Individual products without ingredients are around if you hunt for them and read the label. But the simple substitution of cruelty-free products doesn’t change the problem that the cosmetics industry is still selling many products that are not formulated or packaged in an eco-friendly manner. and conscientious people don’t want to support it. We can press for a more ethical cosmetics industry, or we can consider the possibility of doing something that doesn’t involve products at all. Beauty products aren’t all they’re cracked up to be and you can do almost anything they do with a properly designed programme of manual training. It can be as brief as 3 minutes per day and is for all the reasons given below, actually a more effective, as well as a reliably humane method of loving your face.
The cosmetics industry has by some sleight of hand made it appear that the ‘solutions’ to ageing are all chemical. This is wildly inaccurate. The fact that the face is represented simply as ‘the skin’ means that the whole world is looking to the skin to hold the face up by rubbing cosmetics into it.
Here is a brief explanation of why this approach isn’t helpful. The main reason is that the face is nothing like the enduring popular idea of it. It’s one slab of muscle, fat and skin fused together. Unlike the body it’s not a system of opposing muscles wrapped loosely in skin, but a mass of interwoven tissue. It would be much truer to say that the facial muscles are holding the skin up. The skin is inseparable from the muscle underneath. This is not a great scientific discovery, it’s in every anatomy book on earth, and you can see it for yourself if you try to pull the skin away from your cheek, lip or forehead. What is astonishing is that the beauty industry has managed to maintain an illusory idea of the face that keeps people dependent on their output. Their preparations make use of top scientists and formulas beyond our understanding, which makes it appear that the skin is impossible for ordinary people to challenge. So nobody challenges them on any front. Everything they say is true; it’s just not all that relevant in terms of how your face looks and feels because the skin can only go where the muscle takes it. Facial exercise flattens the muscle by improving its condition, but the role of the of muscles is neatly demonstrated by the effect Botox has on wrinkles. It flattens the muscle, and lo and behold the skin smooths out with it. Thousands of hours of research haven’t produced a skincare product that comes close. To be able to claim any perceptible difference at all in the appearance of one’s face is cause for a triumphant skin care advertising campaign. ‘Even my friends have noticed the difference,’ declares a recent one, as though this represented a major transformation.
Modern beauty culture is all about conformity. Proper, doable facial handling exercise is about putting life and expression back in your face, so that your character is there. Weakened muscles are less effective at communicating than fit ones, and unlike smoothing creams and cosmetic procedures, good training gives the face back its individuality. You look like yourself again, not the person you no longer recognise in the mirror. This isn’t the same as looking younger. When you make an expression your face wrinkles, and when you’re not it smooths out again. It will never look like an imitation of a young face, but it won’t look like a young face in decline either.
When you focus on the muscle you’re aware of your face as a solid, substantial thing, the reluctance to do anything robust to it makes women envisage their skin as fragile and delicate. They see the face as an image rather than a living, functioning system. Your face in the mirror is only there to be looked at. Your face when you train it becomes powerful and expressive. You have the pleasure of working the muscles and, to many women’s horror, stretching the skin.
Which I’ve left till last, but if you’re really concerned with the skin it’s important to train that too. Years of anxiety instilled by beauty articles and popular belief have made women afraid to touch their own faces. It’s the equivalent of telling people to look after their lungs by sitting inert on the sofa and breathing as little as possible. All these years women’s faces have grown more and more insubstantial as a result. It’s crazy advice. I would say it was a conspiracy except that I keep finding medical doctors who also believe in the fragility of the skin.
Just like the other organs the skin thrives on physical challenge. This means pulling at it. Of course on the face you’re stretching out the muscles too. In fact this is the only way to stretch the facial muscles. The skin might look a bit tired immediately afterwards, but behind the scenes it will be rebuilding itself so it resists the pulling better. Everyone is so, so glad they’ve discovered this once they try it. Facial training pioneer Deb Crowley says about her years of handling her face, ‘I should be carrying my face around in a bag.’ It feels really good to stretch the facial tissues, as it does to stretch your arms when you yawn or do a yoga session. It requires some traction. You really don’t want creams or oils. You’ll find over the days and weeks your face becomes better able to regulate its own oiliness. Most people are happy without moisturiser. You can brush the face instead of using chemical exfoliants and think all the time of making it stronger and fitter, and looking like you all your life.
Louise Annette is author of Ageless if you Dare, a program of facial handling and exercise.