What I Learned From My Flirtation With Designer Skin Cream

By | Tuesday, June 02, 2015


In Brokenomics, author Dina Gachman shares the lessons she’s learned about how to live large in the cheap seats. Through stories both painfully honest and laugh-out-loud funny that anyone can relate to, Dina reveals all the tricks you need to live the good life without spending a ton of money. Dina was kind enough to share a chapter from her book and we’ve featured it below.

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La Mer is La Mer

La Mer. Moisturizer to the stars. A miracle cream that transforms your face and ages you backward, giving you the skin of Cate Blanchett or a five-week-old newborn. It was created by a visionary doctor to help your body renew itself, like a space alien or a butterfly bursting out of the cocoon.

For a few years I flipped through magazines showing ads for this mystical beauty product and wondered, “What’s the deal with La Mer?” I knew it was pricy, so instead of running out and buying it, I’d just flip to the next page, where another glossy ad would assault my senses and prey upon my insecurities, leaving me to wonder what the deal was with Ralph Lauren’s “mini Ricky” bag, Viktor & Rolf’s Flowerbomb perfume, or Nivea’s Skin Firming lotion. Every product that claims to zap cellulite and tone your skin turns me into a skeptic. Do they really do what they say they do? And if they did, wouldn’t the world be cellulite free? Wouldn’t we all be throwing ticker tape parades and sashaying through the streets in our underwear if they actually did what they promised? Actually, forget ticker tape parades. We’d just be posting selfies of the backs of our thighs and hashtagging #Nivea #blessed.

The fact that beauty is big business isn’t exactly breaking news, and we all buy into the promise of clear, wrinkle-free skin with diminished pores to one degree or another. If I weren’t careful, beauty products would be my downfall, financially speaking.

Give me vanilla-fig lotion and a candle that smells like rhubarb, rain, and Moroccan amber, and I’m in heaven. I’d be bankrupted by things like brown-sugar-and-black-orchid-scented bath salts or whipped-coconut-and-almond body oil if I wasn’t careful. I don’t care about fancy cars or a house with fifteen bathrooms, but I do care about agave-plum lip masks and face mists made of cucumber essence and snow algae. Maybe that’s why I love free samples so much.

La Mer was never on my shopping list, but one day, as I was wandering through Nordstrom getting my beauty fix by inhaling every Jo Malone scent in sight, from Wild Fig & Cassis to Oud & Bergamot to Wild Bluebell, a very nice salesperson told me they were giving out samples of La Mer. “Would you like one?” she asked. As if anyone in her right mind would decline. I’m a skeptic, but I still want to believe that there are miracle creams and potions out there, just like I’d like to believe that there is life on other planets and that they’ll come hang with us soon and teach us how to lower the cost of gasoline and make all the bad stuff go away.

“Yes!” I said to the salesperson. Of course I wanted to try this magical mystery cream that all the stars swore by. They were probably paid to swear by it, but still. I thanked her for the sample and carefully placed the round thimble-sized plastic container into my bag. When she turned her back to me, I took a big whiff of some Peony & Blush Suede perfume and then headed off with my loot.

Once I got home, it was time to put La Mer to the test. Each night and morning for two weeks, I’d twist off the little white cap and apply a pea-sized dollop of lotion to my face. The sample truly was the size of a thimble, so if I was about to experience a miracle I wanted it to last. After applying the cream I’d walk down my foot- long hallway to bed, imagining that this was what it was like to be Nicole Kidman or Halle Berry on a Tuesday night, going to sleep with a supernatural phenomenon working its magic on my skin. I was ready to be wowed. I was ready for a miracle.

You might not believe this, but after two weeks, when I’d scraped the last infinitesimal blob of lotion out of the microscopic plastic pot and applied it to my cheeks, it was not Cate Blanchett’s alabaster visage that stared back at me in the mirror. It was still my slightly ruddy mug. Maybe I needed more time, and more La Mer. Maybe I needed more faith to make it work. All I know is that a miracle did not occur, which wasn’t too upsetting since I didn’t invest any money in my experiment. If I’d paid up, I’d have been pretty sad. And we all know that sadness and stress are terrible for your complexion.

