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We usually prefer to be skeptical. It feels powerful and triumphant and requires a minimum of risk. So, why are we not skeptical when it is suggested that what we eat has nothing to do with how our faces look? It is even more peculiar when we realize we have long digested (ahem) the idea that what we eat certainly has to do with how our bodies look.
The offices of beauty industry companies – like those of the weight-loss industry – are laden with gifted marketers. Proactiv, for example, has positioned its product as the 'do or die' final option in the quest for clear skin. When its publicity claims a convenient randomness to acne through its alarmingly 'A' list of celebrity spokespeople, 1 we succumb to the allure of the underlying message: 'It's not my fault. I do eat well. Pimples just happen.
We want the quick fix and we want what we believe is the freedom in giving away the responsibility for how we care for ourselves. In exchange for this freedom, we make ourselves prisoners of the ironically thin-walled cell of marketing lies. A minimum effort expended in glancing at any number of search engines – or even the product label itself – easily reveals that Proactiv is primarily benzoyl peroxide.2
Image Source: Wikipedia
Benzoyl peroxide's uses include polymerizing polyester and bleaching flour, hair and teeth. Oh, it is also a peeling agent applied to our skin to clear acne and reveal the promised porcelain layer below. Sure, if we peel away the top layer of anything, the next layer will become visible. What if that second layer is still lumpy, red and looks like a Domino's daily special? As with any reparation that focuses on the superficial veneer, the symptoms or the epidermis, the pith is entirely ignored to the detriment of the subject's long-term air-brushed contentment.
What's more is that 5% of the population is born allergic to benzoyl peroxide.3 For the other 95%, the majority will suffer a reaction from benzoyl peroxide if faced with repeated exposure. This has been known since 1977, when the journal Contact Dermatitis published research showing that 76% of subjects acquired a contact sensitization to benzoyl peroxide when exposed to formulation concentrations of 5% and 10%.[i] It appears, therefore, that the majority of the population is 'sensitive' to the corrosive quality of benzoyl peroxide. Surprising? Would these authors love the feel of corrosion on the apples of our cheeks? No.
Just a tiny amount of skepticism can bring us a long way toward the realization that this is nothing but an ornately costumed slow, small fire on our faces. Yet, we are seduced by the ostensible ease of this 'proactive' solution. So vulnerable are we that when we are lead down a dead-end road which, at the end features a giant, gleaming vending machine we blink in disbelief and adoration. The machine displays more tempting messaging of a stress-free photo-ready prom night and beyond....right underneath the miniscule 'NO EXIT' sign atop.
Proactive has strategized the placement and design of their vending machines to capitalize on our reluctance to cynicism and our desire for speedy and painless rehabilitation to the beauty that necessarily awaits just below the surface. In one mall, this mission was so powerfully motivated that the Proactiv vending machine ended up right next to a childrens' playground where, presumably, exhausted, desperate young mothers could put in their credit cards and reach through for their clear-skinned, carefree days. It seems the placement of the machine was at least semi-successful (the full potential probably realized when the exit previously under the archway was sealed off weeks later leaving the blemished no way out).
Proactiv Vending Machine, Coconut Point Mall Playground, Naples Florida
Beauty industry executives are clear on their schemes regarding vending machine-related modus operandi. One executive said, "The new machines are meant to provide a feeling of discovery and charm often lacking in traditional retailing. Indeed, the machines are not 'stocked' — they are 'curated.' " 4
Maybe it is a consolation that the marketing company that produces the infomercials in which products like Proactiv Solution are touted, toil heavily to snag the celebrity spokespeople. It is a combination of a pull to witness stars being 'just like us' and the disbelief with which we react to the very same image that makes these endorsements so successful. But, if we look carefully, we can see the cracks in the exfoliator. In her Proactiv commercial, Jessica Simpson says her diet caused her to develop what can best be described as a beard of pimples that had to be airbrushed out of music videos.5
If her diet caused her acne, wouldn't the corollary be true? Couldn't her diet reverse it? Research about the unreliable effectiveness of benzoyl peroxide is even unimpressive in quantity. Yet, there are plenty of studies (using varied methods of research) on the effects of, say, flavonols on skin elasticity and resilience.6
Flavonols are so available in our food and don't require a trip to the nearby strip mall with exact change in hand. Surely, on this list of skin-care foods, something palatable can be found by even the most discerning and blemished subject: onion, kale, broccoli, lettuce, tomato, apple, grape, berries, tea, red wine, cocoa. Also, there is plenty of research on the role of dairy products and high glycemic foods in contributing to acne.[ii] But getting someone to not do something, i.e. refraining from eating something, will sell nothing, even if it is a truly proactive step that solves the problem.
If our curious fascination with celebrities is part of the reason for Proactiv's success, then why do we opt to sit alone in front of a flickering screen watching testimonials under a mask of slathered face mortar? Think of the potential of a girls' night out with Proactiv customers, Lindsay Lohan, Jessica Simpson, Alicia Keys, a box of dark chocolates and a couple of bottles of organic red.
- Boston.com, The Skin Trade, Aug. 22, 06'
- Proactiv, About
- Marmur, Ellen (2009). Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman's Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin. Atria Books. pp. 200. ISBN 1416586962.
- The New York Times, The New Touch-Face of Vending Machines, May 25, 10'
- Long-term ingestion of high flavanol cocoa provides photoprotection against UV-induced erythema and improves skin condition in women. - GreenMedInfo Summary