Illustration: by Luci Pina
Before the pandemic struck, skin care was booming. Then came a year of isolation that forced many people into working and socializing primarily online. Lockdown inadvertently created the perfect environment for staring at your own pixelated pores, whether on social media (where you can instantly zap yourself into beauty via an endless bounty of filters) or on apps like Zoom. What happens to a skin-care obsessive after a full 12 months of this?
Charlotte Palermino has some thoughts on the topic. A co-founder of skin-care company Dieux and an aesthetology student, Palermino is known for sharing her unvarnished opinions on social media. She is passionate about evidence-based research and clinical vetting, and she’s funny about it too. During the pandemic, she has thrown herself into TikTok, growing her account, @charlotteparler, to 236,300 followers through explainers (like how to slug without leaving a Vaseline trail on your pillowcases), myth-busting (like debunking the recent controversy behind petrolatum), and hacks (like how to help your chapped lips with “moisture sandwiches”).
Below, she talks to the Cut about where skin care is headed post-COVID-19, what to do if you have messed up your skin barrier, “skinimalism,” and why skin care actually isn’t self-care.
In order to understand where our skin-care routines are headed, we need to understand where things stand right now. What trends have you seen throughout the pandemic, and what types of products were popular?
When the pandemic started, everyone was like, I’m going to try the insane treatment that I was too scared to do ’cause if I fuck it up, it’s not a big deal ’cause I’m a recluse, and no one has to see me ’cause I can just turn off my Zoom. I don’t know if you saw on Google Trends — I actually wrote an article for Teen Vogue about skin-barrier repair — but basically, there was an uptick in the Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution right when the pandemic went down.
We spend way too much time looking at ourselves on the screen, and as a result, we’re looking for that Photoshop-filtered final image, like the Instagram Paris filter, right? Whatever gets us there. Resurfacing treatments are the fastest ones to get those really quick results, but then after that, you have to deal with all the peeling, the flaking, the redness, and we’re just trying to triage that. We’re reaching for products to basically deliver from the sins of what we were actually doing to our skin.
Does this mean that people are using more products than ever before?
It was like that at the very beginning. People were going crazy. When I hear somebody ask, “How do I use a retinol? An acid? A peel?” and then they’ll throw in one other active, I’m like, You’re not going to have skin.
Part of it is that people couldn’t go to in-office treatments. If people couldn’t get to an aesthetician or if they felt they didn’t have the option, they were like, Oh, I’ll just do it at home because I have the time now. But you should never Derma Roll at home because you will just scar yourself. When you talk to derms about their experience in clinics, a lot of what they’re doing is fixing what people have done at home — and we’re talking about actual damage, like cystic acne that could be a result of Derma Rolling and spreading an infection across your face, or insane hyperpigmentation because somebody uses a crazy peel and then goes outside and forgets they did a peel the day before and didn’t wear sun protection.
What products or treatments should people try if they’re in repair mode, now that they’ve experimented with resurfacing?
The thing to remember is that if you’ve really messed up your skin barrier, basically anything you put on it is going to sting. Something as gentle as La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer is going to sting a little bit, and the most important thing is to baby your skin and to not use anything that is resurfacing. Avoid the retinols. Avoid the glycolic acids.
Think of it like cutting into your skin. When your skin is sensitive, one of the worst things you can do is continue wounding yourself. When you cut yourself, what do you do? You put a Band-Aid on it. You don’t take another knife and start cutting.
Give yourself a solid month of just using face creams. You want to use things like ceramides because they’re basically mimicking the cholesterol and fatty acids on your skin barrier. Glycerin is a great one because it’s going to hydrate. Dimethicone is actually a good ingredient. Petrolatum is a skin protectant — people with eczema who have weakened skin barriers tend to put Vaseline on their faces because it’s allowing your skin to rebuild. Now if you have very oily skin, obviously these recommendations are going to change, but if you strip your skin, the best thing you can do is to stick a moisturizer and avoid the sun, and if you find a sunscreen that doesn’t sting or burn, then absolutely go for that. Within a month, your skin should be back to normal.
