A few months ago, I went to the store and bought a basketful of face products—Stridex pads, face wash from Neutrogena, and a stack of washcloths. I took my purchases home, unloaded them into the upstairs bathroom, and told my three daughters, “You are welcome to use this stuff whenever you feel like it.” I showed them how the pads work and explained the purpose of the soap. My goal has been to provide my daughters with the knowledge and tools they need to face the changes I know are coming. They’ve been eager students, but it’s made me realize something: I know a heck of a lot more about teenage skin than I do 40-something skin.
“Listen, girls, if you don’t at least rinse your face with warm water each night, there’s a good chance your skin will get kind of yucky. It’s also why you need to make sure you change your pillow cases.” They stared back at me with big eyes and my middle daughter said, “There are kids at school who get the red things all the time. What do you call them? Dimples?”
I cringed. “Pimples.” It’s a word that sounds every bit as ugly as the thing it describes, and I’ve never been comfortable saying it. I also thought I wouldn’t still have them in my 40s. Yet here I am, with more problematic skin and hair than I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve tried reading the tips on websites and magazines for women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, and I still don’t feel grown up enough yet to have a “skin regimen.”
Sometime in the past few years, my skin underwent a significant change—suddenly and without warning. One day I was fine with my erratic use of oily-skin-anti-blemish wash, the next I came out of the shower with my face on fire. By bedtime my skin was taut, but in a very bad way, and when I woke up, my skin was literally peeling. I began using a sensitive skin lotion to try to combat the flaking. Now I have acne. I thought acne was a teenage malady.
Trying to fix things that go wrong on my face has totally changed too. Picking and squeezing aren’t options anymore because, oh my gosh, my skin doesn’t heal anymore. My face is like an archaeological site, and I can identify the breakouts of months gone by from the still-pink spots. Concealer sits like a film on the top of my skin—there is no blending.
I’ve tried to draw attention away from my increasingly sallow skin with eyeliner and mascara, but now, in addition to not being able to draw a straight line of liner across my lid, I can count on it bleeding all over my eyelid within an hour of application. My mascara smudges too, and I’ve tried every brand from drugstore knockoffs to Christian Dior. Also, does non-sparkly eye shadow even exist? I makes me look like a tragic attempt to be an extra in High School Musical.
Going without makeup doesn’t work either. Some days I decide to go au natural, pull my hair in a ponytail, feather on a little mascara, and pinch my cheeks for color. The reality I meet in my rearview mirror in the car is a drab face that looks past its prime. “Fresh and dewy” is a ship that sailed several years ago.
The best part of my day is washing my makeup off in the evening. My kids don’t care what I look like anyway, though I am waiting for the day my oldest daughter asks to use makeup. One night when I was sitting with all three daughters reading a story, my youngest reached her fingers out and touched my forehead. “Mom, how do you make your skin tell the story with you?”
“It’s easy,” my oldest said, squishing her forehead skin in her fingers and moving it all around.
“But your skin isn’t gushy like mom’s,” said the littlest.
I felt my cheeks get red and was ready to cut the conversation short when my littlest continued, “I hope I look like you when I grow up, Mom.”
“Me too,” said my other two daughters.
My skin might be sallow and pockmarked, but there are at least three people in the world who think I’m beautiful exactly as I am. And that’s just fine by me.