Read: Should I keep spraying this water on my face?
In this advice is a little sleight of hand. The guidance usually comes from the wealthy, who have all the access in the world to the best skin products and treatments, and it tends to overemphasize the importance of lifestyle while sweeping under the rug the actual cost of tinkering with your facial chemistry. Celebrities wouldn’t be as distractingly beautiful without dermatologists, estheticians, and the women behind the beauty counters at Bergdorf Goodman. You can drink as much water and wear as much sunscreen as you want, but the most effective skin-care trick is being rich.
The moral halo around “good skin” isn’t a coincidence. The behaviors associated with a clear, even-toned complexion require those who want it to reject hedonism in a way that is still deeply ingrained as virtuous in American culture; that the wealthy have mastered the look reinforces capitalistic notions of success and who achieves it (the ascetic, dedicated, and hardworking). The journalist Jaya Saxena found as much when she investigated the connections between skin and poverty earlier this year. “We assume those at the top are there because they’ve done something right. And if they have straight teeth, toned bodies, and smooth skin, that must be ‘right’ too,” she wrote. “It’s not that we think having bad skin is a moral failing. It’s that we think poverty is.”
Maybe that’s why the wealthy models and actresses and the media who exalts them are so dedicated to the idea that those results must be earned through actions, when in reality, they’re usually bought with money. Regular people are hungry for intel on how the rich and beautiful became that way, which means that almost all beauty media regularly publishes tips-and-tricks lists from models and actresses. It’s no mystery to beauty editors and writers, as well as the famous women surveyed, that the answer is a combination of youth, genetic luck, and access to expensive products, treatments, and cosmetic dermatology procedures that few people outside their world could ever hope to experience. But a dozen 20-somethings telling you about their expensive laser treatments would be too depressing for women to read about and too embarrassing for the professionally beautiful to admit.
For example, in a 2016 Elle magazine article surveying 17 Victoria’s Secret models, eight of them praised lifestyle habits such as drinking water and exercising, with several more crediting low-cost fixes such as drugstore pore strips. None of them mentioned Mzia Shiman, who tends to the skin-care needs of Victoria’s Secret models. The facials at her New York spa start at $200, and more advanced services offer tightening and plumping via LED light bed or electric micro-current.
Even if you forgo high-tech treatment and avoid skin problems such as cystic acne or dermatitis, which Saxena notes usually require intervention from an expensive dermatologist, a skin-care regimen itself can get very expensive, very quickly. Into The Gloss, a beauty website whose popular series The Top Shelf asks influential people to detail absolutely everything they do to their skin and hair, provides readers with a rare look at the litany of services and products required to keep the famous and wealthy looking that way. The most recent edition, from the veteran model Angela Lindvall, lists skin-care products that add up to $629, most of which come in small, quickly emptied packages. This price range is typical of The Top Shelf.