Cleanse, Tone, Obsess: A Forum for Skin-Care Addicts

Bad skin can change quickly from an affliction to an obsession. Hours are lost before the magnifying mirror, considering—or, more often, tampering with—the evidence. Whatever conclusion you reach about your lesions, the readiest cure will be a trip to the store, where five or ten bucks can buy some kind of hope. If one product doesn’t work, there are always plenty more, each its own unique promise of success—a scientific term like Coenzyme Q10, a satisfying graphic of an emptied-out pore. And yet consumers and cosmetics brands are often at cross purposes: we want to find a product that works; they want to sell as many products as possible. Acne and wrinkles are presented as scourges to be punished, visible marks of shame upon the face. We want ointment to sting so that we know it is working. We smile at the thought of ripping pore strips from our noses and studying the unplugged debris in the light.

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On Skincare Addiction—a Reddit forum for skin-care enthusiasts—amateur dermatology is less punitive, more pedantic. For a project maintained by three hundred thousand strangers, the site is very tidy. A sidebar is full of accessible fact sheets on topics ranging from stretch marks to paraben safety. Skin imperfections are revealed to have names—papules, pustules, milia, cysts—and to respond to certain treatments. I learned that the so-called blackheads on my nose were, in actuality, sebaceous filaments—a normal accumulation of sebum and dead skin. One recommendation was “Stridex in the red box”—a cheap solution for mall-rat acne, beloved for its exfoliating beta hydroxy acid. Real skin-care addicts read the back of the bottle. On Skincare Addiction, I learned that I might predict how a product will behave by reading its list of ingredients like a horoscope. An occlusive, like silicone, will form a film on the skin, trapping natural moisture inside. An emollient, like shea butter, spackles the cracks between cells, yielding a temporary smoothness. Responding to an industry that profits from mystique, the posts on the forum read like drugstore cheat codes.

If you are new to Skincare Addiction, you might start by following the basic ScA Routine: wash your face with a gentle cleanser, then moisturize afterward to restore hydration. Skip the harsh acne washes, the microbead soaps, the St. Ives scrub, and the Pinterest lemon cocktails. Now add any of the more advanced steps: removing your makeup with micellar water, applying a U.V.A./U.V.B. sunscreen, preaching to friends about Vitamin C serums, ordering hyaluronic acid from Japan, and, finally, posting to the forum for yourself. As the name suggests, Skincare Addiction is a progressive condition. Posts tagged “Before & After”_ _promise a quick fix but are almost always dull: a before photo has acne; an after does not. I prefer the posts of those who’ve gone too deep—the man who worries that his multi-step routine might make him look weak if discovered by a girlfriend; the woman with perfect, glowing skin who swears that she sees a faint green shadow on her lip.

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