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Why You’ll Never Have Perfect Skin

By Debra Jaliman, MDAugust 17, 2011
From the WebMD Archives

It’s the frustration every dermatologist experiences. Patients come in, waving magazine pages showing stunning women with absolutely flawless skin. “Make my skin look as perfect as this,” they demand. “You can do that, right?”

Well, no, I can’t. Nobody can, because what magazines and cosmetic product ads neglect to tell you is that those photos have been so airbrushed or digitally enhanced, that the skin you see bears little resemblance to reality. Even the best human skin on the planet, the petal-soft, sweet-smelling kind on babies, has shadows and creases. I treat plenty of the models and actresses seen in ads and while they may have very good, healthy skin (I make sure of that!), none of them have that inhumanly perfect skin that makeup companies promise.

L’Oreal was recently forced to pull two ads featuring Julia Roberts and supermodel Christy Turlington for its subsidiaries Lancôme and Maybelline, after the British Advertising Standards Authority decided that the photos had been so “improved” as to represent misleading and exaggerated advertising claims. Take a look at Julia Roberts’ face in Lancôme’s ad for Teint Miracle foundation. I live in New York, where famous people are sighted on the street every day, and I can promise my readers that while she is undoubtedly an enviably gorgeous woman, she does not have that pristine, alabaster skin. Nobody does, not even with layers of expensive foundation.

Or look at Christy Turlington in this ad  for Maybelline’s The Eraser foundation, which is advertised as an anti-aging product. Once the scandal erupted, L’Oreal UK admitted that the image had been “digitally retouched to lighten the skin, clean up makeup, reduce dark shadows and shading around the eyes, smooth the lips and darken the eyebrows” (The Guardian, July 27, 2011).  Those are not little changes.

Lancôme and Maybelline are established companies that sell quality, popular products. I’ve used their makeup myself in the past. What bothers me  — and what should bother everybody — are the unrealistic expectations they create in their advertising campaigns. No foundation, no matter how well formulated, is going to take twenty years off your age, although it can certainly make skin look better and even effect moderate improvement in some areas, such as skin discoloration. For really dramatic improvements, though, people have to go dermatologists for Botox, fillers and heavy-duty treatments with lasers or skin-tightening radio frequency. Those procedures really work, but they can be expensive and time-consuming. For example, radio frequency treatments, such as Thermage CPT, or ultrasound sessions with Ulthera, cost thousands of dollars.

And here’s the thing: no matter how good the dermatologist, or how much money the patient spends, perfection will never be achieved, because it is unrealistic and impossible. Yes, a dermatologist can treat skin discoloration, fill in creases and wrinkles, and erase sun damage. We can reverse the clock to a degree, making a fifty-year-old’s skin look ten to fifteen years younger. But we cannot promise or provide perfection, and certainly cosmetic companies can’t either.

Bottom line: Totally flawless, pore-less, wrinkle-free skin does not exist outside the Photoshopped pages of a magazine.

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