Monday, August 27, 2007

The Great Product Purge

When I first read about the British woman who gave up bathing, beauty products and even teeth cleaning for 6 weeks as an experiment for a BBC documentary, my response was the same as many bloggers, "eww." The thought alone of going just 3 days without washing my hair or face gives me goosebumps. I've spent enough time around hippies (cough, Northampton, Massachusetts, cough) to know how gross it is to be around someone who refuses to bathe, so I really felt for this woman's friends and family.

But after reading the Daily Mail article in its entirety, I began to think that there was a lot more to this woman's story than most bloggers and writers were giving it credit for. The woman, Nicky Taylor, actually learned some valuable lessons from this unpleasant experiment, and it changed the way she viewed beauty and beauty products.

She described herself as a "beauty product glutton" prior to the experiment, spending about $4,000 a year on products and slathering multiple lotions and potions on her face and body every morning and night. Yet a few weeks into her product purge, she found that her skin began to look better than ever, even developing a glow that made her look younger and more revived. Some of her skin conditions even went away, while her general health improved.

She attributed this improvement to two things. First, that "less is more," and that we often do more harm than good for our skin by piling on tons of products, which may negatively interact with one another or otherwise irritate the skin. Second, she believes that it was the lack of chemicals being applied to her body that improved her health.

Another interesting thing Nicky noticed was that, until people found out about her experiment, they didn't look at her or treat her differently. While she was extremely self-conscious about her looks (not to mention her body odor), outside of her immediate family, no one else seemed to notice.

After the experiment ended, Nicky decided to drastically cut down on her product usage, limiting herself to a bar of soap, organic shampoo and conditioner and a basic moisturizer. She said she no longer washes her hair every single day (though she still showers) and she's stopped worrying so much about other people noticing her physical flaws. "If people didn't notice when they had me standing next to them during the experiment, I'm sure they won't be aware of small things that would once have got me down, such as a bad hair day or a minor skin outbreak."

I think there are a few good lessons to learn from Nicky's story. I do believe that when it comes to beauty products, less really is often more. My skin has never been better since I gave up using masks, serums, scrubs and toners and instead rely on gentle washing and an oil-free moisturizer with SPF as well as a prescription acne cream. Has anyone else noticed something similar?

Based on every reputable scientific study I've read, I don't believe that the chemicals in beauty products are harmful to my health. But I think it is possible that the chemicals in different products could have a negative effect on skin and maybe even general health due to their interaction with each other. Perhaps Nicky's health improvement was psychosomatic, or had nothing to do with the beauty products, I don't know. Until I see more scientific proof that beauty products cause health problems, I'm staying skeptical.

I also think she had a great point about other people being oblivious to her looks. I think most of us are motivated to look good because we feel better about ourselves, not because we're trying to gain attention or impress others, but I think it's very easy to freak out about other people noticing our physical flaws ("this zit is huge, I know everyone is staring at it"). The time we spend obsessing over this is wasted, not only because there's usually nothing we can do to change the offending zit or bad hair day, but even more because no one else notices or cares.


judyo423 said...

Definitely food for thought.

Gigi said...

I may agree some people may be overdoing it but I think most products we use may be healthy.

One, because it really is good for your morale. Even though you may not look good, if you think you do, you will feel more confident. Two, in this age of global warming and sunworshipping, make-up or other products you use are useful in acting as a barrier. For example, it is shown that the numbers of men who get cancer on their lips is much more than women. A difference that has been attributed to women's use of lipsticks or glosses.

Are we overdoing it at times? Yes, no doubt about it. Even though I would not classify myself as a product goddess by any criteria, I have accummulated plenty of make up, moisturizers, hair products enough for three households.

I would like to have a philosopy to follow some day:

Be selective in what you put on yourself. No matter how expensive or how highly the product is being recommended by every one else, if it does not work for you (you are allergic to it, wrong color, not the expected result), get rid of it.

Anonymous said...

My beauty routine is simple:

- shampoo, conditioner, soap
- SPF, oil-free moisturizer
- spectrogel facial cleanser
- sunscreen (SPF 45 usually) when required
- SPF, fragrance-free, colour-free, lip balm when needed.

I went through terrible acne as a teenager and nothing superficial would cover it up. I learned to live with the imperfections on my face (which have long since disappeared).

That simplified beauty regime has carried over into my 30s and I'm OK with it. Frankly, I can't be hassled with spending time to do make up nor owrrying about touching it up.

My beauty indulgences are fairly limited - eyebrow grooming and hair cuts 'n colours.



lisa said...

I definitely agree with the less is more philosophy with beauty products. My daily regimen consists of gentle cleanser, SPF moisturizer, a topical acne medication, and maybe an anti-blemish treatment at night if I'm breaking out. I do a weekly cleansing mask as well.

That being said, I think this experiment went a bit far. Come on, not being able to clean your teeth for 6 weeks? Having had braces, I'm a little bit obsessive-compulsive about oral hygiene, and that part of the experiment makes me cringe at the thought of what can happen to tooth enamel in 6 weeks' time.

tmp00 said...

I think people tend to overdo it, but as I've grown older I've found that I need a little more help in keeping anything like a youthful glow.

Northampton, huh? That's where I grew up!

jeni - savvy skin said...

