Since my rocker boyfriend unceremoniously dumped me last summer, I’ve been totally obsessed with my face. Staring for long stretches into the mirror-contemplating lines, blemishes, crinkles and scars-began as a distraction from my broken heart. But it has since evolved into a cherished pastime; spending money to replenish and glow has become a veritable addiction. Who knew that an innocent, cheer-up trip to the spa could have such consequences?
It all started when my mom treated me to a facial at the spa she goes to in Gambrills, Md. In an attempt to make me feel better after my breakup, she took me and my sister-in-law for an Aroma Plus facial. Sure, I enjoyed being treated with pine and citrus immensely. But let me be clear: It’s not that I have bad skin; I didn’t have acne as a teenager, and I don’t have it as an adult. As far as makeup goes, I’ve always approached it as a fun thing-wow, raccoon eyes! How Edie Sedgwick!-not as a necessity, or for cover-up. I’m not a girly-girl. I’ve never been in a tanning booth, and I pay $20 to have my hair cut. In other words: I’m hardly a prime candidate for slavery to spas and Sephora.
But the thing is, my breakup coincided with my 29th birthday, that auspicious date marking the end of an era-the one when you could explain away two-day hangovers, when you were cool with having a new boyfriend every six months, when you sometimes only washed your face once a day. My breakup changed what I thought 29 would mean ( I’m still young!) into something else entirely ( I’m getting old!). As I commenced my affair with my medicine-cabinet mirror, I could see that aging had indeed begun to creep up on me. I noticed a clutch of gray hairs at my part; I saw little creases that will eventually be crevasses under my eyes. I have always looked young for my age-I still get carded for cigarettes-but I can see all too clearly that, contrary to what I’d thought, I am not immune to the forces of nature.
And these days, it really does seem possible to freeze time. We’ve got alpha hydroxy! Microdermabrasion! Sunscreen is practically in the tap water. I’ve heard of modest thirtysomethings making pilgrimages to Takashimaya, the upscale Japanese department store on Fifth Avenue, for advice from their skin experts, and doing whatever they say. It doesn’t seem vain to worry about your skin anymore; rather, it seems silly not to.
But really, it was my Aroma Plus facial that served as the trigger for my addiction. The woman who did all the applying and peeling and squeezing offered some stern words: “You have sun damage,” she said, “here and here.” She dragged her fingertips across my forehead and the bridge of my nose.
“Do you wear sunscreen?” she asked, in a way that made it clear if I said yes she would never believe me.
“There’s sunscreen in my moisturizer,” I answered, sinking deep into my plush terry robe.
Spa Lady laughed. “No, no, no-that’s not sunscreen. That doesn’t even stay on for more than 30 minutes. I’ll leave some products for you out front. Your skin is also really dry; you clearly don’t drink enough water. Do you think you drink enough water?”
I knew better than to answer, despite the fact that ever since I ran the New York City Marathon three years ago I’ve been sure to drink at least 60 ounces a day. She gave me a hard look and left. I put my clothes on and met my mom and sister-in-law out by the reception area, which also served as a kind of pharmacy for faces. I looked at the products that Spa Lady had recommended: a “drinking” serum for my face, a hydration formula for my eyes, an S.P.F. 30 sunscreen, a daily moisturizer, a night moisturizer, a wash, a scrub, a peel. All from a laboratory at Duke University. That was a plus for me-beauty products with intellectual cachet!-except that my ex-boyfriend had gone to Duke, so I felt a little hostile toward those blue bottles.
I fondled them, though, and realized it would cost me $8 million to buy everything I “needed.” Come on! My mom, generous soul that she is, promised to send me home with her “Hope in a Jar” moisturizer and some eye gel. I worried that this wouldn’t be enough to save me, but I decided to give it a try, even if it wasn’t what Spa Lady recommended.
This step up from Oil of Olay got me hooked on the good stuff. I never thought I’d throw away money on beauty products; in fact, I really don’t have the money for them. But just two days ago, I dropped over $100 (courtesy of Visa, but hey-at least I’ll have frequent-flyer miles and good skin as I spiral into debt.) on eye makeup remover, a jar of exfoliating pads and an extra-thick nighttime moisturizer. I bought a bottle of “Total EFA” (essential fatty acid) tablets (these are supposed to help stimulate your skin cells and build collagen or something). I’m fantasizing about buying a home microdermabrasion kit, though I may wait until I turn 30 for that (I’ll use birthday money).
Or maybe I’ll just upgrade to the ProActiv Solution, a series of cleansers, toners and moisturizers that has given the likes of Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears and Stephanie Seymour their radiance. According to their testimonials in Us Weekly, Star and a million other magazines, having eternally youthful skin is so easy. We know that wishing for a celebrity body is a waste of time-no normal person has that much time or money to devote to working out and being worked on. But perfect skin? That seems simple, and attainable.
My new boyfriend, who’s three years younger than me, assures me that I’ve got nothing to worry about. And I can say with certainty that my face is looking pretty good these days, my skin nice and dewy. Maybe it’s the blush of new love. Nah-it’s the products.