The $332 Fantasy Facial (Or: An Anthropological Expedition to the Mall)

“If you get nothing else, please, please just get the moisturizer,” the overly plumped and overly plucked sales-cultist implores me. “You know, these are the years that really count for your skin.”

The moisturizer is $75 for a two-ounce jar. The jar, it must be said, is a very pretty sandblasted green. It’s worth at least $2.50 all by itself.

The salesperson is desperate to dab her ecru goo on my face. Her white lab coat implies some sort of medical training, but her extremely loose interpretation of the term “serum” and the fact that she’s working a lotion bar at a mall cosmetics store tells me she’s probably a few credits shy of her M.D.

“Yeah, usually I just rub pork fat on my face,” I say, feeling the mild adrenaline rush that precedes an oncoming girl-fight/sales-pitch dodge situation.

She laughs, her chuckle light and perhaps a tad nervous – not a lot of lard-moisturizing gals at the mall, I suppose – but commendably undeterrable. “You will see the difference immediately. This line is specially formulated to include Cold Serum Polyphenols and DMAE. It’s developed by a doctor, he has incorporated anti-inflamatory properties into every product, and I can tell from the redness in your skin that the olive fruit compounds in the sensitive line will soothe and protect your skin perfectly.”

“And what exactly is DMAE?” I ask. This question is baiting, asked only for my own private amusement, and not because I really intend to buy the high-priced cream being hawked.

“It’s like a fish oil extract,” the saleswoman tells me eagerly, “An amazing antioxident!”

Then she lowers her voice and leans in, her ticket-getter red lips whispering a secret only I can be allowed to hear: “And that’s the only complaint we ever get with this product. Some people do say that the serum has a mild fishy smell when they first open it. But once they use it they love it because it ab-so-lute-ly works!” She is back to gushing. Fish-face-stank will not deter her enthusiasm for her beloved face goo.

“Oh, yeah, I know what that’s like,” I sympathize, deep in co-conspirator mode, “my moisturizer smells a bit like bacon when I first rub it on.”

Her eyes get wide. She nods just a bit and it’s clear we’ve bonded. We totally get each other – it’s like we’re sisters now. “Let me do just half your face and you’ll be stunned at the difference. It is immediately obvious what this product does. It’s that powerful.” She rests her hand just for a moment on my forearm, ’cause now we’re all close like that.

I am, for the first time in at least six months, at The Mall.

And not just any store at the mall – not REI or Barnes and Noble – but a store dedicated exclusively to high-end cosmetics.

I had almost forgotten that places like this existed. This world, this altar to someone else’s image of good-enough and pretty-enough, is so far from my daily reality that I feel like I deserve a passport stamp for venturing out this far.

The store is perfectly lit. The products are uplit dramatically. Every bottle and every potion looks magical and promising. The mirrors are lit in warm and soft full-surround light. This kind of lighting magically erases dark circles, minimizes zits and gives a glow of pore-less perfection to almost any face. It’s the same kind of lighting strip clubs use to make dancers look like they don’t have cellulite. It’s fantasy lighting.

Posters of 14 year old girls in $900 camisoles, $200 haircuts and priceless make-up jobs decorate the store. There are two kinds of customers: beautiful young girls doing everything they can to look older, and women who are no-longer-young-girls doing everything they can to look younger.

Both varieties of customer strike me as a little sad.

“Sure!” I say to the salewoman, “Go ahead.”

Out come the sample products. And that is how I come to have a $332 facial skin maintenance system applied to one-half of my face.

“This’ll be a blog post one day,” I think to myself, as I start surreptitiously snapping pictures on my phone. “I just want to make sure I can remember the products,” I explain when the saleswoman glances at my phone, “I’m such a visual person.”

“Of course!” she beams, and continues massaging in focus-group-approved lotions.

First, half my face is washed with a $39 hypoallergenic cleanser.

Then, a $75 nourishing moisturizer, a $65 firming eye cream and a $98 peptide complex is smoothed on. To top it off, a $55 tinted sunscreen “evens out” my skin tone while providing “full spectrum UVA/UVB coverage.”

“Look how that automatically color-adjusts to blend in with your exact skin color!” The salesperson proclaims, pleased with my transformation from pork-smeared barbarian to civilized mall customer.

“Wow!” I hear from my girlfriend and shopping companion. “Oh yeah, I can totally see a difference. That is incredible!”

“Really? Which half has the stuff on it?” I ask my friend, teasingly.

“This one, obviously!” she says, confidently, pointing at one of my cheeks.

And she fucking guesses wrong.

That, my friends, is the power of Hope In A Bottle.

So, which side of my face do you think was civilized with the power of $332 worth of polyphenols, DMAE, olive fruit extract, cold serum and – most importantly – the incomparable power of merdae equorum?

Well, isn’t is obvious?


  1. says

    If I’m facing you, I’d say the left side as it appears there is a slight sheen on the top of your forehead—but I’m just guessing.

