Anne Strainchamps: Here’s To the Best of Our Knowledge, I'm Anne Strainchamps.
Anne: Living through a global pandemic is giving us all a whole new awareness of skin. If you go out in public, you have to constantly monitor it. Stay six feet apart. Think before you touch anything. Wash your hands. In fact, sanitize them and don't touch your face. It's all exhausting. This hour, we want to reclaim our skin in all the different ways we're living it. Producer Angelo Bautista has been thinking a lot about his.
Angelo Bautista: I fell down on a skincare rabbit hole almost a year ago.
Angelo: I'm, by no means, an expert on skincare but I've learned a few things from watching hours of YouTube videos and lurking on the skincare addiction sub-Reddit
Hyram: Hello everyone and welcome to skincare with Hyram. If you don't know who I am, my name is Hyram and I’m going to be teaching you how to perfect your skincare routine. Make sure you subscribe to my channel and click on the notification bell so you can see my videos.
Angelo: I spent almost $400 on skincare products so far and I'm not really sure why I need it. I'm in my early twenties and this is probably the best my skin has ever going to look. I've gotten this far in life without a multistep skincare routine. Why start now?
Female 1: I'm just so picky about my skincare that it never seemed to be good enough.
Angelo: Clearly, I'm not alone. The skincare industry has been booming in recent years with global spending on skincare trending towards $18 billion in the next four years. Not to mention that skincare consumers have never been more informed.
Female 1: I’ve just exfoliated with a gentle 2% BHA facewash.
Angelo: Look up #Skincare and you'll find influencers all over Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok disseminating the latest skincare know-how.
Male 1: Today we're going to be talking about toners — what they are, if you should use them, why you should use them.
Angelo: There are videos all over the internet of people and celebrities sharing their skincare routines.
Female 2: You will really start to feel this tingle. Oh yeah.
Angelo: In Korea, K-beauty skincare routines can have 10 to 14 steps. People in the US are doing it too.
Female 3: This is a little weird but I always--
Angelo: I saw one video that had 38 steps. 38!
Female 4: I have to take my time. If that means I have to take two extra hours in the morning, I'm going to do it.
Angelo: I have five. Going through these steps twice a day, in the morning and at night, staring at myself in the mirror gives me quite a bit of time to think about my skin and the person inside my skin.
Angelo: Step one, cleanser.
Angelo: I think we all know how a face wash works. Nothing fancy, just a gentle cleanser that you can get from the drug store will do. I do a little extra step, what's called a double cleanse. It comes from the 10-step K-beauty craze. You take a cleansing oil to break up the oils and the oil-based products on your face. Then you follow it up with a water-based cleanser to wash away what's left. Some say it's too much. Some say it's too drying. Others say it's good practice. I don't know. I just like it. It makes me feel extra clean, but also just extra.
Angelo: At the very least, everyone should be washing their face. Please. Step two, toner.
Male 1: Let's get into it. What is a toner? Toners are liquids that penetrate very, very quickly into your skin, depending on the toner, delivering instant hydration, removing dead skin cells, picking up dirt--
Angelo: My toner is the most expensive part of my routine. It's a step that's hard to explain.
Male 1: They can also restore your pH balance if your cleanser wasn’t pH balanced and generally much give you plumper, brighter-looking skin.
Angelo: My toner looks like one of those fancy bottled waters that comes from some melting glacier in Norway. That's a lot. Okay. I use these special Japanese cotton pads that I bought online. They look like little tiny pillows and they just feel so soft. Then I just take a little cotton pad and just swipe it on my face.
Angelo: Not everyone in the skincare community agrees about toner.
Female 4: I know from past videos that I'm going to get some arguments on this one but you don't necessarily need a toner. I am sorry but you do not necessarily need a toner.
