She holds She points her favorite serum at the camera and squeezes a pea-sized drop onto the back of her insanely smooth hand. She rubs it into her skin in circular motions and sniffs it as if attacking it. All the while enumerating its many playing characteristics in a British accent.
I don’t remember when skinfluencers first appeared on my feed. I clicked on one of her YouTube videos because I remembered her glowing face smiling on her laptop screen. The titles of her videos are straightforward and unassuming, but there’s no clue that she once captured my soul. Now, I’m confused when I see her thumbnails: “Fave Fives: Cleansing Balms,” “Acid Toners Part One,” and “How I’m Dealing with My Pigmentation.” How did this content consume two years of my life? Become an object of obsession?
It started in the fall of 2019. Until then, I bought Olay moisturizer with SPF, which I have been using since I was 23 years old. I remembered, so I washed my face. I had a strange existential crisis, a strange face in the mirror. Sometimes I would get electrocuted in the face with a small electrical current. However, at 41 years old, I was beginning to feel vulnerable to certain messages about beauty and youth. Maybe she did a midnight Google search for the best exfoliant. Maybe I went to Sephora and stared at the anti-aging emulsion a little too long. Maybe my phone is monitoring me.
When skinfluencers started creeping into my feed, I couldn’t help but watch. At the hotel after the event, in between classes I taught, as a writing break. First up is British skincare YouTuber Caroline Hirons. Most of my videos consist of beauty product reviews, and I devoured them all within a few weeks. Next, Gothamista, a New York and Hong Kong-based dermatologist with an ethereal glow, performed a Byzantine morning and night routine that invited the audience into the bathroom. After researching them thoroughly, I discovered a dermatologist with professional attire and an authoritative smile on her YouTube. They used dizzying terminology to debunk beauty myths like “skin cycling” and the promise of hyaluronic acid. Unraveling mysterious ingredients such as retinol and glycerin. I was transfixed. This is educational content, I told myself as I continued to add recommended items to his shopping cart.
I quickly achieved Sephora’s top membership status. My skin routine went from 2 steps to his 8 steps. I took my laptop into the bathroom, kitchen, and bed so I could always hear the voices advocating the benefits of squalane oil and snail mucus. I blinked and somehow found myself in possession of four Mists.
In some ways, it was a magical time. My skin has never been as glowing as it was during those first few months of discovery and experimentation. Every time I burned my face with cult acid, I felt dizzy. I looked in the mirror and foolishly filled myself with a new kind of hope. So why did I feel darkness stirring beneath the surface of all this? A shadow falling over me as I shopped and splashed water?
A bookseller told me that when you buy a book, you are also buying the concept of time to read it. A down payment for life extension, the brilliance of immortality. As my serum collection grew, I was probably looking for something equally existential. illusion of control. Something that avoids death. The promise that when I looked in the mirror, I might see the person I always recognized, my friend.
A few months after that first click, I began writing a novel about a woman whose obsession with skin care sends her down a dangerous rabbit hole. Through her pursuits, she discovers the demons and depths that lie beneath her pursuits. Now that I’ve fallen down that rabbit hole myself, both on the page and deep inside the mirror, my dark obsessions have also dissolved. My skincare routine is back to two steps (well, three steps).
But it’s still too foggy for me.