    I haven’t been to a mall in—well, I don’t remember. Backpacking for seven months of 2010 and 2011 will really suck out the need for things like beauty products thought they already were sucked out of me (which is a hilarious change from my years in high school). Now I feel strange in makeup but I do rely on some eye cream from Burt’s Bee’s and face lotion from Avalon Organics. And that’s about it.

    It is easy to be tempted when I go into these stores, but I’m like you, I’d probably be in REI or the bookstore.

  2. Barbara says

    I just wet my jammies, laughing – Thanks for this !

    60 years old and loving every character line in my face

    • Katie says

      I also am in my 60s and find this hilarious! I went to the States to visit my daughter in Idaho this year. While there she encouraged me to start a ‘skin care regimen’. After a couple weeks I gave in and went to her facial girl. Yep, couldn’t tell a bit of difference when she was through. Then she wanted to cover it all with makeup! Out of curiosity, I asked how much it would be for just the cleaner, toner and moisturiser. Three small vials and it was $375. Need I say that I did not succumb?

  3. says

    Ha! This post was spot.on. (and hilarious). There was a short time when I got sucked into the whirlwind of cream for this, lotion for that but now I slather some coconut oil on all life’s problems and call it a day. As for which side of your face had the facial – no idea. Though, if any beauty moguls read this post, you’ve given them a whole new area of the market to work on: swine-based skin care :)

  4. says

    Bwa ha ha! Selling me moisturizer in this climate is like trying to sell ice to eskimos. I’ll wager the guess over which half, depending on whether or not the earnest young woman was left- or right-handed.

    BTW, DMAE (Dimethylaminoethanol) “is used as a curing agent for polyurethanes and epoxy resins.” [wikipedia] and smells like fish, but is synthesized in the lab – nothing natural about it at all []

  5. says

    Too funny!! And you DO deserve a passport stamp for this trip! I can’t remember the last time I ventured out that far.
    I absolutely do NOT see a difference. Stick to the lard. :-)

  6. Tammie Haley says

    And that is why we only go to the mall every so often. Just to have the “sample” facial. I go once a year for my birthday massage and facial. (More so I have an excuse to spend some ME time.) The companies are selling parts of the product, but not the whole product because they can’t. How about just using raw olive oil, or raw coconut oil, or honey? Can’t really put a trademark on it. So they have to separate everything, put it somewhat back together. Kind of like breaking 30 vases into little pieces and trying to put them back together. Yet people buy into this.

  7. says

    when i turned 30, i anxiously ran out and bought a $75 tub of face cream in that hopeless effort to turn back the clock – like if i bought it i wouldn’t actually get older. now in my 40s, i wash my face with homemade goat’s milk soap and that’s pretty much it. and i don’t use sunscreen even though i spend most of my days outside. people think i’m nuts. i just tell them that i like my vitamin D :) love the lard moisturizer. are you making a cream that includes it, or just putting it straight on your face?

    • says

      Hi Heidi – yes, that was me at 28: “Oh my God I’m in my late 20s – Get me the glycolic acid peel cream now! I must burn away any evidence of skin texture!”
      I just do straight lard. I may try some blends at some point in the future, but for now it’s simple, I make it anyway, and it works for me.

      • says

        Some blends? Like a bacon and egg scramble? I’m thinking goat milkshake too. Maybe with a strawberry scrub. Come over soon so we can make breakfast and then rub it on our faces and get on with making cheese. Miss you!

  8. says

    What a hilarious experience! I paid to have a facial a couple weeks back and spent the next week with a rash over my entire face. “Organic” and “specially formulated by a doctor” means allergic reaction to me! At least people could then tell which side the formulas went on!

    • says

      I had that experience 8 or 9 years ago too. At my first ever facial, after specifically discussing my very sensitive skin, the facial-person used some sort of Vitamin C goo all over my face. I think it was basically citric acid in a gel alcohol base. Much burning ensued. That was also my last ever facial.

  9. says

    Confession time: I am an eyeliner addict, and that store is like Mecca for me. LOL But the salesgirls and guys all think I am insane because I don’t buy all their other pretty jars of things. I use a vitamin c powder to fight sun when I am anywhere but the rainy side and while they sell it so does my local food coop. Personally I love Cetaphil cleanser that I buy in vats at the drugstore, and have been known to put some olive oil in a pan on the stove, then remember I have a face and put some on it while stirring.

    When they ask about my dry elbows, I say “Yeah, I should buy a lemon on my way home. The spider mites killed mine.”

    Awesome post.

    • says

      Well, I was in there to buy my one high-end make-up product, too, a water-washable mascara that I can wear without my sensitive eyes turning red and hatin’ on me. It had been two years, and even I will admit that that’s way too long to stretch a tube of mascara. So I get that. I’m not saying No to all make-up at any time….just No to complete bull-shittery. ;)

  10. Toni says

    Thank-you for this post! I just had an experience with a family member that stayed the night at my house. I walked into the kitchen before bed, grabbed the coconut oil and slapped it on my face. My guest looked horrified and asked what I was doing! I think between my dr. bronner’s for face and body, honey and baking soda face scrub and coconut oil moisturizer my skin is looking great. And of course no sunscreen and plenty of vitamin D! I can’t believe I used to believe that the expensive chemical crap was a miracle that I wished I could afford!