Angelo: Okay, maybe I might not need toner but it does make me feel like a rich woman. Sometimes I just feel like I'm putting money into my face like liquid money. Sometimes I think maybe it's all a scam sold under the guise of "self-care". In 1988, the poet Audre Lorde wrote, "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation. That is an act of political warfare." As an African-American lesbian fighting cancer, she was saying that when your body exists under oppression, self-care is declaring yourself worthy of care, that you, in fact, matter.
Angelo: But I don't think she was telling us to buy expensive toner and use hundreds of cotton pads that will end up in landfills because #Selfcare. Three decades after Audre Lorde, when even health care is still unattainable for many, the term self-care has been co-opted by those who can afford it.
Female 5: Okay. I have a second to myself. I'm going to show you something. GOOPGLOW Overnight Glow Peel, inspired by a chemical peel that I used to get at my dermatologist. I really wanted to--
Angelo: Maybe you've heard of Gwyneth Paltrow's wellness lifestyle brand, Goop. It's valued at $250 million dollars.
Female 5: Good morning. My skin is super soft with our Overnight Glow Peel. I wake up feeling fresh and glowing and ready to start my day.
Angelo: Goop sells a toner that costs $75 per 3 ounces. My toner is $30 for 11 ounces. Don't forget the neck. The neck is so important. For those of you doing the math, that's nine times as much per ounce. Cleans up the leftover impurities I guess. Cool. I know I'm showing my privilege by complaining about the cost of luxury skincare products, but I can't help but wonder who benefits the most from skincare. Is it the person who can afford the $75 toner or the one selling it?
Angelo: Step three, serum.
Angelo: Serums are where skincare starts to feel like a science experiment. It is science. This is biochemistry. My serums are clear liquid goo in glass vials. The main ingredient I use is niacinamide, which is just a science-y term for vitamin B3. It's a superstar ingredient and it's good for a whole lot of things. They have these little eye droppers. You just squeeze it. It minimizes pores, softens fine lines and wrinkles, evens texture and skin tone. It helps with dryness. Moisturizing. It fights free radicals. Reduces oil production. Redness, pores, wrinkles, skin tone, fine lines. Brightens and lightens the skin.
That last one though, brightens and lightens the skin. It doesn't sit right with me. When I was 13, I spent a whole summer in the Philippines visiting family and that's when I discovered papaya soap.
Angelo: Papaya contains an enzyme that supposed to dissolve dead skin cells gradually revealing lighter skin underneath.
Angelo: Skin-whitening products are incredibly popular in the Philippines. Whole store aisles are dedicated to them and you'll see celebrities selling them on TV.
Angelo: There's not just papaya soap, there's lightening creams and deodorants, kojic acid products, glutathione pills and injections. Some products may even contain mercury. The link between skin color and cleanliness is as old as mass-produced soap itself. In the late 19th century, the British soap company Pears published an advertisement featuring two young boys. In one cartoon panel, you see a rosy-cheeked white boy giving a black boy a bath. In the second panel, the white boy holds up a mirror to the black boy- -holds up a mirror to the black boy and he’s shocked by his reflection.
His body is scrubbed white, while his face remains stubbornly black. Another ad reads, "The first step towards lightening the white man's burden is through teaching him the virtues of cleanliness.” Thirteen-year-old me wasn't thinking about soap as an allegory for Imperialism, the cleansing of the unwashed savage. I wasn't thinking about the hundreds of years of Spanish and American colonization and what it did to our ideas of Filipino beauty. I didn't know skin whitening was a multi-billion-dollar industry in Asia. I just thought, "It's just papaya. It wouldn't hurt to use every now and then. I mean, I don't want to get too dark."
The shame of dark skin is subtle. A relative tells you not to play in the sun too long, or else you'll get dark. Most Filipino celebrities you'd see on TV and in movies were fair-skinned and Mestizo, not Moreno or Kayumanggi. I haven't touched papaya soap since.
