How Skin-Care Culture Can Be Fuel for Addictive Behaviors

Everyone is different, but Dr. Rieder says that sometimes these boxes can be a low-stakes way to scratch the skin-care shopping itch. “Subscription boxes are largely harmless, and for most people, a fun way to experience a new, curated selection of products on a regular basis,” he explains. “They can offer the same dopamine surge that comes with shopping but require much less work.” He adds, however, that there can always be too much of a good thing. “I don’t think of these as problematic unless someone is subscribing to multiple services, accumulating a bunch of products that they don’t use, and the behavior is leading to financial, relationship, or emotional stress.” 

This temptation and pressure can also lead to debt. Mia,* 22 and from London, dabbled in interest-free credit cards to purchase products for an acne flare-up in her late teens. “I spent hours researching routines online, on the Skincare Freaks Facebook page in particular. The routines and reviews became an obsession. I enjoyed being part [of an online community], so I definitely spent out of my means,” she explains. She accumulated a lot of debt, not wanting to miss out. “It seems ridiculous now, but as a student [at the time], I figured I’d begin paying it back once I started working full-time.”

Some dermatologists say they have definitely noticed changes in the routines of their patients over the past few years. Tamara Lazic Strugar, MD, a New York-based board-certified dermatologist, tells Allure that she has witnessed an increased proportion of the younger population adopting 10-step (or more) skin-care routines. “I personally support a minimalist routine — a moisturizing SPF in the morning, a retinoid at night, and perhaps an antioxidant product,” she says. “The rest is unnecessary for most people, unless they are addressing specific issues such as acne, hyperpigmentation, et cetera.” 

To give credit where it’s due, social media can also be a force that looks at excessive beauty purchasing habits critically, with an eye to change. In 2018, Hannah Louise Poston was one of the first YouTube content creators to document her “no buy year.” In 2019, she allocated herself a monthly “beauty budget” — essentials only — in the hopes of influencing her ample following to cut back on their own consumption. 

Frequenting online communities can also be a great tool to exercise accountability, as long as these communities do not promote overspending. Dr. Rieder recommends support groups and behavioral therapies that use techniques like stimulus control and exposure and response prevention, which, according to Psychology Today, are designed to gradually reduce the anxiety that feeds obsessions and compulsions. 

Says Dr. Rieder, “If you are constantly thinking about buying skin care, spending lots of money, and putting yourself in a financial bind, having guilty feelings after spending or relationship difficulties [as a result of it], then it might be time to seek help.” 

We are all worthy of self-care, but our peace of mind shouldn’t suffer for the latest viral serum. Online forums can be a great resource for expanding knowledge and serving up inspiration, but they should never drive us to spend beyond our needs or put our mental health at risk. 

*Not their real names.


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