How would you look after a month with no cosmetics We challenged one woman to ditch her entire beauty routine. The results were, to say the least revealing…
23:07 GMT, 23 April 2012
23:07 GMT, 23 April 2012
Rifling through my wardrobe for the perfect ensemble to wear for a romantic dinner with my husband, a low-cut dress and strappy sandals catch my eye.
The outfit is sexy with a hint of old-school Hollywood glamour — very Scarlett Johansson. Unfortunately, my face is just plain scarlet and, while it destroys any seductive effect, there’s nothing I can do to disguise it.
Because I have resolved to forgo make-up entirely — for a whole month.
Beauty regime: Anna Pursglove left, with nail varnish and other cosmetics – and, right, she ditches the lot
Actually, it is not just make-up. I am undergoing a challenge that bans all forms of female grooming. It means no complexion-altering products (anti-wrinkle creams, eye creams, the lot), perfumes, dyeing, depilation, blow-drying, hair-straightening or conditioning. If it’s not necessary for hygiene reasons, then it’s not allowed.
So why have I — a self-confessed beauty addict — agreed to such a draconian, and humiliating, assignment
Because a recent survey found two-thirds of women believe facing the world without full make-up is more stressful than a first date or a job interview. Many of these women were also unable to contemplate even the most mundane tasks (sitting on a train, for example, or answering the door) without selected areas having first been dyed, tinted or plucked.
This got me thinking — am I one of these women Could I give up my beauty crutches . . . say, for a month And no matter what situation I found myself in
Grooming, after all, is a way of asserting ourselves in just about every sphere of life. Women do it to attract a mate, but also to compete in female company. We do it to show power and poise in stressful situations and to make ourselves appear poised and collected (particularly when we don’t feel it).
Natural: Anna Pursglove two weeks into her no beauty regime
Our state of grooming can reveal our level of wealth, job and marital status — even our emotional state.
We have fine-tuned antennae for other women’s grooming skills — and therefore expect them to scrutinise ours — and, as I know only too well after years editing the beauty pages of glossy magazines, we cannot get enough make-up and hair styling tips from the world’s most glamorous women.
Like so many, I find spending time on my appearance enhances my mood. Maybe it’s the legacy of teenage years spent applying illicit slicks of mascara in the school toilets in order to deal with adolescent traumas.
Maybe it’s the fact that a properly put-together face has seen me through all the big milestones of my life — dates, job interviews, my wedding day. I even recall the relief of being reunited with my concealer after giving birth to my children. I may have been shattered but knowing I didn’t have to look it was a comfort.
So what are my beauty ‘must-haves’ Written down, the list is longer than I’d like.
Among my favourite monthly treatments are microdermabrasion (where the skin is treated with exfoliant crystals to remove dead cells), Keratin (long-lasting) blow-drying, Shellac (long-lasting) manicures, eyebrow threading and eyelash tinting, plus waxing (legs and/or bikini line, depending on the amount of flesh I plan to show that month).
Then there’s the ‘occasionals’ list including chemical peels, laser thread-vein removal on my face, spray tans, semi-permanent eyelash extensions and teeth whitening.
When it comes to make-up, the microdermabrasion means I don’t need foundation in the day, although for special occasions I use Diorskin.
I always have an Yves Saint Laurent Touche Eclat concealer pen to hand, along with Hypnose mascara by Lancme (expensive, but I’m a natural blonde and resemble a lightly coddled egg without it). The Eve Lom brand is pricey, but my choice when it comes to cleansers, toners and moisturisers.
On my lips I favour Carmex balm (cheap but effective) and my final make-up bag staple is a Dior red lipstick — in case of any unexpected glamorous situations.
Totting up this bewildering list, I chose to lay down some ground rules for my challenge. After much procrastination, I decided that if a product or treatment could be classified as primping or preening, it was prohibited.
In a nutshell, if you’re in pain without it (Vaseline for badly chapped lips, for example) or if it has a hygienic or practical purpose (unscented shower gel, say, or drying your hair in order not to freeze on the school run) then it’s allowed. If the purpose is styling or pampering, then it’s banned.
I confess that before embarking on my beauty detox, I have one final splurge. A session of microdermabrasion is top of my to-do list, followed by a manicure and pedicure, plus a Keratin blow-dry (which should leave my hair groomed and glossy for four weeks) and eyelash extensions. Finally, I am ready to start.
The first few days are surprisingly easy — I’m not my usual glossy self, but nor do I look too unkempt.
But by day three I realise I’ve made a fatal mistake with the hair. Keratin blow-dries only retain their effect if you use a sulphate-free shampoo.
But I’ve committed to using bargain-basement brands — and every basic shampoo on the market appears laced with the stuff. Immediately I’m up frizz alley without a styling product: my usually luscious locks have been transformed into a fluffy mess.
Not made up: Anna Pursglove two weeks into her no beauty regime with the painting on her toenails looking decidedly chipped
Day five and I realise I’m due to attend a wedding at the weekend. The dress stops at the knee — but the leg hair doesn’t! I may be a natural blonde but — regardless of shade — below-knee fuzz isn’t a good look. I experiment with 10-denier tights but somehow leg hair is most offensive when it’s poking through sheer hosiery.
Mercifully, the weather on the day is truly awful — the bride’s dress even goes see-through in the rain so the furriness of my shins is way down the list of sartorial disasters.
