even did,” the article paints those who have an interest in skin care as vapid and ill-informed.

There are other strange points in this piece — such as when the writer seems to be questioning the value of soap and the gendered naming of the word “pimple” from “nipple” — but the main takeaway is the belittlement of beauty enthusiasts.

Society has a long history of belittling things that women enjoy.

“The Skincare Con” takes something beloved by millions of women and names it as problematic for all the wrong reasons. As the article states:

“Those with disposable income would, before we all lost our minds, buy books or art or beautiful shoes or literally anything that gives more pleasure than another useless exfoliant.

However, with a $24 billion a year global skin care industry, it seems that the beauty industry is important to quite a few people — and that’s what truly gives it value. Whether someone uses skincare to tackle a medical condition or to simply enjoy the self-care provided by serums and moisturizers, they don’t need permission to enjoy what they enjoy — just ask HG’s Beauty Editor.

In that spirit, I think I’ll pop on a face mask right now.

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