Have Beauty Maintenance Become Too Much? The Everygirl


It’s not just you—being a woman feels impossible right now. A year ago, trends like everything showers and “high maintenance things I do to stay low maintenance” had us all in an excited tizzy—and for a good reason. In a world that is so fast-paced and demanding, being encouraged to take a moment to indulge in self-care can feel like being permitted to take the break we’ve been aching for. But recently, this obsession with maintenance has piled up into a heaping mountain of self-care that feels impossible for the average person to climb. In reality, most of us don’t have the time, money, or energy to achieve the level of beauty maintenance that we’re currently being sold, no matter how much we may love our face tools or skincare routines.

There are real numbers behind the increased physical maintenance demands that the beauty industry has created in 2023. In April, The Washington Post reported that beauty is growing despite inflation: Ulta’s sales surged 18 percent in the last quarter of 2022 and continued to grow in the new year. The marketing is targeting an increasingly younger audience, and according to a recent spending survey by Piper Sandler, teen spending on skincare climbed 19 percent this year. TikTok has undoubtedly played a role in this, as videos of influencers doing their makeup or skincare (even while talking about something entirely unrelated) have exploded on the app. 2023 was also the year of Botox, specifically preventative Botox, traptox or “Barbie Botox,” and masseter Botox.

As someone who is obsessed with beauty products and writes about them on the internet, I have to acknowledge my part in this, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not feeling it, too. I have the immense privilege of being able to try and recommend beauty products as part of my job, and like any diligent writer, I take both that privilege and those recommendations seriously. But at the same time, I don’t exactly want to be feeling pressure to get Botox at age 23, and sometimes, I just want an extra hour of sleep instead of doing my hair. So, in the spirit of de-influencing, here’s what I think about the self-maintenance pressure—as someone who writes about beauty products for my job.

“Maintaining” your physical, mental, financial, and emotional health should come first

This summer, I was on a walk with my father, telling him about some items I had recently bought at Sephora. “Well,” he said to me after I had explained the merits of Vitamin C serum, “you really don’t need all that stuff.” My immediate reaction to this comment, and to others like it that I have received from various men in my life regarding beauty rituals, is always the same: surprise followed by fury and, finally, begrudging agreement. First, I’m always shocked that there are people in this world who haven’t been convinced that shifting their appearance will bring them greater happiness; second, there’s not exactly anything I can say to meaningfully disagree.

“It’s very easy, under conditions of artificial but continually escalating obligation, to find yourself organizing your life around practices you find ridiculous and possibly indefensible,” Jia Tolentino wrote in her essay “Always Be Optimizing” in 2019. Translation? Sometimes, you’re probably going to find yourself hooked on a beauty ritual that doesn’t make sense to or for you. In those moments, it’s essential to ask ourselves whether we’re doing everything we can for our *real* maintenance routines: the ones that keep us sane, functional members of society. Things like physical movement, human connection, financial responsibility, and mental health have to come before the next beauty product or self-care trend.

Since I had that conversation with my father, I moved across the country to a city where I don’t know anyone to pursue a career that I love. This has meant sending every cent and ounce of energy toward making new friends and feeling settled in a new place—not toward my skincare routine. Though I likely will repurchase Vitamin C eye cream in the future, it’s not at the top of my priority list at the moment: I would rather have bags under my eyes in a fulfilling life than be dark-circle-free with no friends. Adjusting our consumption of beauty products to fit our current needs—financial, emotional, or otherwise—is something that gets increasingly difficult with the growth of the industry, which is all the more reason to continually check in with ourselves about what matters most to us in our routines.

It’s not wrong to go through phases when you can’t “maintain”

In 2020, when I was sent home from my freshman year of college because of a global pandemic, I dropped all self-care. I know that I wasn’t alone in this, but as someone who had always cared about putting her best foot forward (I grew up buying in hard to the “dress for the job you want” mentality), I beat myself up for my inability to stick with a solid routine. I couldn’t get myself to work out, wash my face, or even think about wearing anything other than sweatpants, and I thought that that inability to maintain my appearance was all my fault. In reality, I didn’t want to maintain my looks because my life had been upended, and I was watching the world fall apart in real time. My appearance felt unimportant because, quite frankly, it was.

Dropping aspects of your maintenance routine in the face of global strife doesn’t make you a lazy mess. Instead, it is a crucial part of your humanity. Taking time and energy away from your maintenance routine might mean you’re able to dedicate more time and energy to causes you believe in or people you love when it’s most important. On top of that, it’s OK for what’s most important to you to change. Caring deeply about how your hair looks one day and not wanting to pick up your blow dryer the next (and vice versa) is not abnormal—again, it’s human.

Some problems can be solved with new products and routines—but a lot can’t

As a beauty writer, when I say a product has been “life-changing” for me, I’m really not messing with you. Investing in a great hair dryer improved my fraught relationship with my curly hair tenfold. The before-and-after pictures of my skin after using a new exfoliating product speak for itself. And yes, having manicured nails does change how I work because the clickity-clack on my keyboard is marginally more satisfying.

It would be naïve to say that the things we do to maintain our appearances don’t have a tangible impact on our real lives. Beauty routines are capable of boosting our self-confidence to get us striving for that promotion, jumping back into the dating pool, or socializing with people we find intimidating. That’s powerful, and it should not go unrecognized as a very real part of the female experience.

At the same time, always trusting the next trending ritual or product to make our lives better can prevent us from enjoying where we are in the moment—and from realizing that there might be other ways to solve a problem. For me, buying a nice hair dryer and investing in great curly hair products constituted huge steps in a journey toward accepting my sexuality and cultural heritage after years of being told that wearing my hair curly made me look “more Jewish” or “more gay.”

On the flip side, I can find it incredibly easy to forget that any true friend or romantic connection I make likely won’t care that I have dark circles under my eyes or clogged pores. With each new addition to our beauty routines, we have to ask ourselves: What is the problem I’m trying to solve?

You’re allowed to love your maintenance routine and think critically about it at the same time

With all of this being said, I am a fervent believer that shaming women for the things they love is never, ever helpful in a society that continually degrades femininity, no matter how many times it proves itself crucially important. It’s still the year of Taylor Swift and Barbie, after all. If you’re feeling excessive pressure to maintain your appearance, blowing up the comments of the influencer who’s taking an everything shower or getting traptox likely isn’t going to change that feeling. It’s also a chronic misplacement of the blame for the origins of that pressure (hint: it starts with a p) and the people who should be responsible for removing that pressure (hint: not women). There are far more effective ways to change your outlook on maintenance and optimization than getting angry with a woman whose job is to recommend a product for doing exactly that.

And if you, much like myself, still love your beauty products, this does not make you superficial, irresponsible, or vain. As women, it can be so easy to reduce ourselves to one thing—beauty-obsessed or down-to-earth, financially responsible or indulging in getting our nails done—when, of course, we are many things all at once. This is why constantly evaluating the things that matter most to us, especially when it comes to maintenance routines, is so important.

When the pressure to maintain starts to feel insurmountable, returning to those core things you know make you feel great and ditching the rest is key. Think of your beauty routines like a capsule wardrobe: Invest more in the versatile parts of your routine that make you feel amazing, and only add on the trendier pieces when it makes sense for you. “Personal style” is something that many of us have worked to develop with fashion, so why not do the same with beauty? Honestly, I’m excited for the day I’ll add my favorite Vitamin C serum back to my Sephora cart—and I’m glad I know myself well enough to be able to stop using it sometimes, too.

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