CONFESSION TIME: I Have No Idea How To Take Care Of My Face (And I’m Intimidated By Those Of You Who Do)

It’s sad that I could write a full-length book chronicling all the injustices I’ve visited on my own face. What’s sadder still? The end is yet unwritten.
Publish date:
January 7, 2013
makeup, beauty, skincare, face, haircare, M

I am a beauty late bloomer. Like most sad stories, my failures started early: in fifth grade -- specifically when the stakes of the makeup game were as low as the disposable incomes we had to throw at it, and my friends and I all bought the same products more or less for entertainment.

For example, we went wild for Max Factor liquid eyeliner, because you could poke yourself IN THE EYEBALL with the felt tip and watch the color spread to your iris like ink (which, okay, turns out that’s what it was). Literally, we did this at our lunch table.

To confuse matters further, there was the brief interlude during which none of us did anything productive in the realm of beauty and skincare; rather, we all exchanged mini-hand sanitizers and lotions from Bath and Body Works to mark Christmases and birthdays, airily spritzed Love Spell by Victoria’s Secret at our lockers for the seeming eternity that was probably just one middle school marking period, and stuck tiny, star-shaped pieces of metal at the outer corners of our eyelids before every dance, “party,” or root beer float outing.

Later, when our understanding of beauty products matured from the elementary “Makeup is crayons and we are drawing” conception to the inevitable, sophomoric "Beauty products are for SOLVING your LIFE" level of wisdom, I just assumed I'd throw my lot in with the crowd again.

My friends were buying Walgreens out of Biore oil-reducing facial wipes? I should-- no, I MUST-- follow suit. My cousin Lauren had a wire detangling hairbrush that made her straight, long, strawberry blond hair especially shiny and flippable? As would I, her swarthy, Native-American-and-German hybrid cousin of dark, matted hair and darker, unified brow.

When these products didn’t yield the desired results, I worked out that I was doing something wrong –- but with no guide to explain what it was, I assumed the problem was me and not what I was using.

In high school, at the same time many of my friends were discovering that they had oily or combination skin, in roughly the hues most commonly mimicked by popular drugstore foundations, I was still focused on taming the sheepdog-through-the-hedge formation that sprouted prodigiously from the top of my head, stubbornly resisting my efforts to transform it to, uh, not steel wool through judicious (read: incessant, indiscriminate) use of Pantene Pro-V.

And as Jennifer Love Hewitt casually flicked away “pimples, breakouts, and blackheads” like so many soap bubbles at every commercial break, using Clean & Clear to “get under control” in seemingly less than no time, I battled the seemingly-way-more-real specters of chronic eczema, the Preteen Mustache, and unevenly white-stained front teeth, everlasting legacy of asthma medication from when I was a kid. Ironically, but, oh, so mercifully, the actual skin on my face was clear as a bell -- at least, it was until I turned 20.

SO. Finally getting to the point here. Because of the delayed start I got when it came to beauty and skincare routines, I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing as an adult-faced human. At 24, when I should have a skin and hair care routine down pat, I’m still trying things out and hoping to find a silver bullet amid the copper tins and platinum tubes at my neighborhood Ulta.

As I foreshadowed above, sophisticated writer that I am, what’s worse is that now I have actual face problems to contend with. Since hitting that fateful two-decade mark, I’ve experienced a full body’s worth of skin problems on my face alone: cystic acne in roughly the shape of an iPhone from earlobe to chin, random regular pimples, dry skin, pores with little chunks of whitish-clearish oil in them, sunken-purple-death-green coloring all around my eye holes (plus overall weird face coloration), and, sometimes, mysterious flaking in the vicinity of my left eyebrow.

Don’t get me wrong, I have made some fantastic accidental discoveries. Dr. Hauschka products, including his almond face wash, clarifying toner, and toned day cream work wonders to make my prickly, unevenly toned, moisture-starved skin feel smooth and less prone to irritation. I would recommend the entire line to any tan-or-brown skinned people who have not made a habit of exfoliating, and maybe have sensitive or allergic skin. But that’s ALL THE RECOMMENDATIONS I HAVE.

Because, well, once a bandwagon-jumping dermatological delinquent, always a BJDD.

A little while ago (pre-Hauschka discovery), I ran out of fancy grownup face wash which shall remain nameless ‘cause it wasn’t that great, and decided that in its absence I should wash my face with Johnson & Johnson’s baby shampoo. It did not work out.

Additionally, I still suffer from that petulant but-it-works-for-everyone-else syndrome, and for that reason I can occasionally be found shuffling sheepishly around Sephora like an orphan clutching Cat’s facial peel recommendations, or borrowing zit-drying serums I know I can’t use from my fairer-skinned friends.

Worse, when I do manage to buy a cleanser, highlighter or brow pencil worth having, I still take it home, unwrap it, and deposit it in the Zip-Loc freezer bag I keep all my makeup AND BRUSHES in. Which I wash about once every other month. Since the week before Thanksgiving. Of this past year.

It’s not that I don’t want to learn -– it’s just, I really suck at this stuff. Like the makeup bag for example –- isn’t your shit going to mix together no matter what? Where do fancy people keep their makeup? (Please tell me, I’m really asking.)

I also don’t understand how you’re supposed to get from your shower door to your front door without having contaminated your face with oil (“impurities,” in beauty-company speak) from either your hands or your hair. Who has that many separate clean washcloths?! Where are these people who manage never to touch their faces?

And I’d like to explore this whole “Clarisonic” angle, but (a) my new face wash says to “press onto skin with a rolling motion,” which has been working so far with just my fingers. Plus, (b) before I spend the $100, I feel I should ask -- how is this contraption different from a vibrator with soap on it, or isn’t it?!

I feel genuinely ashamed that I’m so behind on taking care of my skin, but also a little bewildered that others seem to have it so together. And when you combine those two, well, it makes it hard for me to ask other people any questions, like, “Do you think my skin is oily or combination? I can’t figure it out,” or, “Is it bad that I extract crud from my nose pores with Tweezerman tweezers? I almost always rinse them afterward.”

I feel like a gross weirdo who failed Basic Hygiene and then Remedial Face Washing and was finally just declared incapable of learning and sent to in-school suspension to draw dicks and pop her pimples with an old compass, a la Chris Farley in this FUCKING GREAT sketch.

Maybe my beauty routine will always exhibit the unmistakable symptoms of its own late blooming, like the retirement portfolio of a 64-year-old who started saving at age 58. Much like in that scenario, the prospect of investing the time, money, and psychic energy needed to right this sinking ship (or rather, to tow this wrecked vessel from the depths of the Mariana Trench and restore it to its rightful, seaworthy state) at this point in my life is daunting to the point of exhaustion.

But I’ll ask anyway. xoJaners, HOW do I get my skincare regimen on the right track? When did you learn all these rules about face wash, then toner, then moisturizer, or did you? Are there any baby steps I can take that won’t completely overwhelm me, and have you ever fallen so far behind your peers you feel you’ll never catch up? Please say yes, because I am super embarrassed right now.