No, skincare isn’t a scam

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Beauty is booming. The industry hit a global market value of $511bn (around £392bn) last year and managed to emerge from the pandemic relatively unscathed with a worldwide revenue of over $80bn (over £61bn).

The most significant player in this field is skincare, accounting for over 42% of the cosmetic market and with this ever-increasing demand, facial cleansers and moisturisers will inevitably continue to fly off shelves and clutter cabinets.

However, while the industry has seen unprecedented economic success and sharp financial growth, a debate in dermatology has also emerged with some now questioning the legitimacy of skincare altogether. The argument of the opposition is ultimately simple, most of the ingredients found in the cosmetic tubes and tubs which claim to nourish and nutrify the skin are produced naturally by the body and the public have been victim to a cosmetic con spread through bumper billboards and attractive influencers.

Dermatologist Jules Lipoff, M.D. argues that, “Most skin-care products are kind of a scam”, and there is evidence to suggest that left to its own devices, the skin does moisturise, exfoliate and heal itself. American journalist Krithika Varagur has provided some of the staunchest claims against skincare, proposing that, “all of this is a scam. It has to be. Perfect skin is unobtainable because it doesn’t exist”.

There are countless advantages which skincare can provide in terms of mental health

‘Perfect’ skin may be a fantasy but does this make the pursuit for better skin futile or certify that skincare isn’t beneficial? Varagur has argued that, “[a]t the core of the New Skincare is chemical violence”, however there is a considerable amount of scientific evidence which has proven the medical benefits of a skincare routine.

A recent study at Harvard Medical School found that, “all moisturizers help with dry skin for a pretty simple reason: they supply a little bit of water to the skin and contain a greasy substance that holds it in”. Hadley King, M.D., a medical and cosmetic dermatology specialist, has noted that benzoyl peroxide, a common ingredient found in products designed to heal and treat damaged skin, “is helpful for treating acne not only because it kills bacteria that contribute to acne, but because it helps prevent and clear out clogged pores”.

A 2015 study from the University of Zurich offers further scientific backing for a skincare routine, noting that, “[m]aintaining and improving skin health and integrity are major goals in acute and long-term care. Skin integrity is regarded as a quality indicator and maintaining skin integrity is widely accepted as being more cost-effective compared to wound treatment”.

The study cited the benefits of dexpanthenol, an ingredient found in many cosmetic lotions and creams, and proved the benefits of cosmetic moisturiser: “The twice-daily application of a cosmetic body moisturizer with niacinamide and glycerin improved the integrity of the stratum corneum by diminishing skin dryness and transepidermal water loss”.

The report also outlined that, “[t]he skin should be cleansed once daily”. If this is a practice grounded in ‘chemical violence’, it is a beneficial and rewarding conflict.

Physical benefits aside, there are countless advantages which skincare can provide in terms of mental health. A recent study from Rodan and Fields, founders of skincare company Rodan + Fields, involving 30 acne-prone women found that a skincare routine including antioxidants, electrolytes, prebiotics, and sunscreen, reduced the stress hormone cortisol by 83% and that 76% of participants felt confident with their skin’s appearance at the end of the study, a 23% rise from the beginning of the investigation. In a time of growing anxiety amongst the population, the rise in self-confidence which a skincare routine could provide is hugely beneficial.

The Ancient Egyptians utilised milk, honey, dead sea salts, clay and oil mixtures to moisturise, clean and heal their skin

Equally, arguments of evolution in the skincare debate seem pedantic and misleading. Physician and public health expert James Hamblin argues that, “evolutionarily, why would we be so disgusting that we need constant cleaning? And constant moisturizing and/or de-oiling?”. Homo sapiens may not need skincare to survive but the same could be said for toothpaste and shampoo, relatively modern phenomena in the lengthy span of human history. We are not being conned by Colgate or lured by L’ Oréal, they are just preventing bad breath and greasy hair.

This rather prehistoric call back to our ancestors, used as an argument to undermine the industry, also falls flat with a simple look back to some of our earliest civilisations. The Ancient Egyptians utilised milk, honey, dead sea salts, clay and oil mixtures to moisturise, clean and heal their skin. For the Ancient Greeks it was honey, olive oil and yoghurt, even using a mix of berries and milk to produce a cleansing face mask.

These civilisations had no corporate machines forcing adverts into their living rooms or glowing influencers infiltrating their Instagram, they simply wanted healthier skin. Skincare is no scam. It is a practice which has been used throughout history to improve the skin and its benefits are clear. A skincare routine ultimately boosts the mental health of the user and improves their skin and although arguments against skincare are constructive in terms of analysing the promotion of unreachable standards, it is no cheap trick and condemning the entire market to be a corrupt con is deceptive and ill-informed.

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