In this third and final post, I want to describe the strategies used by skin care companies to convince you to buy their products. Afterwards, I will highlight specifically what I use for my skin and why. I want to make it known now that this post is directed at over-the-counter products and not products that have been prescribed by a doctor. That said, I think one of the failures of western medicine is the focus on symptom relief rather than identifying and eliminating root cause. If you are using a product prescribed for symptom relief, I suggest speaking with a professional outside of conventional dermatology. They may be able to help you isolate that which is aggravating, or even causing, the issue. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about how consumers are manipulated, particularly when it comes to skin care.
Skin care companies effectively have a dual mandate: attract new customers and retain existing customers. They can do this by providing a product that achieves what it claims to, with no negative side effects, or they can employ various forms of manipulation to get you to buy a product you don’t need. Here are some of the tactics used to attract customers:
- Appeal to hope or vanity. Without a doubt, appealing to the customers sense of hope or vanity has been the go-to marketing ploy for skin care companies (often assisted by advertisements setting unrealistic beauty standards, making us feel insecure). Products claim to make you appear younger, age slower, or contain a plethora of other benefits all with the goal of getting you to think “maybe this is the answer I’ve been looking for.” Let’s admit it, we are professionals at convincing ourselves the answer to our perceived ailments is as simple as buying something off the shelves. Nothing else worked, but maybe this will! So we shell out $30 on an avocado serum and enjoy momentary relief until the novelty wears off, and then begin the process again by searching for the next thing that promises results.
- Use sensational words. Just as media outlets sensationalize headlines to get you to pay attention to them, skin care companies will sensationalize their products. This trick relies on a cognitive error called saliency bias, where one tends to focus on items that are more prominent or emotionally striking. Why buy the regular face serum when you can buy the Magic Diamond Essence Serum? Even though these words mean literally nothing, many people buy them over unremarkably named products.
- Appeal to morality. This tactic relies on several cognitive biases and heuristics in which people use simple rules regarding decision making, often based on emotional associations and labels. Many people have been conditioned to associate phrases such as “vegan”, “cruelty free”, and “all-natural” as “healthy for you” and “good for the planet.” Ironically, there is almost no regulation of these phrases and companies are relatively free to use them however they want. Some of the most toxic products I’ve come across use “vegan” or “cruelty free” on their label.
- Gift the product. The average profit margin on beauty products is around 5-6x the cost to make it. With such large margins, companies are free to donate products, especially to influencers, knowing full well the psychology of reciprocity. Reciprocity indicates that when someone is given something for free, they feel compelled to return the favor. In the influencer world, this means posting a story regarding the gifted product, thus generating nearly free advertising for the company.
- Claim synergy. This tactic is simple. Include somewhere on the instructions that the product works best when combined with several other products provided by the company (even though it doesn’t).
- Rebrand. How is it that these companies constantly find new ways to improve their product? They don’t. The reality is that if their product worked, they wouldn’t need to reformulate and rebrand This is just a cheap trick to generate novelty when product sales begin to falter. Beware the “new and improved formula” rebrand.
- Trigger the rebound effect. Have you ever used ChapStick to fix dry lips, only to discover your lips are even drier the next day? Or used nasal spray to alleviate some stuffiness, only to end up with a complete blockage? This is due to the rebound effect, where products provide short-term relief followed by a dramatic reversal and worsening of initial symptoms. Soon you find yourself reaching for more and more of that same product, caught in an endless loop of treating what would have been temporary symptoms.
- Build a habit. The idea is to generate a habit by including specific instructions on how to use the product for a period longer than would otherwise be necessary to determine if the product works. Before long, you aren’t using the product because it works, but because you get a little dopamine hit from the ritual.
It’s worth mentioning that just because a company employs some of these tactics, doesn’t mean their product is no good. We live in a hyper competitive world and sometimes it helps to get an edge by using these strategies. That said, it’s an immediate red flag when I notice any of the above tactics being used. Always check the ingredients (all of them) for safety and be honest with yourself when deciding if it works.
Now for the big reveal: my skin care routine. I stated in Pt 2 of this blog series that optimal health is essential for long lasting, thriving skin. When this isn’t enough, I employ several strategies to alleviate the issues I experience most often. For example, I recently began suffering from an autoimmune condition causing the appearance of dry, red, flaky skin around my nose, ear, and hairline. I met with a dermatologist and was given an ointment that alleviated symptoms but didn’t fix the root cause. I decided to do some self-experimentation and quickly learned that the culprit was the consumption of certain foods. If I abstained from these triggering foods, I had no issues. Another problem I’ve suffered my whole life is dry skin. Not over washing my skin or using hot water helps tremendously, but when this doesn’t quite do the trick, I’ll use Beekman 1802’s Triple Milk Formula. It’s the most effective, longest lasting, and least toxic moisturizer I’ve ever used (it’s literally goat milk, coconut milk, and milk protein). I believe they discontinued this product though, so I bought their goat milk serum which seems to be just as effective. That’s quite literally it. Outside of a single moisturizer, my skin care routine is entirely behavioral