Beauty secrets used to be secret. You blocked out the evening, bolted the doors, silenced all notifications, and got busy. Maybe you stippled your face with Mario Badescu Drying Lotion, coated your bikini line with hot wax, glopped on a hair mask, and spent the evening in athleisure watching Love Is Blind, hoping the show’s title was a statement of fact. The next day, you’d wake up feeling fresh and ready for company. No one knew what happened in those quiet hours, and that was exactly by design.
There are an untold number of beauty treatments and procedures that are best conducted solo. Some of the products they involve are so rank and disgusting that they would chase any non-participant out to the street gasping for air. Some of them are creepy, ugly, shocking, disturbing. Some of them are, impressively, both.
This is an argument for the right to privacy.
Charlotte Tilbury, the makeup artist, once told me that her husband has never seen her without makeup. Before bed, she washes and moisturizes her face thoroughly, and then applies what she calls a “bedroom eye,” which is, yes, makeup—on both eyes. It sounds mad; Twitter absolutely hates it. But she’s been married for nearly a decade and created a $1 billion brand, so who’s to judge? Her theme is “Keep the magic alive.”
No, this is not evolved, and Tilbury knows it. But good for her for admitting to something so retrograde.
We’re living in a time of transparency and authenticity. Also, self-acceptance and everything positivity. And don’t get me wrong—I subscribe. I love seeing people parading down the boulevard wearing bright-yellow Starface patches over their zits. It’s fun. But I also believe there’s an alternative seduction to keeping certain things to yourself.
Remember those early days of a relationship when you met at the restaurant, perfumed and high-heeled, putting your best self forward? Putting yourself out there? Your stories were new and sparkling. Your eyes too. There were no awkward acrobatics with wax strips, no rancid self-tanner tarnishing your skin. The world was candlelit.
A few months in, though, if things grew intimate, you may have found yourself tweezing unself-consciously in the living room.
Let’s say you discovered a particular facial mask that everyone seemed to be raving about on TikTok. Let’s say the mask is the especially ghoulish Hanacure All-In-One Facial. It comes from South Korea, where some of the best, if most peculiar, skin-care products originate. Surely you’ve heard of snail mucin.
The Hanacure mask involves two solutions that, when shaken together, form a gel that you paint on with a brush. As it dries and constricts, it freezes your face in a rictus and shows precisely what your skin will look like when you turn 80. In case you’re curious. Drew Barrymore posted an image of her stiff, scaly face mid-treatment on Instagram, which only served to stoke the desire for the mask.
Another concoction, this one from Biologique Recherche and called the Vivant mask, is also referred to by those in the know as the “poop mask.” Nice. Biologique Recherche’s skill at making stinky products, including the oniony Lotion P50, is almost admirable. Each one also attracts a cult-like fervor.
Perhaps you’re familiar with the expression “sleep with the fishes.” It applied when I wore Dr. Perricone’s original Cold Plasma cream to bed and my partner raced to the guest room. The cream is made, all too vividly, of fish oil. The odor has since been refined, but still the majority of the complaints in online reviews of the product are listed under “Bad Smell.”
Cyspera, a three-step system that’s designed to improve hyper-pigmentation, almost didn’t make it to market because it smelled so foul. One chemist at the Swiss company Scientis tinkered with the formula for years to try to rid it of its sulfurous odor. It’s still no bed of roses.
Dermatologists love the stuff, especially because it offers a safe and effective alternative to the riskier hydroquinone cream for fading melasma and brown spots. But imagine applying rotten eggs to your face and leaving them there for 15 stomach-turning minutes. Now imagine continuing this process twice a day every day for eight weeks. Will you still have a partner? Will your children apply to boarding school? Go ahead and test their loyalty while you prioritize your mottled skin.
Good luck keeping your hair-dyeing habits a secret. Ammonia creates a stench that remains on your head for an estimated 72 hours after the dye is washed out. That probably wasn’t the inspiration for Clairol’s ad with the tagline “Does she … or doesn’t she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure.” Just one sniff and everyone knows for sure.
Baby Foot might be just the thing to drive you into couple’s therapy. These are disposable booties lined with a cocktail of acids: lactic, glycolic, citric, and malic. You wear them for one hour, rinse your feet, and … nothing happens. A few days later when you’ve long forgotten about the treatment, sheets of skin start peeling from your feet. You’re molting everywhere. Once the peeling subsides, your feet feel unimaginably soft but you’ve also grossed out everyone in your vicinity.
Looking crazy seems to be a non-event lately. People on planes gladly slap on their sheet masks or use the downtime to paint their toes. I sat next to someone on the Acela to D.C., and she glued on an entire set of acrylic nails between Baltimore and Union Station. Wearing an L.E.D. mask that makes you look like Jason from Friday the 13th is big now on Instagram and TikTok. The Dr. Dennis Gross SpectraLite mask at $455 and the $380 CurrentBody Light Therapy mask have almost become status symbols.
People may believe these strange and smelly products work precisely because they’re so strange and smelly. We endure them without flinching, proud of our fortitude in the face of such unpleasantness. Something this disgusting has got to be doing something, right?
Linda Wells is the Editor of AIR MAIL LOOK