Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The snake-oil paradox

I keep hearing that shampoo creates the need to shampoo, moisturizer the need to moisturize, and now, chapstick the need to use chapstick. What does it all mean?

As appealing as it is, from a Cheapness-Studies perspective, to believe this, or in more Gwyneth-compatible terms, as intriguing as it is from a toxin-avoiding standpoint, I do wonder. It makes sense that companies would want to get you hooked on something, to create a need for a something useless. See also: skim milk makes you fat! (Meanwhile, anything but skim tastes disgusting on cereal.) See also, also: hair-ironing. Gives you shiny hair, but also split ends, such that if you then don't flat-iron, you get more frizz than you would otherwise.

I tend to think there's enough truth to this that unless you can locate an actual, identifiable problem, you shouldn't introduce a product. Meaning, if your face isn't giving you any specific concern (other than not looking 16 anymore, yet producing the occasional zit just to spite you), you don't need to 'take care of your skin,' apart from, I don't know, soap and, if relevant, sunscreen. You don't need to apply random creams in the hope of it looking in some unclassifiable way better (i.e. younger), and indeed, doing so has an excellent chance of making it look worse (i.e. the possibilities are endless).

But, like, chapped lips! Which some of us may have had until splurging on that French beeswax product in the little tub! Which may return, in this weather, if we stop using this product! Such a chicken-and-egg problem, this. Sometimes there will be an identifiable problem that predates the snake-oil purchase, so it's not entirely in our head. For those without the funds or leisure time to spend half the week at the dermatologist (and do they even address frizz?), some medically-questionable products seem more or less inevitable.

12 comments:

Nicholas said...

I'll admit to being one of those people who stopped using chapstick after reading one of these articles is, oh, 2011 or so; I basically never do now, except for the very coldest/driest of months here, and then only sporadically. I think it's not an issue of creating its own need, or anything, so much as 1. changing your perception of when your lips are 'dry' and 2. integrating itself into many-times-a-day routines. The marginal moment you feel like you need chapstick, you probably don't. But it's certainly not the end of the world if you do.

Phoebe said...

I'd think chapstick is necessary if your lips are cracking otherwise, which, if it's this cold and you're outside a lot, they very well might be. And... that it, and moisturizers of all kinds, are probably overused, because of the marketing claiming that one must use such products in the absence of any particular issue.

caryatis said...

I guess it's hard to distinguish the *felt* need for something (lips or skin that feel dry) with an actual need for it (something bad will happen if you don't use chapstick or lotion).

Also, isn't everyone supposed to use sunscreen?

Phoebe said...

"Also, isn't everyone supposed to use sunscreen?"

Not people who are inside when the sun is out.

caryatis said...

Do you have windows?

Phoebe said...

Do I at this particular moment? (Glances around.) Yes. But I've worked in quite a few windowless offices.

caryatis said...

I've gotten the impression that in theory everyone ought to use sunscreen every day, because everyone gets a nonzero quantity of sunlight (possible exception if you are in solitary confinement). Does anyone actually do that, perhaps not.

Phoebe said...

Huh. I'd think there's some threshold, where the sun exposure is so minimal (and we do need some) that the negative effect of certain chemicals in sunscreen would be greater than that of the sun.

Moebius Stripper said...

I've found that drinking more water often solves the problem that chapstick and moisturizer are designed to fix, and that uncomfortably dry hands and lips are a sign that I'm dehydrated. The main exception was when I was doing a lot of pottery: handling clay made my hands crack if I didn't treat them directly.

Phoebe said...

Moebius,

That could well be. In my case, I think it's the combination of colder-than-usual temperatures and the hyperactive poodle in need of near-continuous (it feels like that) walks or, if I'm feeling adventurous, jogs.

fourtinefork said...

As a dry-skinned kind of girl, I am currently sitting around with a Bioderma moisturizing mask on my face, thinking how wonderful my skin feels. Like I'm in a cool yet humid environment-- a rainy day in Scotland, maybe? You'll pry the stuff out of my cold, dead, shriveled hands.

Some of us really do need moisturizer, and even more so in freezing and windy weather. I mean, I could ditch the NARS lip pencils and live a perfectly decent life, but for me (at least since I turned 35 and my skin took a turn towards the dry and dehydrated), moisturizer is non-negotiable. I mean, maybe I'd trade a facial oil for a standard moisturizer, but I need something.

fourtinefork said...

And, Moebius Stripper: yes, clay will definitely dry out your skin. The stuff that makes hard-paste porcelain, well, hard-paste (kaolin, i.e., the long-sought after secret ingredient, the Arcanum) has well-documented drying properties. Böttger might have burnt his eyes (from experimenting with furnaces, not the kaolin), but I bet he didn't have greasy skin.

Relatedly, for you less mummy-like people, Queen Helene's mud mask is awesome and über-cheap.