Seeing women re-applying endless coats of make-up in the loos brings home to me exactly how much of the stuff we wear. I do feel a fleeting sense of liberation at not having to spend ages checking my face, but this is counterbalanced by the stress of trying to dodge the wedding photographer.
By the end of week one, I feel like every part of me is peeling. My lips, deprived of their regular coatings of moisturising lipstick, are parched and my lower legs are scaly without the daily applications of rich body lotions.
Difference: Anna Pursglove's hands two weeks into her no beauty regime, left, and at the end, right
I’ve also aged about a decade, as deep lines appear — particularly around my mouth. Where people used to comment that I look young for my 39 years, I’ve now been asked several times whether I’m ill, tired or hungover.
On the up side, the lack of plumping moisturiser has made my face look thinner and friends are wondering whether I’ve lost weight.
For week two, I’m on holiday with my family and a group of friends in the Canary Islands — and wearing a bikini is a nightmare.
I struggle without the, er, more intimate waxing that swimwear demands.
‘Wow, that’s quite a 1973 vibe,’ is my best friend’s comment the first time I recline on a Lanzarote beach. I dive for a nearby towel and stay covered up for the rest of the holiday. I know body hair is natural, but I’m just not ready to embrace it. My unkemptness makes me feel as if I’ve let myself go.
Ditched: Anna Pursglove with her hair straighteners and hair brushes after four weeks without cosmetics
Back in England, my face is now the problem zone. Having dyed my eyebrows and eyelashes for most of my adult life, I am shocked by their swift return to natural blondeness and bushiness.
Meanwhile, without regular treatments my fingernails and toenails are peeling like the layers of an onion and I’ve begun gnawing my fingernails for the first time since my teens (having included nail files on the ‘unnecessary pampering’ list).
And then — quelle horreur! — I am called into the offices of a leading fashion editor to talk about a top-secret project. Do I have the experience Absolutely. Do I have the look Not so much. I’m sporting chipped nails and completely off-message black skinny jeans to hide my leg hair (it’s all about delicate, but flesh-baring broderie anglaise this season).
I explain that I am on a mission to uncover my inner beauty, but I’m beginning to see what those women meant about job interviews being tricky without the reassurance of grooming. I’m yet to hear whether I got the gig but I’ve a feeling it’s a No.
As the second half of the experiment wears on, I seriously consider giving it up. My three-year-old daughter asks if I’m ‘feeling a bit sicky’ while my six-year-old son wonders whether he can show solidarity by ceasing to brush his teeth.
Foremost among my concerns is that I’ve started avoiding going anywhere where I’ll be closely scrutinised. Other people (particularly women) have noticed my radically altered appearance and I’m getting tired of explaining what I’m doing. I cancel a couple of evenings out with friends and am pleased when it rains on the school run so I can hide under the hood of my raincoat.
I haven’t quite stopped answering the door, but I’m certainly feeling unpleasantly self-conscious, especially when a delivery driver asks — at 4pm — whether I’ve just got out of bed.
By week four, the attributes that I have spent my adult life emphasising — eyelashes, eyebrows, eyelids, lips — are virtually invisible at best and chapped and flaky at worst. I look child-like and aged at the same time.
Meanwhile, the things I would most like to hide now seem to have become my defining features. I’ve had rosacea for a few years, which has left me with florid skin and small veins on my cheeks — blemishes I usually cover with makeup — while under-eye bags and creases by the nose and on the forehead seem to have deepened.
I’m battling hair so fluffy and frizzy I look like an extra from a Bon Jovi video, and my nails are bitten down to stumps.
So, as my experiment comes to a close, what I have learned Has the rejection of outer beauty uncovered oceans of it on the inside
Honestly, no. I feel in no way liberated (although I’ve saved at least 40 on treatments). I feel inexplicably grubby and I’ve started dreaming about mascara (the product I missed the most). I have made my peace with my extremely short nails, but the leg and underarm hair will be whipped off the second this experiment finishes.
I have also started taking furtive sniffs of my Stella McCartney fragrance, which I’ve missed wearing nearly as much as mascara.
Far from saving me time in the morning, the time I’ve saved not brushing my hair or applying make-up has been eaten up fretting about whether I have the confidence to face the outside world.
My friends clearly think I look ropey as hell — the words ‘tired’, ‘stressed’ and ‘frazzled’ keep coming up. Although my husband genuinely doesn’t seem to see much difference between made-up me and naked-faced me, I don’t know whether this makes him a typically unobservant male, or a very good liar.
This anti-grooming mission has made me appreciate that my reliance on beauty treatments was a little excessive, but it’s also shown me that in some respects the beautician’s salon is a haven for a busy working mother. It’s rare time to take a mental and physical break and do nothing more than collect your thoughts.
On a more serious note, it’s also made me realise that women are highly disingenuous about the importance of looks.
We’ll merrily tell our daughters that their naked faces are beautiful, while applying layers of make-up to our own skin. We have no problem taking a high moral stand along the ‘no woman should be judged on her looks’ lines, while simultaneously lampooning any famous female who appears in public looking unkempt.
With our constant judging of each other, we women are our own worst enemies.
The pursuit of beauty is both a joy and a curse. It is an expression of feminine sexuality and of individual taste. Yet it makes us self-conscious and competitive, eating up our time and money. It is, in many ways, an addiction — one I’ll be enthusiastically resuming the moment this experiment is over.