January results of the Image Experiment

What I learnt working on my image this January:

  • expensive products commit you to putting in more effort, hence, you look better
  • when you do as you’ve been told by Andie MacDowell since you were 5, you feel like you are part of the club
  • the people who market to you don’t expect you to have even a rudimentary understanding of the scientific method or statistics, or any critical thinking really
  • you can use these lotions and potions in a mindful way

See the backstory here.

In early January, Santi brought me two things I had been contemplating getting myself:

1. Revitalising Fresh Shampoo by L’Occitane

The revitalising shampoo tingles lightly when you leave it on for over a minute, which is very relaxing. I guess for the oils and whatever else to work, you really need to give it a little time. What made me laugh was this on their website:

why do women love cosmetic products
Does this offend your intelligence? I hope it does. Also this.

What I found was that it was great for relaxing in a mindful way. The tingle draws your attention to your scalp – a place you don’t often concentrate on otherwise.

Did it make much of a difference to my hair compared to the normal run of the mill L’Oreal shampoo? Not really. But I think that I spent more time brushing my hair and was more diligent when blowdrying it. In other words, having spent a bomb on shampoo, my brain tells me to be consistent and dry my hair in manner that’s becoming of a woman who spends a bomb on shampoo.

2. Repairing Hair Mask by L’Occitane – also brought by Santi

I wasn’t a fan of the smell, it reminds me of some yucky Soviet herbal shampoo. Chances are that they both contain a herb I don’t like. Effect? As above with the shampoo. They used to have an olive oil range that was excellent, but this product didn’t have that miraculous effect.

Santi was thoughtful enough to throw in some samples of L’Occitane face cream all of which are 10/10, except the rose-scented one that was overpowering with its perfume.

Then my first Birchbox (affectionately known as Bitchbox in my household) arrived. From Sweden!

It contained

1. The Sand & Sky Brilliant Skin™ Purifying Pink Clay Mask

All the way from the land down under. How exciting.

It tingles very gently and dries very soon after you put it on. I got out an old Mac brush to put it on which made it feel all the more glamorous and added 100% to the fun of this peculiar ritual .

There is a warning on the back of it that you can’t use it with oral vitamin A without consulting a doctor. In other words, it was full of retinoids, which do actually work when applied topically – something I know from the dermatology lectures of my youth.

My boyfriend who is ultraskeptical of the cosmetics industry noticed a difference. That’s as reliable a fact that it works as can be. Go Australia (and retinoids). (As always, this is not medical advice!)

2. Kebelo Clarifying Shampoo

This really intrigued me: a shampoo to be used once or twice a month in order to give your hair a really thorough clean. I used it after a swim in the hope that it may wash out the chlorine that little bit better. I was kind of worried that it would make it all fall out be very harsh, but it was fine and my hair was actually lighter, much easier to brush and much shiner after using it.

3. Baija Gommage Festin Royal Miel Caramélisé

Which was ridiculous! A jar of marmalade with solidified sugar to be used as a scrub! Anyway, it’s not actually edible (the auld benzyl alcohol is that little bit toxic). Kinda nice, kinda felt stooopid using a jar of marmalade though.

It also contained a lipstick that made me look older and a synthetic brush that I have no use for. And – a discount if I had wanted to sign up to Virgin Wines as a subscription box too! Clever bstrds know all about marketing.

I also picked up a L’Oreal pre-shampoo clay mask! Oooo. As in, you put it on before you use shampoo. It’s cheap, but less than cheerful in a really artificial blue colour with strong perfume.

I didn’t notice any difference to my hair, despite using a myriad new products, except with the paintstripper Kebelo use-once-a-month potion, that didn’t come from just paying more attention to it.

How do I know this? Well, when I have something big coming up and don’t have the heavy artillery to hand, I spend more time dolling myself up with ordinary products and come out looking the same as with all these products.


I also was religious in terms of the cleanse-tone-moisturise skincare routine. I do it anyway, but I am ordinarily a bit sporadic (lazy) with it. This month, I learnt just how difficult it is to actually exfoliate your skin properly. I more or less have to go to the sauna to make it happen. Good exfoliation appears to be what gives skin this beautiful shimmer that people adore. And it makes sense because the surface are isn’t interrupted by the rough dead cells, hence the light forms a nice continuous reflection.

Furthermore, it’s a slightly strange ritual to take off all the skin’s natural sebum, forcefully, and to replace it with moisturiser, but that’s what the cosmetics industry preaches.

Did I feel much different? No. More confident? No, but maybe more grown up, because following a skin care routine is adulting. More girly or feminine? No, but I felt that I was part of some invisible club – and that made me feel better – and probably more confident in a way I didn’t perceive. Did I notice a different reaction from people? No.

3 thoughts on “January results of the Image Experiment”

  1. Ah, cosmetics! Back in the last century, really near the end of it, I remember hearing a long radio article on the actual science of skin care. Skin is damaged by two things: ultraviolet light (usually from the sun, but tanning parlors also) and dehydration. The program’s chemist (I am one also, a real chemist, not a pharmacist)) said that the science is very simple: avoid the sun and avoid dehydration. He claimed that there were two proven methods for the latter: drink water to replenish that lost from the skin by evaporation and prevent evaporation. In the prevent evaporation column, the most effective way was to apply a barrier to water in the form of grease or oil. Grease is more effective, oil is more pleasant, so oil mixed with water, aka lotion, has become the preferred topical application. That’s it. Any lotion or grease would do, even lard or chicken fat (both have been used) or vegetable shortening. There are no magical agents that can be put into a lotion that will improve their performance!

    Over the years I have seen the “magical” ingredient change from “protein” (useless unless incorporated into the skin which means it has to be eaten), various vitamins (also useless) to micro this and mega that. Since nothing works better than anything else, what is sold is the feeling, both physical and psychological. Fragrances (pleasant scents), evaporating liquids (cool the skin), anything that will improve the “feel” of the cosmetic are included. And then you are praised for “having” good skin or “taking care” of your skin, making you feel good mentally.

    My partner often complains that my skin is in better shape than hers and I do nothing to preserve it. (I do wear sunscreen and a hat if I have to be out in direct sun for any length of time.) I told her I do regularly exfoliate my face, to which she said “…what?). We call it shaving.

    If you want good skin, make sure your parents and grandparents had it. Stay out of the sun. Drink lots of water. Avoid harsh soaps that remove natural skin oils from your face. Use a lotion if you must, any of them will do. Ta da!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for going into all this detail. I think that there are certain compounds that are beneficial when applied topically such as retinoids and antibiotics, but I agree with the general gist of what you are saying. I think the approach has also spread to the mass market. Now there is a brand that sells the “active ingredients” for cost. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/on-and-off-the-avenue/the-ordinary-cult-skin-care-secret-ingredient-is-being-dirt-cheap


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