I think a lot of products actually make your skin worse, so then you end up buying even more products to fix the problems you just created! I think the key is finding a simple routine that works for you, like you do. It just gets tricky when you have multiple problems to "fix" - like acne, and wrinkles!

Kelly Mahoney said...

At least she stuck with it and went through the process. I'm not sure I could give up sunscreen or conditioner, but I can't believe no one noticed she wasn't brushing her teeth.

WendyB said...

I think it was nothing but a publicity stunt. She certainly could have cut down on product use without going to the extent of rotting her teeth and nails and offending people with her smell. The things that people will do for attention these days are unbelievable. It's no different than eating bugs on TV to win $50,000!

Anonymous said...

i ONLY use a norwex cloth to clean my face. with hot water,only. and a moisturizer. my skin has NEVER been better.

sara said...

I think the not brushing your teeth part was way extreme. And no sunblock?! IMO, both of those things are very unhealthy, much more so than using a few chemicals.

Bren said...

I've been battling acne for 10 years and while the past year has seen less outbreaks (due to a skincare regime built from knowledge gleaned through hours of lurking on makeupalley), I still had the hyperpigmentation left over from those outbreaks to deal with one year on.

But starting about a month ago, colleagues and friends started commenting that my face was getting much better: less red, less oily. I was happy but puzzled because my skincare regime hadn't changed (no new products added) in the past year. But I'm beginning to think that it might be because I've been lazy and more "carefree" about my skin i.e. washing my face only twice a day with gentle cleansers, not piling on the pimple treatments and not using some products e.g. Retin-A as regularly like I used to. Some days, I just washed, used a simple moisturizer plus sunscreen only if I was going out.

So yes, maybe less IS more.

Anonymous said...

I was lucky in high school with very few breakouts but I developed acne in my twenties. I did the prescription medicines for a little less than a year, which did help. But I must say that pre-natal vitamins are what have made the biggest difference. With just Cetaphil, oil free/sunscreen moisturizer and regular makeup choices, my skin is the best ever. It took maybe six weeks at the most to see a huge difference. I wish I'd gotten a Rx for the vitamins years ago.

Cherie said...

Re: worrying about people seeing your flaws - it has been said that people are too busy thinking about their own flaws to notice yours!

Anonymous said...

In theory I agree - I hardly ever wear make up and when I do, i've learnt to apply it so that you can't really tell (unless you're standing TOO close...) - so I try to concentrate on skin care.

For me it is a pretty big deal as far as confidence for the day goes - I used to have obvious pustule pimples on my chin for years and just when I'd convinced myself that noone would notice, I'd get comments like "Can i squeeze it for you....?" - really, really hurtful...

Now my skin is pimple free and a really nice texture (thanks to Truderma and gentle Cetaphil!) It makes a difference!! and my anxiety levels have plummeted -

I have a permanent redness across my nose and cheeks (kind of like a permanent sunburn or flush) that is ALOT better than it used to be - and in part I think thats due to a gentle face cleanser and a good moisturiser (I do have a nice serum that seems to calm it down) but people do notice and comment all the time - - "Are you sunburnt?"

So I dont even try to convince myself that noone notices - at least 1 person /day says something which means pretty much everyone does notice but is too nice to say something - thankyou, truly -

Anonymous said...

Did you just diss Noho? Tsk, tsk. As we say here, different is good.

Tracey said...

i used to be a total product whore. "aha, bring it on, mud masks with sulfer, sure. harsh scrubs, the more exfoliating the better." then i ended up stopping my regular skincare regimen for two weeks because i ran out, and didn't have any time to buy more. my skin stopped breaking out as much, no more flaky skin or discoloration. it turns out i have ultra sensitive skin. it used to not be, but had changed because of adult onset psoriasis on my face, which i hadn't noticed because i was too busy trying to find products to fix my skin, not realizing what i was doing was causing what i wanted to fix with all those ointments and such.
now, i use a soapless cleanser, cetafil moistureizer, and try to only use eye makeup so i don't have irritation occure on my skin.
now, knowing i am allergic to aha, bha, and most retinoids, i can't believe the hell i went through usiing 20 products a day to treat something i was doing to myself.

less is more!

augusta said...

As a black woman, i can go without sunscreen,(even though everyone, even blacks, should use it) but not brushing your teeth for six weeks?That's unfathomable.

Anonymous said...

Go look for the book Drop Dead Gorgeous.
I've never read it, but it's been recommended to me, and it may be some of the evidence you're looking for.

Liv said...

Like a few other commenters, I've had the same experience with cutting down on my crazy product usage. My skin looks sooooooo much better now that I'm not scrubbing the hell out of it and using masks and tons of products to try to fight off a few measly zits. It's less red, less dry, less irritated, AND I don't break out as much. I think a lot of people (including myself) take cleanliness too far and it just ends up backfiring.

That being said...I'd turn into a total hermit if I couldn't brush my teeth. I'd be afraid to talk to anyone, lest my dragon breath knock them unconscious. Ick...that's where I draw the line, to be sure.

Donna said...

Is this the same Nicky Taylor that did a documentary on binge drinking for a month?

Interesting stuff, but she does seem to carry it to extremes. If she was trying to prove beauty products are taken to an extreme, couldn't she have at least showered without soap? And not brushing her teeth, what was the point of that? I agree that many people use far more beauty products than they need, and spend far more money than perhaps they should, but the experiment just seemed overdone.

sesame said...

This is another entry that was used.