The Treatment Trap

Boston, MA, winter 2019

Dear Reader,

I have a rather peculiar question for you – is dry skin born or made? It is the dead of winter in Boston and my skin is drier than ever. I find myself applying chapstick at least three times a day and moisturizer for hands at least twice. My sister is similar, and she often carries around some hand cream, which she regularly offers to her companions. We’re normal, right? I don’t for one second think everyone lives this way, but I did not realize until recently that some people happen to have silky, smooth skin without the aid of a daily moisturizer.

TV and print ads regularly feature nourishing creams and specialty moisturizers that will work miracles if applied daily. Somehow, I just accepted that everyone should moisturize in the same way that everyone is expected to shower or brush their teeth. Just yesterday in conversation, my companion mentioned to me that he bought a lotion for his hands—a first for him! However, after using it, he remarked that his hands felt drier than before he had applied the cream. Somehow, this lucky individual managed to have soft skin sans moisturizer all his life. It was as if the cream disturbed the natural ecosystem of his skin and dried it out. Is this possible?

I have always just accepted that I had dry skin. However, now, I wonder, is my skin naturally dry or have I become so addicted to moisturizers that I have a biochemical addiction to them? To clarify, I have been using creams since I was very young. Even as a child, I know my mom prioritized moisturization. About a month ago, I conducted a short experiment on myself to see whether I could “reset” my skin and free myself from the dryness trap. I quit creams and chapstick cold turkey. The results were as expected…. It is the driest, coldest time of the year and my body reacted poorly. Even after only a day or two my skin became dry, and itchy at times. This was particularly bad on my hands and feet, two locations more prone to dryness. My lips though, faired the worst. They were immediately irritated; I rationally knew that I should apply something to my lips. I looked up some natural remedies and chose honey. This made my mouth taste perpetually, and rather uncomfortably, sweet, and my lips were no more moist. My lips chapped, cracked, and were on the verge of bleeding when I gave up the experiment and bought a moisturizing balm.

I am a stubborn person, and I would hate to just accept something because of the so-called laws of nature, but maybe my skin is just dry. This is hard to admit, because I feel that long-term moisturizer use played some sort of role in this.

In the U.S., it is common for advertisements to make you believe that you are lacking in some way that can only be fixed with medicine or the treatment du jour. There is an overabundance of appealing yet non-vital products on the market. Also, there are so many products out there that are kind of addictive. For example, high-processed foods like Doritos leave you feeling unsatisfied and with cravings unlike more natural foods like vegetables. Could moisturizers (which contains drying agents like alcohol) be designed to trap us into a cycle of short-term relief and long-term dependence? Perhaps! I am (obviously) not a chemist. I do not know why drying agents would be included in a moisturizing product, they could serve vital functions that I am not aware of, but I’m not so sure. Maybe my moisturizer is like a bag of Doritos. I will have to indulge ad nauseum to feel satisfied.

Regardless of whether dry skin is born or made, I wish we could rely on products that were designed to “cure” us once and for all, rather than perpetually “treat” us. I have never been one to resort to non-Western treatment or herbal products, but for this particular issue I am tempted. I would be very interested to see what happens when we focus on products that have less than five ingredients and that were not designed to make a profit. I won’t abandon my commercial products entirely, but I will no longer treat them as the “only option” or the “gold standard.” I want to see what’s out there. I’ve always been a big believer in the adage “good things happen to those who seek them” (or something like that). So, I hope you too, Dear Reader, will keep your eye out for something good.

Love,

Raven

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