As I had been for Middlesex, I was too young to discover Sea Breeze.
At 12, I still had smooth skin and three baby teeth left and a mind that was not prepared for the likes of Jeffrey Eugenides. It would be two years before I owned a bra and three before I needed one. But all told, I understood that I was luckier than the greater prepubescent population. I had no boobs and no pimples and a best friend.
What happened was all her fault.
Too young to participate in truly decadent activities, she and I liked to wander in and out of drugstores on the Upper West Side. Her favorite was a cramped establishment on 72nd Street that stocked six brands of geriatric diapers. Together, we scrutinized sunscreens and lip balms and pungent bath salts. We bought anything that made us a promise—softer skin, longer lashes, tanner calves. And we bought Sea Breeze. Rachel had heard friends of her older sisters talk about it. They claimed that Sea Breeze—aisle three, bottom shelf—was the secret to a perfect complexion. An astringent, it vacuumed dead skin cells. It squeegeed blackheads. It did divine work.
“We need it,” Rachel pronounced.
We marched our bottles over to the checkout and took them home. Rachel tried it that evening, reporting that the amber fluid was, in fact, liquid gold. I had to do it.
Following her instructions, I dribbled the stuff onto a cotton pad and swiped it across my chin and forehead. Had Pixar animated these moments of my existence, the anguish would have been audible. I swear every pore screeched in protest.
“My face is going to explode!” I yelled, breathing fire over our landlines.
“Don’t worry!” Rachel exclaimed. “That’s how you know it’s doing something.”
No nerves detonated that morning, and the sensation soon faded, but I brutalized my skin for four months thereafter, streaking it with Sea Breeze and subjecting it to Bioré Ultra Deep-Cleansing Pore Nose Strips—a true weapon of mass destruction. It flaked off and broke out and mutinied. It rebelled against the torture. And I deserved it. Because for no good reason, I had internalized that toxic creed of womanhood: Beauty hurts.
I outgrew such blunt tools, replacing them with more precise equipment over the next decade. To excavate blackheads, I invested in GlamGlow's Supermud Clearing Treatment. For dull skin, I swabbed on Cane and Austin Retexture Pads. A million times, I cursed and prodded it. It stung.
Despite a cheerful childhood, I had become a girl at war with her skin. It was violent and boring, and I wanted to change.
Which is when I found Jurlique Calendula Redness Rescue Calming Mist. I had spotted it in the hand of a woman who owned Birkenstocks for many years before Céline reclaimed them. She spritzed it onto her face in the middle of crowded subway in the depths of summer. She looked like a human chakra, and it smelled like benevolence. I ordered it hours later. When it arrived, I drew up a mental treaty. I would be kinder to the flesh that protects me from the outside world. I would have more respect for it. After all, it has been good to me.
Our reconciliation has been a pleasure. To make amends, I nourish it with Weleda Skin Food and Kahina Giving Beauty Argan Oil. I still use Cane and Austin Retexture Pads because the deepest love is discipline. When I want to be very generous, I treat it to Tata Harper's Replenishing Nutrient Complex. It is for special occasions and sometimes for Wednesdays. At 2am on Hump Day, renewal is more than big-hearted. It is essential.
Harper knows that too many of us torment ourselves: “A lot of people think that unless you start to be in pain, what you use is not doing its job.”
But we are wrong. As we get older (“You hope!” says my mother), our skin gets weaker. And those of us who force it to endure peels and scrubs and the cruel universe, in general, do ourselves a disservice.
“Our goal should be to make skin more resistant and more resilient and stronger—not less,” Harper explains. “So, do something nice to it.”
“Massage it! Love it! Care for it!” she cries. It is all we’ve got.
Let this be an intervention. We need thicker skins. They look better, anyway.
Photo by ITG. Skin acting up? Your products could be disrupting your skin's pH.