Years ago my skin broke out.
There’s nothing particular about my skin, but the occasional spot is one thing and a rash is something else.
Of course I did all the usual things – I heard my mother whispering in my ear “Leave it alone !” – kept it clean, kept it dry, applied my favourite and trusted remedies.
I went to a skin specialist. Perhaps we should pause there.
Nowadays the gap between beauty therapy and medicine is more blurred than it used to be and it was pretty blurred then.
I have come to know that there are almost as many shades of medical opinion there as there are in the beauty world and let’s face it, the enormous business of private medicine and the even more enormous industry which incorporates skin care – leaving cosmetics and hair colour aside – is personal. You don’t care if it works for another living soul as long as whatever it is works for you.
He was a pleasant man, and he asked if I used cosmetics. I explained.
He asked what I had done to my skin that morning. I had washed it with an olive oil soap and sprayed it with a fine spray of spring water.
He pulled a pad towards him and wrote a prescription for an enormous dose of antibiotics, three times a day for several months.
I said I couldn’t take antibiotics like that, I didn’t say that even in those far off days I was wary about their over prescription.
He hesitated before saying “Well, there is one other thing you can do but it’s very old fashioned.” Nothing wrong with old fashioned, I murmured.
He said “Milk.” According to him, a little bit of any kind of milk, put on with clean cotton wool and left overnight. It contains lactic acid which would rebalance the skin.
I left the prescription on his desk, went home and tried it.
My skin settled in 36 hours.
And it’s as good a place as any to start. It’s cheap, prepared under clean conditions and if it doesn’t work, at least you have tried it.
I am not going to say that this made me afraid of the modern world, that I never tried another dream cream, life changing detergent or another convenience meal.
Until something occurs to us, we don’t worry about it.
We don’t think about what is in food, or washing products (whether domestic or personal), what is on the towel or the pillowcase, until it causes an abreaction.
Most of us have at least one friend who has used the same stuff o n her face and on her hair for years and it works so why should she change?
The beauty business exists on improvement, miracles, promises and anxiety.
Of course I have subscribed to it over the years and I have had one or two great successes and a lot of disappointments.
I was taught to take care of my skin because when it begins to be affected by age, weather and work conditions – which happens to us all, men and women, regardless of individual biochemistry and past history – what you put into your body and what you put on to your body will matter cumulatively. The young always think they are invulnerable and the rest of us know nobody is.
I don’t read every label in the supermarket. I don’t trust them anyway.
It doesn’t take much sense you’d have thought to know that the simpler food is, the harder it is to muck about with it and the better it will be for you. But then we come up against numbers which mean that food is prepared to look as if it is healthy – like bagged salads – and it is not necessarily so. Because of what the vegetables are rinsed in, shelf life, profit and sale through the supermarket.
Whereas in the matter of making the best of ourselves, we are endlessly hopeful and better minds than mine know how to manipulate that. Elizabeth the First, who was one of the best educated women of her day didn’t know that the lead in the face paint she relied on was destroying her face and most of us aren’t much further on that that. And we have to contend with much wider levels of suggestion, advertising, promotion, half knowledge, competition and anxiety.
And if there is a growth industry, it is in the latter.