Letters: ‘Here’s to “The Modest Goal of Looking Totally Fine”’

Readers discuss the drawbacks of a culture that promises simple skin-care miracles.

Shana Novak / Getty

The Best Skin-Care Trick Is Being Rich

Earlier this month, Amanda Mull wrote about the ways in which mainstream beauty media promote the idea that “if you find the right product and live the skin-care lifestyle (No alcohol! No dairy! Don’t enjoy anything!), then you will be rewarded with the glow of the youthful and righteous.” In reality, Mull explained, “You can drink as much water and wear as much sunscreen as you want, but the most effective skin-care trick is being rich.”

I work in a retail clothing establishment that also offers skin-care and beauty products. The price range is from almost decent ($30 for a cleanser) to really high end (a $200 face cream). Our customers are mid-40s to 80-plus. Many want “the fix”: take the crow’s feet away, what about sagging jowls, pick up the grooves around the mouth. The search for endless youth is indeed endless, and while we are in the business of providing help, we can’t create miracles or stop the clock. The best I can do, as an honest broker, is to suggest alternatives without making promises that won’t be kept by the product. Some customers appreciate that and understand the limitations of the aging process and what cosmeceuticals can do. But many of our customers will continue to live in a state of denial, and won’t buy unless we/the products “promise” a reversal of the impact of time.

Ms. Mull nails the inherent dilemma of most beauty product customers. It costs money you don’t have to test products enough to find one that works, and meanwhile Instagram posts and magazines provide delusions of grandeur most people won’t achieve. It helps to have honest writers who highlight the issue, and also tie it to larger societal challenges.

Those who are less well-off, unemployed, underemployed, etc., cannot afford healthy places to live—much less healthy food to eat—safe cars to drive, or access to medical care to treat any illness. It can feel like having control over some piece of your life to think that a cream may help you look better, which might lead to a (better) job or some other improvement. We cling to those small things, recognizing that the larger issues are often beyond our control.

Edie Patterson
Richmond, Va.

I was moved and impressed with Amanda Mull’s article on skin care and wealth. I know that she is right; I have aged into my mid-40s only to see the prices of skin care go up depending on what you want to do. Those with means can afford to spend in a single afternoon an amount that would be equivalent to a week’s worth of healthy groceries for a working-class mother of two.

The more important conversation, about our perception of ourselves and the desperate need to appear youthful and wealthy, is highlighted here, and it was refreshing to read.

Carrie Mayo
Baton Rouge, La.

A note of congratulations to Amanda Mull for her darkly observant analysis of women’s skin-care trends and the class disparity thereof—a truly brilliant piece. As a Millennial woman to whom all these products, tips, and tricks are marketed, I loved the irony! Here’s to “the modest goal of looking totally fine.”

Sylvia E. Smith
Denver, Colo.

While this article brings up many good points, the sentence suggesting that most people’s skin will be fine if they eat healthy, exercise, and get enough sleep is highly offensive to the many of us struggling with common but difficult-to-combat skin issues such as cystic acne and psoriasis. I would urge the author to realize the role that genetics plays in “good” skin before writing statements such as that, which serve to only frustrate further those of us who have tried everything from diets to more sleep to cure common skin conditions.

Ashrita Rau
Medford, Mass.