How I deal with Keratosis Pilaris

Posted on April 07, 2018 under Thoughts

I am twenty-three years into a battle against Keratosis Pilaris. For those who don’t know, KP is a super common skin condition involving little bumps on the skin caused by a buildup of keratin. (This is really gross, but sometimes you can pop KP bumps just like zits – that’s how much keratin we’re talking.) Usually it’s on the arms and legs, but it can appear anywhere except the palms. Some people’s KP appears quite red and inflamed. Some people have it on only some parts of their arms and legs and some people get it only seasonally. I am one of the super lucky people who has it all over my arms and legs all year round. Mine usually isn’t particularly red – the bumps themselves are obviously pink, but the skin around them doesn’t get inflamed. During the winter when my skin is very dry it can be more noticeably red, but the above picture is a good representation of how it normally appears.

KP is not painful (just itchy sometimes, when it’s really dry) and it isn’t indicative of any sort of serious medical condition. It’s literally just my stupid skin producing too much keratin. It’s totally genetic – my mom has had it for her whole life and I’ve had it for as long as I can remember. Apparently it’s common for it to spontaneously improve by about age 30, but I’m not holding out much hope. Mine has pretty much stayed the same throughout my life, and since my mom has had hers forever I assume mine will be much the same. It’s actually kind of nice that I have her to look to, because it means I’m not wasting any time waiting for my KP to clear up in the next few years.

KP used to be something I was pretty self-conscious about – in a world that pushes absolute smoothness as the pinnacle of leg beauty, I will never achieve that. But when I was a teenager I looked into KP and realized how prevalent it is – it’s seen in approximately 30-50% of the adult population. You’d never know that, though, because the arms and legs we see in ads and on TV are always nice and smooth, blurred and Photoshopped to perfection. I’ve talked to so many people who are really self-conscious about their KP. It seems nonsensical to me that so many of us have insecurities about something that is incredibly prevalent. Gradually I began to notice just how many people have it, and I stopped caring as much. (Like, a few weeks ago I was with a group of eight people and I could see that at least three of them had it…) A good amount of people I pass on the street deal with the exact same thing, and those who don’t have definitely seen KP skin before and will not be shocked when confronted with my arms. I don’t really care about it from an aesthetic standpoint anymore; I wear shorts in the summer with absolutely zero thought about my KP. I mean, if I woke up with nice smooth legs I wouldn’t be mad, but I’ve long since accepted that I have visible bumps all over my arms and legs.

I could shave my legs ten times a day and they will still never look like this. Although she is most definitely receiving help from Sally Hansen and good old Photoshop…

Really the concern for me is managing how dry and itchy my KP can make my skin. I don’t think that having super dry skin is necessarily an inborn feature of KP – I’m just lucky enough to have year-round KP all over my arms and legs and the driest skin in the world. Like I cannot overstate how dry my arms and legs are at all times. The dryness totally exacerbates the KP and makes it uncomfortable instead of just a bit ugly.

Now, if you have KP you have no doubt furiously Googled cures for it. You have probably read many stories about people curing theirs. I don’t doubt that that’s possible – but I really think that some of us just have lifelong cases that can never be fully cured. However, it can be managed and mitigated. The frustrating thing is that not everything works for everybody. Care of KP-ravaged skin seems to be very much in the “your mileage may vary” category – so what works for me may not work for you. Regardless, here’s what helps keep mine at bay.

Moisture

No surprise – moisture is the most important factor for me. This is primarily about feeling (since dry skin is way more likely to feel itchy and scaly), but I do think it makes a visible difference as well. The added shine of body cream makes the skin look smoother and more uniform than it actually is.

I only used body cream on the right leg – you can see what a difference it makes!

So, I basically take moisture wherever I can get it. Thick body creams are obviously the primary moisture vehicle, but I’m also a big fan of using shower oils instead of shaving cream in order to really maintain the moisture of my skin. There are a lot of shaving creams on the market that claim to be moisturizing, but I’ve never found them to do anything for me. Oils are where it’s at! I really like the L’Occitane Almond Shower Oil, but La Roche-Posay and Bioderma both make more budget-friendly versions.

