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Are next generation skincare products poking at our insecurities, again?

By Elizabeth Coop


Feb 27, 2019

If you’re a woman and you’ve been born in a capitalist society post-1990, you’ve grown up with skincare—not to mention botox, boob implants, and contraception—being advertised at you. Your skincare life starts with a spot cream, moves on to toners and moisturisers, and ends with a medley of anti-ageing formulas that finish multi-step regimes.

Together, they read to you from the same sheet, vowing to work their “magic” on your skin. In fact, making implorable promises is something skincare brands are really good at—but you know that because they’ve made you so many. They pledge radiance, illumination, hydration, brightening, and perfecting. They make claims to defy age, minimise pores, and relinquish redness. And, if you weren’t antagonising your skin and its imperfections before, you are now.

These escalating pressures can be felt in the frenzied rate with which we’re consuming. The skincare market grew 9 percent in 2017, compared with 6 percent for makeup, according to the NPD group.

Take Neutrogena. Last year the skincare brand launched its Neutrogena Skin360 system, which uses dermatologist-grade technology to examine and then analyse your skin. The user slips a  Neutrogena Skin360 scanner onto their smartphone and runs a quick facial recognition test—in the same way you’d take a selfie. The lines between beauty and tech blur as data are then passed from the image to the app. The result arrives in the form of a digitised report that is specific to your skin.

Molly Garris, Senior Digital Marketing Manager at Neutrogena, believes that this degree of analysis allows users to take better care of their skin. “This is the first product of its kind to offer you an at-home lab-like environment for assessing your skin, enabling you to actually see how it changes day-in-day-out”.

As well as advocating general well-being, Garris also assures the product has positive pre-emptive qualities too. “The Neutrogena Skin360 makes the invisible visible, so you can get ahead of your skincare, instead of waiting until you already have a lot of wrinkles”. She adds.

Since its development, Skin360 has laid a foundation around which more products have evolved. Earlier this year, Neutrogena unveiled the MaskiD, a 3D-printed face mask that is powered by real-time data. The Skin360 and MaskiD work in tandem to create a multi-dimensional face map and from this, the user is able to determine what treatment is needed for each facial zone. What is crucial about the MaskiD is how it breaks the face into segments. No longer is obsessing over the face sufficient; now we’re encouraged to look at its every part in detail.

“Neutrogena MaskiD marks one step towards a new model of product development. We find innovative uses of the latest technology, such as digital imaging, skin analysis and 3D printing, to give consumers new ways to achieve their best skin ever”. Says Dr Michael Southall, Global R&D Lead at Johnson & Johnson.

Taking care of our skin by practising a few good habits regularly can be a personally gratifying act. Striving for spot-free, glowing, and forever-flawless skin all the time is not. Products like Skin360 and MaskiD call for an educated understanding of our derma-makeup and that’s a great thing. But for all its advancements, Neutrogena continues to conform to a single standard of beauty. The company is dictating that women should continue striving for perfectly clear skin, because, in Dr Michael Southall’s words, this is comparative to “their best skin ever”.

Instead of skincare brands spending time and money developing technically impressive products, shouldn’t they reset the language they’re currently using to talk to, and about, the women their products claim to better? Language matters; words directly affect how we feel. We continue to frame mature beauty as something  women should fight against, by urging them “to get ahead of your skincare instead of waiting until you already have a lot of wrinkles” says Garris of Neutrogena. In other words, every wrinkle, fine line, and blemish will be experienced as a defeat.

For far too long, marketers have traded on insecurities. However, in a world in which algorithmic content is made to activate self-doubt by feeding off of your FOMO and influencers toss out images tinted with filters and Facetune, the pursuit for perfection has taken on a whole new meaning. It’s important to remember that the designed aim (and it is designed) is a shared one: to sell us something, anything. Something that will infinitely improve our lives, our skin and our bodies, in ways it has theirs. Has it actually, though?