In addition to the BIEB dilemma, history tells us that a skeptical position is almost always correct. As with trendy diets, after a bit of time it almost invariably becomes clear that the alleged benefits associated with some new, exciting anti-aging beauty product can’t live up to the hype.
In many ways, celebrity culture sits at the center of the massive skin-care and anti-aging industry. Some estimates put the global skin-care market at approximately $80 billion, and it has been suggested that the entire anti-aging industry will be worth almost $300 billion by 2015. Celebrity culture helps to set the benchmark for how our skin is supposed to look. Celebrities are increasingly used to market skin-care products. And through their well-publicized beauty rituals, they help to perpetuate an assortment of anti-aging and skin-care beliefs—the vast majority of which are unscientific and completely unproven.
A cursory scan of popular newspapers and magazines turns up an overwhelming number of questionable celebrity beauty tips. Virtually every magazine with a focus on fashion, celebrities, health, or fitness offers regular advice on skin care and combating aging. Most newspapers have a weekly style or beauty section. At any given moment, probably hundreds of beauty-related recommendations are sitting on the average midsize magazine stand. And all these stories are almost completely devoid of any reference to credible evidence. Beauty advice is a science-free zone. Anything goes.
It is no surprise, then, that celebrity anti-aging activities, whether mildly nutty or utterly senseless, usually evade informed scrutiny. For example, many newspapers and magazines reported, often without a single reference to science, that Kate Middleton used a bee-venom facial as a needle-free shortcut to youthful, line-free skin. A similarly uncritical attitude characterized stories about Demi Moore’s famous leech therapy (which, as one source boasts, “cleanses the blood, improves circulation, and boosts tissue healing”) and the use of snails on the face, favored by celebs such as Katie Holmes, that, as reported by Glamour, leave a trail of “mucus that’s packed with proteins, antioxidants, and hyaluronic acid, which leaves the skin looking glowy and refreshed.” Apparently, the face-crawling gastropods are fed only organic vegetables.
I realize that most of us don’t take these stories too seriously. They are fun and entertaining diversions. Only a small segment of the public is willing to pay the ridiculous prices demanded by purveyors for purifying snails, insect poison, and nightingale excrement. But these stories help to frame how we think about beauty, and they foster the illusion that celebrity status (and wealth) provides access to magically effective anti-aging treatments. They make it seem as if there is something that can be done.