I absolutely love The Body Shop’s Coconut Body Butter – because of the coconut oil it has a semi-solid consistency that my skin responds to well. I’ve heard of a lot of people who found that coconut oil actually completely cleared up their KP. I can confidently say that is not true for me (and yes, I have tried pure coconut oil as well), but I do think it helps. Otherwise, I absolutely love the A-Derma Exomega Emollient Balm. It’s not a very thick cream at all, but it delivers so much rich hydration and I’m always amazed at how (relatively) smooth my skin feels after I use it. La Roche-Posay Lipikar Baume AP+ has a similar effect, but A-Derma edges it out just slightly for me.

Body oils work really well for me, too, and sometimes I’ll layer them. I’ve used argan and rosehip as well as squalane and they’ve all worked really nicely. They don’t have to be fancy or expensive: $6 bottles from The Ordinary work well, so do off-brand oils from Winners. I just recommend applying body oils in the bathroom and waiting a few minutes for them to sink in, because they can get a bit messy.

I will note for posterity that the best body cream I ever found for KP was by long-dead Canadian brand Dermaglow. Me and my mom were both obsessed with it because it actually seemed to make a huge difference in clearing up our skin. But the brand went under years ago and we just haven’t found anything as good. Part of me is still hoping for a resurrection even though it’s been the better part of a decade.

Exfoliation

Exfoliation is my second weapon against KP. This is another pretty obvious one – when you’ve got bumpy, textured skin, exfoliation is a good way to smooth things out. It helps to unclog the keratin-filled hair follicles and can slough off any flaky, dry patches. I use a body scrub every time I shower. Currently I’m using one from The Body Shop (obviously purchased during a promotion…), but usually I use whatever is cheap and cheerful from the drugstore since at the end of the day they’re all just sugar scrubs.

I also use chemical exfoliants about once a week. I’ve found that glycolic acid works best for me. There are a lot of body creams with 5% or 8% glycolic (and, indeed, the Dermaglow cream I mourn had 8%), but sometimes they don’t quite pack in the amount of moisture I want. I prefer to separate out those functions so I can get exactly what I want. I use glycolic acid on my face every day, so I just use whatever I have open at the time. Currently it’s by Vichy, but I’ve also used NeoStrata and The Ordinary with the same results.

I don’t overdo the chemical exfoliation because I really don’t want to dry out my arms and legs. It’s just a nice weekly treatment to help speed things along.

Sunlight

This is a bit of a controversial one, since some sources say that exposure to sunlight actually worsens KP. In general I would agree that sun exposure worsens most skin conditions, and it seems logical that sunlight would darken KP bumps. But my actual life experience begs to differ! I am all for sun protection and I don’t think anybody should be roasting out in the sun for hours a day to improve their KP. But my skin is never better than immediately after a cottage vacation where I’m outside all day. Look, I’m not the only one! This obviously isn’t a long-term fix or anything… but I had to mention it since it’s 100% the thing that makes the most difference. (My mom has had this experience too, so there are at least three of us!)

Things I haven’t tried

I’ve never used a steroid cream on my KP (though I’d be open to trying it). I’ve also never had laser treatment – that was something I used to long for, but the expense just doesn’t seem worth it to me anymore. If I’m going to get something lasered it’s going to be my eyeballs because I am too vain for glasses and too lazy for contacts (except for special occasions). And I haven’t tried making any dietary changes. It’s not that I don’t believe that might make a difference, it’s just that making noticeable lifestyle changes for the sake of something that I’m not even that insecure about anymore seems like an unbalanced tradeoff. Like, I can commit to three minutes a day putting on body lotion. Cutting out food I like eating long-term? Nah. It’s just not that important to me!

The unfortunate thing about all of these solutions is that progress is dependent on absolute rigid consistency. I can improve the look and feel of my KP as long as I’m vigilant about treating it. If I stop, I go right back to square one. I think that’s true for those who “cure” theirs, too – stop with the coconut oil or start eating dairy again and your perfectly smooth legs vanish. (Wait… you still have legs. They’re just not smooth.) I try to build these things into my regular routines, but sometimes it’s just not going to happen. When I’m travelling, stressed, or busy, these things fall by the wayside – it’s never a linear path. KP is never going to be my top priority, and that’s not only okay, it’s healthy. Some bumps on my skin should not be taking up that much mental energy when I can be focusing on school, my relationships with my friends and family, my hobbies, my health, learning new things, travelling… Obviously, when it comes to things we’re insecure about, that’s easier said than done. But it’s all about perspective, and some less-than-beautiful bumps on my arms and legs are so much less important than basically everything else going on in my life.