I keep hearing about the rise of “skinimalism.” Do you expect that we’ll actually use less products when everything is back to “normal” and we’re back to socializing and going out, instead of sitting at home in front of our computers and mirrors?
I think that we are already on the path of more skinimalism because people have hurt themselves. The thing is, if you’re using a 20 percent vitamin C, a retinol, a glycolic acid, a salicylic acid, and you’re using one of those skin scrubbers, you’re physically injuring your skin. Very few people would be able to walk out of that unscathed. My hope is that most people, when they put their hand in the fire, they don’t continue to put their hand in the fire.
So what types of skin-care products and treatments are we going to try after the pandemic?
Everyone’s talking about how people are focusing on skin care more and makeup less, but the great thing about makeup is that it gives instantaneous results. For me, I use some skin-care ingredients for an instantaneous result. Do I think that face oil is ever going to replace my face moisturizer? No. I need my humectants and my emollients and my occlusives; leave me alone. But do I use a face oil as highlighter because it lasts all day and it softens my wrinkles all day? Absolutely. So I think that you’re going to see people looking for skin-care-makeup hybrids. They’re going to try and kill two birds with one stone.
In-office procedures are going to see a crazy boom. I’m in aesthetician school, and that’s the one thing they keep mentioning: Once this is done, people are going to want that human connection, and they’ll want to see people. That’s part of it — the social aspect of going to get a facial or going to get a peel or just going to see your dermatologist, especially if you are a regular.
In terms of treatments, people will always be concerned about acne and hyperpigmentation. With wrinkles, I like to joke that the reason we care about them so much is because they are a sign that we’re slowly dying, and people don’t want to die.
Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen the rise of more skin-care nonexperts on platforms like TikTok — people who aren’t derms, who don’t have aesthetician licenses, who aren’t chemists, who aren’t developing skin-care products. Who can we expect as a skin-care authority in the future?
We’ve always had nonexperts. Influencers have been talking about luxury skin care for years.
With TikTok, it doesn’t matter if you have a big platform because you can go viral at any moment. What’s scary is that social media rewards outrage. As we’ve seen, whether its politics or skin care, outrage is not necessarily a good thing. Nuance is good, but social networks never reward nuance. It’s scary how a person with a megaphone can have so much impact. I’m seeing people say that massive sun exposure prevents skin cancer. I’m like, I’ve had shit cut out of my body. No, it doesn’t.
I keep asking myself why I’m doing this. Throughout the pandemic, the only people who have seen me on a daily basis have included my mom, my dad, and my sister. Why do I care if they see me with a perfect face? And what’s really interesting too is that we’re literally covering the lower halves of our faces, yet everyone’s so worried about having a pimple on their chin.
No one’s going to see you without your mask on, so why are we so pressed about it? Before the pandemic, I wasn’t filming videos of myself speaking about skin care, and, really, it’s because I’m at home and I had nothing to do so I started to make these videos, and they started performing really well across both TikTok and Instagram. I catch myself, where I’m like, I don’t like that part of my face. It’s like, No, you’re only saying this because you’ve been editing a video for an hour and staring at your reflection. It’s not normal.
It’s a common trope in the beauty industry to say that skin care is also self-care, and that messaging has gotten stronger throughout the pandemic, when we’re all at home and weighed down by the news. Do you feel that we have embraced skin care even more as a means to relax and self-soothe?
Doing my skin care is probably the only time I don’t have my phone in my hands, reading the news and being anxious. So it is kind of a moment to detach, which can be nice. But I get really nervous about calling skin care self-care. It’s good to take time for yourself. It’s good to have rituals, but I think they can go too far. And if it gets excessive, it’s not great.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money on skin care, and also you don’t need skin care. It’s optional. There are other things that you need. You need human connection. You need to make sure that you’re sleeping. That, to me, is a little bit more self-care, and all of those options happen to be free. I get nervous when I see brands leaning a little too hard into the self-care talk because self-care is a need, and I don’t want anybody to feel like anything in skin care is a need other than the basics for health, like sun protection.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.