In January, I took a fall at my climbing gym in New York City and banged my chest, hard, against the plastic wall. The adrenaline of the moment masked the pain, but later that day, I found a circular spot of dried blood in my bra. A visit to my OB/GYN revealed that I’d developed a lump in my breast that I should get checked out “as soon as possible.” Only, I didn’t.
For months, I convinced myself that everything else—my job, my workout routine, my relationships—were more important than making an appointment with a radiologist. Only the arrival of COVID-19 (and the resulting fear of potentially losing my job and thus my health insurance) shook me awake. Various medical appointments and procedures have patterned throughout the stretch of quarantine, and I’ve learned that the lump in my breast is something called a “papilloma”, and while it’s usually benign, it will still need to be removed. Relieved as I was for my physical health, I realized that I’d completely neglected the well-being of my body… and not just since January.
The fact that we can live in our bodies every day and still ignore these cues and messages seemed like a paradox to me, so I asked psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD, to explain how so many of us have gotten so good at abandoning the care of our selves. “We get disconnected when we listen to outside influences without checking to see if they’re right for us,” she says. “Sometimes we have to. And other times, we listen to trends or other people’s advice without listening to our bodies to see if that’s right for us at the moment.”
When patients come to Dr. Daramus’ office and express that they—like me—have grown alienated and distant from their own limbs, she recommends something she calls a “meditation wardrobe”: a collection of practices like exercise or cooking that bring you back into your physical presence. Upon a little introspection, I reached for lotions, body scrubs, oils, and other potions that would require me to be very intimate and caring toward every square inch of my arms, torso, neck, legs, and arms.
At the end of every day, I do the same thing. I take my clothes off, let the shower’s steam cloud the bathroom, and begin applying layer after layer of the kinds of ingredients I’ve never taken the time to put on my skin before: ceramides, aloe vera, rosemary leaf extract, and so much more. The experience creates a heady overwhelm of smells and sensations (exfoliation, wow, who knew!) that place me squarely in my own reality and my own body.
“We love the idea of ‘skin positivity’—that adopting a positive mindset while applying your products can actually make them work better.” —Nick Stenson, Ulta SVP of salon services and trends
There’s a tiny-yet-mighty psychological shift that happens every time I spend 20-plus moments patting oil into all the new corners of my body I’m discovering. This is no coincidence. Nick Stenson, SVP of salon services and trends at Ulta, says that beauty pros are catching onto an area of skin science called “psychodermatology,” which posits that the products we apply to our skin affect our mental health. And vice versa.
“Studies have shown that there is a real psychological connection between the mind and skin and that if you think more positively about your skin-care products and routine, you’re likely to see more positive results,” says Stenson, referring to a handful of small studies in the aughts that linked the stress felt by the nervous system to skin conditions like psoriasis. “It can take up to three weeks before you may notice [a product] is or isn’t working and while we wait to see results, and we can often become impatient, which leads to stress, which may then lead to further inflammation and breakouts… We love the idea of ‘skin positivity’—that adopting a positive mindset while applying your products can actually make them work better.”
Head to toe, my skin is softer and healthier; however, I have to admit that I’m far more interested in how this new routine has translated into a more honest relationship with my body. “Aside from just taking care of your skin, it reminds you that you’re important. It’s too easy to get caught up in everyone else’s needs and promise yourself some self-care this weekend, which is fine sometimes. When it gets to be a pattern, though, you’re reinforcing to yourself that you aren’t important and your needs don’t matter as much as everybody else’s,” says Dr. Daramus.
I can’t know what the future will hold, but for me, my body-care routine now serves as a time for me to check-in. To say, I’m not ignoring you! We’re friends! And for the reconnection with myself, I’m grateful. Here’s a peek at a few of the products I’ve tested throughout the process.
I apply this product using Kahina’s kessa mit ($14), which basically creates a gold-colored lather that I carefully massage into every nook of my body in the shower. Afterward, it feels like I’m a snake that’s just sloughed off a full layer of skin. And applying lotion afterward—um—let’s just say it’s a divine experience.
2. Drunk Elephant Sili Body Lotion, $20
Drunk Elephant has been a reigning queen in the skin-care world for a long time, and the company’s recently-released body care collection continues to make you feel like royalty upon application. I’m currently living with my family, and I love the smooth application of this stuff so much that I’ve taken to hiding it under my pillow so that no one (I’m looking at you mom!) can steal even a drop.
Every time I put this body butter on, I can’t help but imagine that I’m icing myself like a funfetti cake. The formula contains the thick but not greasy duo of shea and jojoba butter, and it’s one that’s really just as decadent as a three-layer dessert.
4. Augustinus Bader The Body Cream, $165
This product comes at a high price point, but it’s one of those that will save your skin in the summer. Formulated with the brand’s own patented technology, “Trigger Factor Complex”, the cream is designed to awaken dormant skin cells. Which, among many things, reduces the redness and irritation brought on by sun and the humidity.
When I pour this formula into my palm and close my eyes, I’m sitting on a beach in California wearing a floppy hat. The brand describes the liquid’s scent as: “notes of oak moss, redwood, sea fog, and lichen,” and that’s pretty accurate. It’s the west coast in a bottle.
Sometimes, the mere thought of putting lotion on makes me tired. And to solve that particular calamity, Rahua has invented a light, downy mist that falls on your skin like rain and leaves a nice, moisturizing dew behind.
6. Ahava Mineral Hand Cream, $24
At the beginning of quarantine, all the extra hand washing turned my hands into twin deserts. All the moisturizing in the world couldn’t return to them to their normal texture. Then came Ahava hand cream, which uses skin-softening salts and ingredients from the Dead Sea that many travel to take a dip in for the sake of their skin.
7. Nécessaire The Deodorant, $20
Whenever I try to apply deodorant directly after shaving, the sensitive skin of my armpits usually throws a fit, breaking out in red bumps that sting and itch at once. Not so with Necessaire’s The Deodorant, which slides across my pits in a soothing sheen of lactic acid, AHA, and mandelic acid. Even the skin I don’t make a habit of peeking at often deserves a little TLC.
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