Maybe gently spreading La Mer over your skin in a clockwise motion is better than rubbing a stick of butter over your face before bed, but, despite what the magazines say, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on creams and lotions and gels and microalgae oils. You just need to get really good at scoring free samples. All you have to do is ask. There is no reason for you to pine for pricey beauty products. But if the samples don’t work or if you’re living in a redwood tree and have no access to Sephora, there are some old- school beauty tricks that work just as well as La Mer.

Our grandparents had cold cream, witch hazel, and talcum powder, and they were fine. It’s not like people in the 1940s and 1950s were running around town looking like a circus sideshow act just because La Mer hadn’t been invented yet. My grandmother was always put together and beautiful, and she used cold cream, witch hazel, and pink sponge curlers as part of her beauty routine. I can still hear her sweet Southern voice in my head to this day, saying, “Don’t ever leave the house with chipped nail polish or you’ll look like a two-bit whore.” That’s solid beauty advice if I’ve ever heard it.

Granted, you’d be hard-pressed to give a beauty product a name as aggressive and scary as “witch hazel,” but that stuff stands the test of time. It’s an old-school astringent, and you can still buy it at drug stores for about five bucks. The only downside is that it smells just like it sounds: like an ancient, toothless, shriveled up ogress. If you can get past that, you’ll love it.

There are plenty of home remedies and cheap beauty fixes that involve honey, oatmeal, egg yolks, beer, and Brewer’s yeast. They might not come in pretty packages and have ingredients like tourmaline, Meadowfoam, and Phaseolus lunatus (lima bean) extract, but they can still make you feel fabulous without wiping out your bank account. Using raw honey as a facemask works wonders. Jojoba oil, which is about seven bucks for four ounces, lasts a long time, and if you use that as your eye makeup remover/elbow oil/miracle hand salve, you’ll feel rejuvenated and revitalized and all those other adjectives the chichi products use but for a lot less.

When I was in eighth grade I read a magazine article that said everyone should finish every shower with freezing cold water like French women do because it will tighten your pores and keep you looking young and fresh forever. I’ve been finishing each shower with icy water every single day of my life since then, and I don’t know if it’s working but I do know that it gives me hope, despite the fact that I’m spending ten seconds freezing my face off each day.

Our parents and grandparents had movie magazines and beauty ads bombarding them with miracle products too, but it wasn’t as extreme back then. They had chinstraps (the economical face lift of the 1950s) and weird callisthenic workout routines, but there was no Botox, microdermabrasion, or chemical peels. Now we have all that plus so much more, making it so tempting to com- pare yourself to an ad in a magazine or a celeb on a red carpet. That comparison is not healthy, considering that we’d all look impeccable, toned, and well rested if our every move was airbrushed and our daily schedule went like this:

9:00 AM: Rise to the sound of little birds chirping on the lawn
9:15 AM: Ring a bell and wait until your assistant Babette arrives with a kale-and-bone-marrow-broth smoothie
10:00 AM: Yoga and meditation
12:00 PM: Lounge by pool and get a massage from Jean-Pierre the tanning butler as a string quartet plays nearby
2:00 PM: Private SoulCycle class
3:30 PM: Ring a bell and wait for Babette to arrive with the heir- loom-tofu-and-beet salad
4:00 PM: Facial, manicure, pedicure
5:00 PM: Read Vogue
7:00 PM: Dinner and dancing!
10:00 PM: Take off makeup, apply La Mer, and fall immediately into a deep sleep for eight hours in which you age back- wards, become smarter, and learn four languages

Most of us don’t have that exact schedule, so we do want to believe in the creams and gels and under-eye depuffing serums advertised in the pages of glossy magazines. If the pricy products aren’t yet within your budget, you can still have a beauty routine that makes you feel like Venus de Milo or J. Lo. You could even try making your own La Mer by taking a bunch of seaweed and smashing it (gently) all over your face, but I’m not sure that’ll work. If not, there are always freezing-cold showers, raw honey, and that most glorious invention of all: the free sample.*

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*Excerpted from Brokenomics: 50 Ways to Live the Dream on a Dime (April 2015) by Dina Gachman, with permission from Seal Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group. © 2015. Illustration by Kate Basart.

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