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The School of UnLearning: Activism

Thriving with Accessible Skincare

Social media and the influx of self-care culture

By Julian Gavino

Over the years, we’ve been barraged with advice on how to dress, how to make your hair look lucious, and of course, how to spice up your routine with a good ol’ face mask (the cleansing kind, not the pandemic kind). All you have to do is open one of your favorite apps to see these types of tutorials. Developers such as Instagram have even added a shopping tab. In one click you can seamlessly purchase products from your favorite brands and creators.

It’s so easy!


In a sense, yes - if you’re able bodied and neurotypical. We could venture to say that the majority don’t even think about this. Beauty blogger so-and-so told them it’s a must-have, and a click later it becomes a quick serotonin boost on a Friday night after a long work week.

And listen, there’s a lot of truth to the above. Studies show us that self-care routines do indeed boost our mental health. According to a study published in Psychiatry Research:

“... eight weeks of mindfulness training led to changes in gray matter concentrations in the brain areas involved with learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.”

‘You reap the benefits of mindfulness whether you're [actively] doing it or not,’ says Paula Gill Lopez, PhD, an associate professor and chair of the department of psychological and educational consultation at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut.

The conversation isn’t about self-care not working - it does and we can prove it. Even if everyone’s form of it looks different, the proof is in the…serum. Rather, we need to discuss changing the conversation and culture surrounding methods of self-care.

Looking at self-care through the lens of skincare is a solid place to start.

Our skin is the largest organ in the body and one of the most complicated. “It has many roles in the maintenance of life and health, but also has many potential problems, with more than 3,000 possible skin disorders,” remarks dermatologist Cara McDonald.

Clearly, it’s imperative to take good care of our skin, and not just for vanity reasons. Yet, we seem to get caught up in the glitz and glamour of it all. Desires for that youthful glow often overshadow the vast physical and mental health benefits to skincare.

Although this connection is often missed, skincare, disability, and ableism are strongly linked. All of the 3,000 possible skin disorders mentioned above are medical conditions and, in some cases, comorbid with disabilities. If this is true, why don’t we treat it this way?

Unfortunately, the answer is ableism.

We tend to view skin ‘imperfections’ as a beauty issue or cosmetic when, in actuality, they're evidence of an underlying medical condition.

Humans have a tendency to shy away from things they view as different or non-conforming to the beauty standard that persists to exist. We want to ‘fix’ these differences for conceited reasons instead of health reasons.

But to shame someone for having a skin condition is ableist. This encompasses both mental and physical health problems. Depression or other mental illnesses can make even the most mundane tasks unbearable. A depressed individual might have an inconsistent sleep schedule and end up spending days barely leaving their bed. This, on top of a multitude of symptoms, could make an otherwise ordinary activity, such as washing one’s face, impossible.

Physical disabilities present a whole host of new challenges. Even if the mental energy might be there, quite possibly the physical energy isn’t. Walking to the bathroom and picking up face wash is normally an uncomplicated part of an able-bodied person’s routine. Whereas, some disabled folks cannot complete these parts of their day without assistance from some kind of caregiver. When we talk about skincare, we have to include these topics. Acknowledging the place of privilege we continually have this conversation from is vital. Viewing skincare from a medical standpoint allows us to shape this conversation in an inclusive way. Growth then becomes possible and we can shift the conversation to be kinder, more forgiving, and actually beneficial versus artificial and vain.

We can do that by acknowledging all of the above and embracing skincare self-care as an act of nourishment. You’re protecting your most powerful barrier to the outside world, essentially your armor. Our skin absorbs what’s around us and plays a huge role in many of our regulated bodily systems such as, “temperature regulation, wound healing, protection against water loss, immune defense, vitamin production, and sensation.

Placing the emphasis here allows us to make the conversation more inviting, therein taking the pressure off of the self-esteem aspect.

The goal isn’t for everyone’s skin to look the same or fit some impossible standard. The goal is to take care of your skin in the ways that are best for your skin.

Marketing campaigns should be more conscious of how they’re portraying skincare. Are you selling a product that will actually nourish someone’s skin or are you selling an unrealistic ideal? Everything we put out into the universe has an effect, especially on the vulnerable populations we spoke about earlier.

Alongside cultivating healthy conversation, we should continue to encourage all different skin types in campaigns, allergy-friendly products, and safe spaces and language for those with skin conditions. People need to see themselves reflected in the media. Naturalizing the dialogue provides safety and reassurance to those with skin conditions to practice skincare with zero expectations. They’re doing it for themselves and the health benefits, not to fit an image.

In our personal lives, we could also afford to be a little kinder. Remind yourself that it’s okay to prioritize your mental and physical health, it’s okay to miss days, it’s okay to look like you.

Finally, it’s okay to ask for help.

Ask friends and family to motivate you or offer to do a spa day. Feeling some alone time? See if someone will help supply products and set them up for you. In times where you’re really feeling down, use a life hack such as keeping face wipes next to your bed.

If you’re the caretaker of a physically disabled individual ask them about their skincare routine. Help them research and pick out products if you can. Offer to make this a relaxing part of their routine. Don’t underestimate the importance of skin health in chronic illnesses. Skincare is even more crucial to disabled folks than it is to their able-bodied counterparts. For instance, autoimmune diseases cause antibodies to attack healthy tissue such as joints, organs, and skin. Chronically ill individuals are at a higher risk for psoriasis, eczema, rashes, bed sores, allergies, lesions, bruising, and even tearing. Chances are, if someone is sick, it’s going to show up somewhere on their skin. Medical professionals examine patients' skin as an indicator of health and disease all the time. As you’re caring for a disabled individual, the skin should be examined daily and protected in any way possible.

Self-care targeting one of our most critical organs should be accessible to all people including those with physical and mental disabilities alike. Working together from these perspectives will allow everyone to flourish both in mind and body, and to thrive with accessible skincare.

About the Author

Julian Gavino is a writer, model, activist, and Co-Founder of Disabled with Dignity. Check him out on Instagram @thedisabledhippie for more.

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