A small life update

Posted on April 03, 2018 under Life

When we moved into 2018, I took a step back from my Behind the Scenes posts. There was no particular reason for this decision; I just didn’t really feel like writing them. Luckily I can follow whatever whims I want because this is my blog that I write for fun. However, today I thought I’d do a little check-in since it’s been some time since I last shared what I’ve been up to and since I’m about to be up to a whole lot more.

I finished my classes a little under two weeks ago, although it was pretty anticlimactic since lecturers had been on strike for four weeks in February and March. By the time the strike was over, it was already the last week of the semester! The strike was a bit of a bummer – it took up a huge chunk of my semester, and that’s time that I didn’t have access to my brilliant professors. And that’s not to mention the fact that I’m paying international tuition to be here. But I totally support lecturers’ right to strike considering their pensions are being cut dramatically in a climate of increasing tenuousness of academic jobs. I know that they don’t exactly want to be striking, either.

Anyway, I’m all done with my classes, but I still have a lot to do. I’ve finished a 4000 word research proposal and a 3000 word essay, and I still have a 4000 word literature review and a 2000 word dissertation proposal that I have yet to start. Technically none of that is due until April 20, but I’m going to be away starting next Wednesday (more on that in a moment!), so I need to crank out those 6000 words in the next week. I mean, I could work on the road, but I’d really rather just enjoy my travels without deadlines hanging over my head. I’m a fast writer and have excellent time management skills, so I know it’ll be fine – but I’ll feel a lot better when it’s actually done. Although when that’s all over, it’ll be time to write my dissertation. I’m feeling pretty confident about that, luckily. I started reading widely back in February, so I know I’m prepared in terms of having a good body of academic literature to draw from. I love writing essays as long as the topic interests me, so it’ll be really cool to get to dive into a topic I’ve picked in a lot of depth.

In the last month or so I have been really working on my fitness. I’ve actually come to look forward to working out first thing in the morning, so, uh… that’s unlike me. I’ve cut back on my junk food, but I’m never going to be all about clean eating. I like cheese, I like dessert, I like chips, I like fried things. That doesn’t mean I have to eat those things every day, but I am going to eat them some days. Probably more than one day a week, even. But I’m living a healthier life these days! I’ve already noticed a difference in my core strength, which was probably my worst area going into this. In case you were wondering, I’ve mostly been doing Blogilates – I find her workouts push me while remaining manageable, and they’re really great to do at home without equipment.

Next week I’m going to be headed to Brighton to visit with my good pal Aisling. We’re seeing Arcade Fire and Harry Styles in London (uh, separately, although I would not be mad if they played a show together and made my life easier). Then on the weekend we’ll be celebrating Aisling’s thirtieth birthday. I’m really excited because I love London and Brighton (and Arcade Fire and Harry Styles and Aisling), and I don’t know when I’ll have a chance to go back!

The day after I get back from Brighton, my parents are arriving from Toronto. We’re going to drive around Scotland and then do a tour of Ireland as a family. Me and my mom have both been to Ireland, but my dad never has. We’ve been trying to convince him to go for years now because Ireland is basically everything my dad likes distilled into one country. My dad will be flying back to Toronto after we’re done in Ireland, but my mom and I will be moving on to Denmark and the Faroe Islands. I’ve been to Copenhagen, in 2015, but my mom has never been to Denmark at all before. I know she’ll love Copenhagen as much as I did! And I cannot wait to see more of Denmark and to go to the Faroe Islands. It’s a busy itinerary, and I’ll be on the road for about a month total. I love travelling so I know I’ll have the best time… but I will no doubt be exhausted by the end of it.

I haven’t decided if I’m going to share posts about my travels on here – when I studied abroad in 2014/2015 I kept a travel blog for my friends and family, and it’s a lot of work to compile those posts. So we’ll leave that up in the air. I have prepared some posts in advance so that this blog doesn’t have to die while I’m on the road for five weeks. I may or may not add in some more spontaneous, in-the-moment content, but at the very least I have about a post a week ready to go.

