In defense of “good enough” skin

Photo: Dora Lazarevic/EyeEm/Getty Images

When I was growing up, my skin was “textured”. As soon as my periods started, so did the acne. I ignored it most of the time, too focused on updating my Tumblr or playing volleyball to notice. I moved to New York when I was 18 for my undergraduate degree, and it seemed like everyone had great skin. I thought mine would arrive soon enough. I avoided mirrors and showered in the dark to avoid facing my acne. When I was 21, I decided to take Accutane, a complicated drug whose effects I digested for six months. My lips peeled off like sheets. I felt drunk after a glass of wine. If I didn’t coat my whole body in coconut oil within minutes of getting out of the shower, I would start to feel scaly. But after a while, I saw my once active, acne-prone skin turn almost clear, and I was generally happy. Or so I thought.

Five years later, when I became a beauty editor, the PR emails started coming in: red light therapy, cupping, two-hour facials, cryotherapy, tinctures, toners. Was better skin possible? I started noticing new problems, only to receive solutions I didn’t know existed. The luminosity, for example, or the luminosity, or the skin that shone from within. I read the word flawless used without irony. And then I thought, Was perfect skin possible?

Flawless skin is what I would define as generally poreless, with a clear, glass-smooth complexion and a sign of good health. It’s a badge of honor, communicating to the world that you can buy or create an environment so pure that the result is like a mirror. Advanced technology – make-up like primers, procedures like lasers and virtual reality filters – presented flawless skin as not just achievable but normal. This has become particularly prevalent with the illusion of flawless skin made possible by social media and apps like Facetune, making it tempting to have unrealistic expectations for our skin, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Courtney Rubin.

I really thought I could create a routine that could transform my skin. I started saying yes to everything, to every facial, to every product launch, to every founder meeting. My proven products have been replaced by alternatives that are three times more expensive. Documenting the changes in my skin throughout the month has become an obsession. When I started fainting a bit (from what I can now identify as product overload), I felt betrayed. I had done everything. How was that not enough?

I went to see my therapist, Jessica Asch, LCAT, RDT, who introduced me to the term quite well. She was referring to the concept of a “good enough mother”, a phrase coined by pediatrician and psychoanalyst DW Winnicott in his seminal book game and reality. This idea has more to do with consistency than with perfection. It’s about keeping expectations at bay and being realistic with the object of your attention – your child, in this case. Winnicott taught that striving for perfection causes more problems than it prevents.

“Perfection is what really keeps us from living full, joyful, expansive lives,” Asch told me. It got me thinking. Can I apply this concept to my skin?

Then I turned to experts. And when it comes to so-called perfect skin, Shanika Hillocks has the closest thing. Hillocks works in marketing but tries not to accept the idea that perfect skin can be bought. “Instead of labeling skincare as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, I evaluate it holistically,” she says. Lifestyle, stress, genetics, diet – all matter to Hillocks. Seeing skin as part of the complex ecosystem of having a body is the first step to enabling good enough skin to be adequate.

What I finally learned is that consistency over time is more important than individual products. According to Charlotte Palermino, skincare expert and co-founder of Dieux Skin, the industry relies on basic psychology – creating a problem and then imposing itself as the solution. For Palermino, less is more. What shocked me most about adopting his practices was the lack of noticeable change in my skin. The $85 moisturizer was not integral to my skin’s happiness. The Earth continued to spin. I barely missed it.

“The best skincare products are the ones you’ll use,” always says Hannah Krause, owner of Eden, an apothecary in Des Moines, Iowa. It means “sticking to something in your price range that you can keep repurchasing, establishing a routine that fits your lifestyle, and being as consistent as possible.” It’s about valuing your life as it is and putting aside ambitious social media images of full shelves and poreless nose bridges.

For Jo Marini, co-founder of REYN, a functional skincare line, good enough skin is skin that allows her to move easily through the world without thinking about it. “My skin has nothing to do with my contributions to the world, but I feel good in it, and I don’t have to think about it, and that’s exactly how I want it to be.”

Finally, I gave the new products to my little sister. I went back to the pharmacy, a place where I hadn’t bought skincare in years, and emptied the shelves of my closet until only the essentials were left. Good enough skin comes from a place of realistic contentment. It is a skin with human expectations that allows you to live outside the vanity mirror. For me, good enough skin was permission to give up perfection.

For me, good enough skin requires ground rules: stick with what works (no new products for old problems) and spend less than $50 on everything. I stopped believing that an SPF can change my skin or that the right facial could unlock a better me. It’s hard to tell if my skin is less textured than it was almost exactly a year ago when I wrote my first Beauty Story. The money I could have spent on products was spent on the trappings of a happy life – cases of homemade soda water, sets of vintage linens, flowers for friends. Today, good enough is better than perfect.

About Sally Dominguez

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