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August 10, 2009

When it comes to skin products, less is more

100_0146-300x257 The cost of anti-aging skincare products should have been enough to make me think twice about how many I purchase.  Especially in the middle of a major economic crisis. But it took a stubborn skin rash to prove that less really is more when it comes to the stuff I slather on my face.

The weird rash crept across my forehead, then around my nose, about a week after I’d started applying a new retinol cream I read about in a magazine. To most middle-aged women, retinol (a mild form of Retina-A) is as familiar as whitening toothpaste.  A fat-soluble form of Vitamin A, retinol reputedly plays a role in bone growth and skin regeneration.  It is used in cosmetics to help exfoliate the skin and rebuild collagen.

But I should have known better than to play with fire again. Several years ago, my dermatologist gave me a prescription for Retin-A to help lessen my acne scars.  Unfortunately, my fair, freckled skin wouldn’t tolerate it -- even after the initial adjustment period.  I finally stopped using the prescription, but it took weeks for the peeling and burning to stop.

Still, like most 50-something women I know, I’m just vain enough to keep looking for new miracle products.  And even though I know better, I believe it when advertisers and beauty editors tell me that I’m flawed or pathetically outdated if I don’t use the potions and elixirs they’re pitching.

As I learned recently, though, over-the-counter anti-aging products aren’t for everyone.  The one I tried the last time made me itch and burn so badly that I had to purchase another arsenal of skin creams to battle the new problem. In the meantime, I also had to stop using most of my routine skin treatments and make-up products. I temporarily ditched the wrinkle-reducing foundation, the light-illuminating blush, the de-puffing eye shadow creams.

Which led to another epiphany.

Every time I looked in a mirror to check the rash on my forehead, I noticed something else: I actually looked better with less make-up.  From then on, as the redness faded and the itching stopped, I deliberately used fewer products. I tossed out my old make-up, including the foundations and frosted eye shadows that seemed to emphasize my dry patches and wrinkles.

And my skin continued to improve. It looked fresher and brighter without all the layers of expensive stuff I’d been applying with religious devotion -- stuff that occupied too much space in my bathroom, and never quite lived up to all the promises.

Of course, I don't look 35 again without the extra make-up. But I still think I look better.  Aside from the fact that I’m saving good money, in the long run my simpler beauty routine will free some time for other pursuits. I feel younger and lighter just thinking about it.

Cindy La Ferle is author of a new essay collection and blogs about women's issues at Cindy La Ferle's Home Office.

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