Washing one’s face shouldn’t be complicated. But, judging from women’s magazines and Internet instructionals, one should take steps (many steps!) to wring the most benefits from this everyday routine.
Such articles are typically accompanied by photos of grown women smiling amid suds or sprays of water, which would be unnatural IRL (in real life).
Readers are exhorted to wash their face twice a day; to use a small amount of cleanser; and to rinse well.
The infantilising undertone is dispiriting. But perhaps I am missing the point of this 101 tip. It is not about ablutions per se, but about how best to do so to gain whatever marginal advantage you can. That hint of glow, after all, may mean tweaking your processes ever so slightly, say, by lightly patting facial cleanser onto your skin instead of massaging it on.
It’s about honing one’s appearance like a competitive sport.
Just like boxers shedding the fat by scarfing poached chicken breasts, models might subsist on yogurt and apples to get in their best shape for the catwalk.
With a premium placed on youth and beauty, women are pressured to aspire to be professionally attractive.
This explains the boundless universe of beauty products, where even facial cleansers – using the same soap to wash one’s face and body was pronounced wicked some time in the 20th century – come with ancillary products.
Apart from facial cleansers that can have foamy, milky, oily or other textures, there are tools to wash one’s face, such as puffs, brushes, sponges and Clarisonic devices.
There are choices to make: Do I use a terry cloth or not? Should I double cleanse?
Too many options can be inhibiting. “Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?” as the T.S. Eliot poem goes.
Meanwhile, my husband washes his face with a splash of water.
Water! And the man looks perfectly normal.
No woman I know has the temerity to do the same but I don’t have the space here for a polemic about gendered expectations and choices.
At the very least, I do have a no-frills approach towards choosing facial cleansers, preferring those that don’t leave my skin feeling tight or dry after washing, a surprisingly common problem with cleansers.
Hada Labo Super Hyaluronic Acid Hydrating Foaming Wash ($15.90, available at Guardian) is chockful of hyaluronic acid, the moisturising darling of the skincare industry. It feels light as air.
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Caring Wash ($33.90, available at major Watsons and Guardian stores) is a gently soothing presence, suitable for sensitive skin.
Those with dry skin may take to For Beloved One Hyaluronic Acid Cleansing Milk ($45, available at Sephora), which is as languorously smooth as a milk bath.
I also like fan favourites from Fresh, Shu Uemura and Fancl.
Fresh Soy Face Cleanser (from $23, available at Fresh outlets and Sephora) smells of cucumber and leaves me feeling as cool as one.
The recommended three or four squirts of Shu Uemura Ultime88 Sublime Beauty Cleansing Oil (from $65, available at Shu Uemura outlets) are alarmingly greasy at first. But it removes my waterproof mascara and my skin feels soft and clean.
Sometimes, though, I want to shake up my skincare routine with some bells and whistles.
I opt for Fancl Facial Washing Powder ($26, available at Fancl outlets), which exceeds expectations.
In fact, I feel as if I’ve entered an Asian kitchen located somewhere in Alice’s Wonderland.
I soak a Foaming Ball, which comes with the powder, in lukewarm water, then measure out a teaspoon of the powder to put on the sponge.
As instructed, I roll the puffy ball between my hands 10 times, “similar to the way you make dumplings”.
I’m new to dumpling-making, but the powder nonetheless turns into a lather. After a rinse, my skin looks hydrated and clean.
In times like this, washing one’s face can brighten up the day ahead.
• Glow Guide is a fortnightly column about beauty and make-up for everyday women.
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