COVID-19 IMPACT

The COVID-19 Pandemic Is Changing What I Consider "Essential" in Beauty

Allure contributor Jessica DeFino shares how a global pandemic is making her reevaluate what is (and isn't) important in her daily routine — and life, in general.
Jessica DeFino poses for selfie
Courtesy of Jessica DeFino

I've typed the word "essential" at least a thousand times. I've used it to describe moisturizers and face mists, and makeup bag must-haves. In every instance, I lied. Well, maybe lied is an overstatement, but I didn't tell the truth. I didn't know the truth. Not really. This new, pandemic world has shown me that.

Here, "essential" is reserved for the workers who hold our health in their hands: doctors, nurses, grocery clerks, farmers, janitors. It's set aside for life-saving measures, like sheltering in place and manufacturing ventilators. "Essential" applies to hand sanitizer and hospital beds, not hyaluronic acid serums.

I don't mean to insult cosmetics. I'm a beauty editor — I enjoy red lipstick as much as the next red-blooded makeup enthusiast. But the fact is that the beauty products I've stockpiled over the years as if they were survival supplies are non-essential. It feels empowering to acknowledge that. Freeing, even. It's pushing me to consider who I am without the face crèmes and foundation, to contemplate the difference between the things I want and the things I need. It's forcing me to figure out what really matters, both in the midst of the current coronavirus crisis and beyond.

"Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew," explains novelist Arundhati Roy in a recent article for the Financial Times. I see it happening already; there's a renewed interest in holistic health, a reemergence of victory gardens, and an appreciation for nature, a quiet realization that the earth is healing. I can't help but hope the beauty world will break with its past and begin again too, in all the same ways.

Health is essential

Take health, for instance, and this not-so-fun fact: Beauty products have "poisoned [people] slowly" throughout history, from the lead-based makeup popular in the 18th century to the mercury spot treatments of the 19th century. Not much has changed since then. In 2010, traces of lead were found in 100 percent of the 400 lipsticks tested by the Food and Drug Administration. As a beauty editor and a human being living through a global health crisis, how can I continue to promote products that potentially put our health at risk? How can I consider "clean" beauty a niche market instead of a necessary standard?

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It's increasingly hard to argue with a precautionary approach to safer cosmetics when protection from the coronavirus is entirely predicated on precaution. COVID-19 reinforces the fact there is so much we don't know — and may never know — about health and the human body (there is no endorsed cure, treatment, or vaccine). It reminds us that science isn't static, and standards need to change when science does (remember when we weren't supposed to wear masks?).

So, yes, while the current safety data on beauty ingredients like parabens and retinol is considered inconclusive… are the results worth the risk? Right now, as someone surviving on pure precaution, my answer is no.

Nature is essential

I may not return to traditional "products" at all, actually. The recent influx of DIY beauty content proves that everything I need has been hiding in my kitchen this whole time. Never has my skin felt as soft as after a raw honey-and-chamomile mask. Never has my scalp felt as fresh as after an apple cider vinegar rinse. I now swear by turmeric paste as a spot treatment, coconut oil as body lotion, and yogurt as a topical probiotic. (All delicious, by the way.)

After all this mixing and masking, I feel more connected to Mother Nature than ever. The beauty, strength, and support she provides is literally wild. I mean, there are plants that grow out of the earth that have the ability to calm a pulsing pimple in minutes. And farming said plants in a regenerative, organic manner is good for the environment. How cool is that? Why would I ever use anything else? Another bonus: My bathroom counter is blessedly clear of bottles.

Sustainability is essential

Speaking of bottles. I'm sorry, Momma Earth, for buying so many of them. I've probably gone through hundreds if not thousands of tubes and jars and compacts and brushes in my lifetime and all that waste adds up. Beauty brands alone churn out around 77 billion units of plastic packaging per year, the majority of which do not get recycled. Then, of course, there's the pollution that comes from producing all of those products and packages.

But as production, shopping, and shipping slow due to coronavirus-related closures, there's also hope.

The air pollution over Wuhan, China is dissipating. The canals in Venice are less polluted. The smog over Los Angeles is lifting. Nature is showing us that we have the power to heal the planet, if only we can slow down and simplify. Quarantine is showing me I can.

The truth is, the earth is essential. The makeup bag must-haves never were.


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