When I’m done with my travels I’ll be heading back to Toronto for the summer. I was initially planning on staying in Glasgow for an entire year, but there are several reasons why it makes more sense for me to be in Canada. (Number one – the exchange rate is shit right now.) Luckily my professors have been really understanding and have given me permission to write my dissertation from afar. I’m half and half on this, really. Obviously it would be really cool to get to live abroad in a city that I love for a few more months, but I won’t be sad to get to see my friends, family, and cats a little bit sooner. Plus, it will be great to live with somebody else again because then I don’t have to be the person to deal with spiders. (I have a soul-crushing fear of spiders. Like, I know it’s irrational but I can’t help it.)

And that is what’s going on with me! Send me good flight vibes, because I have a lot of them coming up in the next little while and I don’t want any trouble.

Does anyone in the beauty industry actually know what a cult classic is?

Posted on March 28, 2018 under Thoughts

These are not cult classics.

As with many concepts, the idea of the cult classic was birthed out of film studies. (My favourite film studies neologism is “the male gaze”, although the actual essay it comes from is primarily a bizarre psychoanalysis that I do not particularly enjoy despite having read it approximately ninety thousand times for professors who don’t realize that it’s a Film 101 staple.) Though the precise definition of a cult film is debated by film academics, definitions usually encompass subversive elements, a devoted following, and cultural longevity. Generally I agree with Mark Jancovich’s conception of the cult film as works of paracinema united in “subcultural ideology” rather than in any specific formal or thematic elements. (His book on the subject is really interesting!) The “cultness” of something (i.e. its base of niche, devoted fans) is as important as the “classicness” (i.e. its legacy and lasting influence).

I think The Room is probably the clearest example of a cult film, although it’s also pretty extreme given how it exists almost completely outside of film industry production, narrative, and aesthetic conventions. A more reasonable example is The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Another example in the field of television would be Freaks and Geeks, which was so commercially unsuccessful that it was cancelled before the end of the first season – yet it’s managed to remain culturally relevant to TV fans almost two decades after its last episode originally aired.

The concept of a cult classic has been integrated into mainstream vocabulary and obviously now applies to things outside of the realm of screen media. It’s a term that is thrown around a lot when talking about cosmetics… except the definition seems to have shifted entirely. “Cult classic”, when talking about beauty products, doesn’t seem to refer to marginal products with niche audiences. It seems to refer to, well, any product that’s has enjoyed wide popularity for a sustained period. This Reddit thread about cult classics namedrops products like NARS Orgasm blush, ABH Brow Wiz, and Smashbox Photo Finish Primer. These are really just popular, mainstream products. A recent Racked article on the “cult favourite” phenomenon bizarrely seems to imply that the term was birthed within the beauty community and uses MAC Ruby Woo as an example of a cult product.

But, as the article itself points out in its first paragraph, four tubes of Ruby Woo are sold every minute. How, then, is Ruby Woo a “cult classic”? It’s not – it’s one of the most absurdly popular lipstick shades in the world. That’s like saying Titanic is a cult classic. Ruby Woo is a classic, but cult implies nicheness, marginality, a feverish devotion that exists somewhere outside of mainstream sensibilities. Oh, sure, we all know someone who is practically evangelical in their love for Ruby Woo (or maybe Russian Red), but do you think the four people a minute purchasing a tube have a cult-like mentality? Isn’t the entire point of a cult that it goes against the norm? If the norm is that Ruby Woo is the red lipstick to own, that’s not really a cult at all. That’s just life as a human who wears lipstick.

Now, I know that language evolves, and you may think I should go with the flow, or that it doesn’t really matter anyway. And it doesn’t! But I do think that if you’re going to use a phrase made up of two words with very specific connotations (“cult” and “classic”), it doesn’t make sense to then use that phrase to describe something contrary to what the actual words imply. It’s curious how beauty rhetoric has appropriated the phrase in such a way that the original definition is subverted entirely. So, no, I don’t think we should induct Naked palettes into the pantheon of cult classics, because everyone and their mom owns at least one practically by default. I think Fairydrops mascara is a worthy contender for the title, however, because it’s a product known to and enjoyed by a relatively small subsection of those who use makeup in the Western world but which nonetheless enjoys endlessly positive reviews and sustained use.

It doesn’t really matter, but it’s interesting anyway. And that is pretty much the definition of my academic interests. (Just kidding, television does matter even if it’s not taken seriously as an art form.)