We all have to moisturize, but we don’t have to like it. My friend Melissa detests putting moisturizer on her arms and legs because she finds the experience too sticky, a stance I whole-heartedly sympathize with. The experience of slathering thick white goo on my body always makes me think of Buffalo Bill saying It puts the lotion on its skin. Even if there’s no serial killer hoping to make a skin coat out of me, moisturizing still feels like a chore, a prime example of the tedious aesthetic upkeep which seems to consume an ever-expanding amount of the human experience, especially if you’re a woman.
Putting moisturizer on my face actually feels kind of nice, especially now that I’ve discovered the world of lightweight gels. But I resent doing it so often: Mornings and evenings and in dry climates perhaps a mid-afternoon refresh, day after day, yet another obstacle between me and my morning coffee or my delicious bed. That’s on top of all the other rituals I’ve committed to on a daily or twice-daily basis on behalf of health, basic grooming etiquette, or vanity: showering, exfoliating, combing, brushing teeth, brushing hair, flossing, double-cleansing, toning, serums. Some of these upkeep tasks are just as boring as moisturizing, but somehow I particularly fault my skin for being so damn dry and needy—whereas my gums don’t instantly start flooding with blood if I skip a night of flossing, my face turns scaly the second it misses its regular quenching, as if perhaps that is its natural state, and I must be constantly vigilant with my witchy moisturizing powers to keep a magic spell from wearing off.
If mornings and evenings are a big time commitment for making sure my face doesn’t dry out and crack like an old clay pot, moisturizing my hands is even worse, especially in the Covid era, in which all that soap and water while chanting “Happy Birthday” to ourselves five zillion times a day has really taken a toll on our collective mitts.
Early on in the pandemic, I noticed that my hands were turning into pet lizards. The simplest option was to put them up for adoption, but in the end I decided to keep them and just keep piling on Gold Bond—my father’s moisturizer of choice, a decidedly un-hip brand with a name that sounds like it’s a kind of furniture glue. But Gold Bond seemed to be the only moisturizer that could relieve my parched paws, and so I took to carrying a tube of it around with me as I moved around the house during the workday, reaching for it with roughly the same frequency as I looked up from my computer or took a sip of water. (I heard several women scoff at their boyfriends’ sudden discovery of the importance of hand-moisturizing—“were they not washing their hands before?”—so I want to state for the record that I was absolutely washing my hands after going to the bathroom pre-pandemic, just not every time I touched a doorknob or opened a piece of mail. However, I have to confess that I don’t think I was washing my hands a “Happy Birthday two times over” amount of time, which is really quite long, and yet another example of just how much labor is involved in conscientiously occupying a human suit.)
Since skin tends to get drier as we age, I imagine that my moisturizing duties will only grow in the years ahead—unless science invents astronaut suits enclosed with little humidifiers that we could walk around in all day, and I suppose even that might not be preferable. How to come to terms with a lifetime of the demands our bodies make of us?
All this said, my dog is also pretty demanding, and I don’t resent her at all, because she is so cute and wriggly. So perhaps the key to tolerating my fate is to think of moisturizing not as self-care, exactly, but as part of the responsibility that comes with being a caretaker—like I’m tending to a garden that happens to be my epidermis. Under that logic, getting mad about having to care for my skin is as illogical as expecting the garden to be self-sufficient. A dry patch of skin is as innocent as a plot of soil, waiting expectantly for me to take out my Neutrogena hydro-gel and make it rain.