Step four, moisturizer. Skin is the barrier between our inside world and the outside world. It's a porous surface, like a sponge and, just like sponges, we're all constantly in the process of drying out. The point of moisturizer isn't just to restore wetness, but to seal in all the goodness from all the other stuff you put on and to help keep out the bad stuff that can harm us, pollutants, irritants, weather. There's something I find so satisfying about putting on a moisturizer. It makes me feel safe.
Male 2: How do I find a lasting sense of the purpose in my life? Why am I never really satisfied?
Angelo: As you can imagine, I spent a lot of time looking at myself in the mirror.
Male 2: When will I finally be content with my accomplishments? Why am I naturally dissatisfied with almost all of my relationships?
Angelo: Sometimes I'll just stand in the bathroom and look at myself.
Male 2: How do I find the courage to be my own person?
Angelo: And If I stand there long enough-
Male 2: Why am I so susceptible to criticism?
Angelo: -something inside me just bubbles up like it's just bouncing around in my head and I feel it in my face, like it just wants to escape. Then I'll say, "I hate myself". I beat myself up constantly but only I can see the bruises.
Male 3: These are some of the characteristics of shame-based trauma.
Angelo: I recently picked up this book, The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing up Gay in a Straight Man's World, written in 2005 by psychotherapist Alan Downs.
Alan Downs: When I wrote The Velvet Rage, I wanted to cut to the core of what it’s like to live with a secret, a secret that makes you believe that you're fundamentally unlovable. When you grow up with the secret of your own sexuality, there's this ingrained hardcore belief that there's something about me that is fundamentally flawed and that I somehow need to compensate for that.
Angelo: I somehow need to compensate for that. Compensate by being more muscular, or more sexy, or more successful, or, I don't know, beautiful, whatever brings us validation.
Alan: All of this is to bring us to this point, because I want you to understand that when we feel shame, the urge that we have within us is to hide. There're many, many ways in which we can hide.
Angelo: It's only recently that I've realized the invisible ways avoiding shame has shaped my life, my relationships, even though I have a loving family and a loving partner.
Alan: When we feel shame, we want to lie, we want to hide our bodies, we want to avoid the person, we may compartmentalize our lives. There're many, many ways. Humans are genius at finding ways to hide.
Angelo: I've learned from being in therapy and from this book that, from a young age, one way we learn to cope with shame is through splitting. We split ourselves, compartmentalize. We hide the bad stuff, show the good stuff and it becomes harder to recognize yourself. Am I the good parts or the bad parts? When we talk about skin, we also fall into these types of binaries. There's good skin or bad skin, dark or light, perfect or imperfect.
Step five, mask. This is an extra part of my routine that I'll do once a week. It's a little vial of what I call my blood mask, because it looks like blood. It makes me look menacing, like I'm performing a ritual sacrifice. It tingles and it stings and it feels like someone’s poking your face with little needles. Here's the question I've been struggling with, is skincare an act of self-love or self-loathing? Someone who cares for their skin this much must love themselves at least a little bit, right? But if part of the goal is to change something you don't like about yourself, isn't that self-loathing or is it both? And, not or.
One day, a second grade substitute teacher stopped me as I walked into class. "You got some mud on you." "I do?" I asked, rubbing my face. "Yes, right there," she pointed at my right jaw. "Oh, that's my birthmark." My birthmark it's a dark brown, oval splotch about an inch and a half long. Other kids thought it was weird and gross that it grew hair. My parents said that was a good thing, because it meant it wasn't cancerous. I asked my parents if I could get rid of it. They said I could, but it would leave a scar.
If you asked me today, "What's your favorite part of your body?" I think it would be my birthmark. It's the part of me that feels the most free. It's a blemish I can never hide. No amount of skincare will change it and I'm okay with that. If I can love this part of me, this little piece of skin for what it is, what's stopping me from loving the rest? I think skincare isn't about finding perfection. It's about finding balance, whatever that means for you. Somewhere between good and bad that's just okay. Things can be just okay.
Anne: That's producer Angelo Bautista.