  11. says

    As one who avoids getting that particular stamp in my passport at all costs, I LOVE this post! Thanks for turning your little “civilized” adventure into amusement for the rest of us. You really do provide a valuable service on the interwebs! :-)

  12. says

    LOVE it :) I don’t even buy cheap-ass moisturizer at the drug store… I’m that lazy about facial maintenance. Hey, I shower regularly, and use the $2.50 apricot facial scrub stuff I buy for my two teenagers to manage blackheads. Why the hell should my skin-care regimen cost more than my rent?

  13. Arrianne says

    “I had almost forgotten that places like this existed. This world, this altar to someone else’s image of good-enough and pretty-enough, is so far from my daily reality that I feel like I deserve a passport stamp for venturing out this far.”


    I wandered into a L’ Occitane store looking for a gift and the sales person there tried to convince me I needed something for all my “sun spots”. Freckles. When I was a child, they where called “fairy kisses”. I’ll keep ‘em, thanks.

  14. SMB says

    It was the left side of your face–am I right? (It makes no difference to me if I am, as I’d never spend that kind of money on skin care either–but I am curious.)

    This was a fun post!

  15. STH says

    I got out of all that business when my skin got so sensitive I couldn’t use anything but homemade olive oil moisturizer on it. I recently got sensitized to the olive oil and can’t use that any more, so now I make my moisturizer with sweet almond oil. That and my Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunscreen are the only things I use now.

  16. says

    HA ha. I’m so glad not to be in the trap of fancy cosmetics. My $5 carrot face soap and drugstore moisturizer with sunblock work just fine, thanks!

  17. SMB says

    In further reading of the comments I realize I’m probably in the minority here, as I COULD be considered a skincare products junkie. But, I stick with Paula’s Choice (another NW gal!) and because of her, I know better than to spend anything at all on something that’s packaged in a jar (lets too much air in and quickly diminishes the efficacy of many of the beneficial ingredients). :)

    Also, it sounds like everyone knows this already, but all of that extra stuff is mostly a waste if one isn’t using SPF every day. If only salespeople put half the energy into selling SPF that they do with all of the serums, eyecreams, etc.!

  18. says

    This reads like the scenes in Hunger Games when Katniss is in the capitol. Did your makeover queen have pink hair or gold tattoos?

    Sad when the “obviously” over the top dystopian future really isn’t so much, innit?

    I’m contemplating rubbing my $8 lanolin and beeswax shoe protectant on my face, because hey, lanolin and beeswax, and cheap. ;-)

  19. Arrowleaf says

    Ah the thrilling shock of honesty (why actually, I moisturize with lard). Way to represent us non-commercial-facial-product punks. Awesome!

  20. Gean Ann says

    You make me laugh! But I must say that merdae equorum is the stuff my roses dream of … and look at their complexions!

  21. Lindsey says

    I, too, love lard. Although, the child of poor immigrants, I often ate lard and onion sandwiches on brown bread. So, I am larded up on the inside and now I use lard on the outside! Full circle. I only wish I could make my own lard.

  22. says

    Whenever we do something “normal,” we refer to it as a “cultural experience.” After all, once in awhile one needs to experience mainstream culture so we know why we make the decisions we do.

    • STH says

      Ha! I have this experience every time I stay in a hotel and watch TV–it reminds me why I don’t pay for that junk!

  23. Hyla says

    Awesome!! I have found that as I have scaled back my skin care routine to only include a few natural products, the better my skin looks. Thanks for sharing!

  24. Carla Huyck says

    I love this! Avoiding the mall is a good thing. Your writing style is awesome and I find myself looking forward to what’s next. You rock! Thanks!

  25. says

    You’re hilarious, I love it! When I gave up lotions-n-potions in favour of the “use whatever happens to be lying around in your kitchen” approach to beauty, I was surprised to find that the feeling of more-more-more consumerism doesn’t abate. I still mess around with new recipes and I’m still as vain as ever. Lucky I’ve never been to a store like that because one look at the rows of scientific-looking bottles surrounded by their halos of exclusivity and I’d be a goner! So while my outsides look better than ever, my insides are still a marketer’s dream.

  26. Alice says

    This is hilarious. You are a fantastic writer, I was sucked in by the first couple of sentences and had to read the whole thing. Wonderful work.


  1. […] ““Look how that automatically color-adjusts to blend in with your exact skin color!” The salesperson proclaims, pleased with my transformation from pork-smeared barbarian to civilized mall customer.” The $332 Fantasy Facial (Or: An Anthropological Expedition to the Mall) – Northwest Edible Lif… […]

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