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Women's Beauty Routines: Maintenance or Masochism?

There's a line between working hard to get gorgeous and subjecting yourself to all-out pain. Being swollen, inflamed, and bruised is not pretty.
 
 
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Who decided that women should suffer for beauty? We're confident and competent, but for some reason, our sensibility flies out the window the moment we tackle our own appearances.

Let's be honest. Pore extractions consist of a well-paid spa worker repeatedly pinching your face hard enough to leave bruises. Fancy lip-plumping glosses feel like bee stings for hours afterward. And almost any service on a spa menu has an at-home-treatment counterpart these days (smear some exfoliant on a suspiciously vibrator-like contraption, and voila! -- the poor woman's microdermabrasion!). But that doesn't mean you should be doing this torturous stuff to yourself. Here, a collection of treatments far too stupid-painful for the smart, realistic girl to waste time and recuperative energy on.

Waxing Pathetic
Do not attempt an at-home Brazilian. One more time. Do not attempt an at-home Brazilian. There are kits now, pretty boxes at Ulta with purple flowers on the front, to attempt this very feat. Some even come with numbing gels and the like. All this means nothing. Use your sticky Sally Hansen wax for your legs, for your bikini line, hell, even for your treasure trail, but do not, under any circumstances, venture farther south.

Several reasons: The first is that it probably will not work. Best-case scenario, the cloth rips off with searing pain, leaving you with a still-hairy area covered in quickly solidifying wax. Worst-case? Your skin rips from the pressure and you end up bleeding profusely. Graphic, I know, but if that's what it takes to stop you, so be it.

Eyebrow waxings are less likely to draw blood, but that doesn't trivialize the ouch factor. My cheat-alarm starts to go off when I hand a lady $20 to spread hot bubbly wax just inches from my eyes. I like shapely brows as much as the next girl, but there is nothing sexy about walking around with two red, puffy, caterpillar-shaped lumps on my face for two or three days. If you use prescription medications like Differin or Retin-A, experts warn that the wax is that much more likely to rip off your sensitive skin. I still don't even trust myself with tweezers, so I'd rather spend my money on a good thread job. Threading, an ancient hair-removal method from Asia and the Middle East, is relatively pain-free and results in pretty, natural-looking brows, minus the red outline. A cotton thread with a loop at the end is dragged along a row of hair, and slight twists pluck as the lasso glides by. Check your yellow pages for a practicing beauty salon near you; prices are generally a little less than a wax-job.

Recipes Gone Wrong
Magazines are always printing recipes one can whip up at home for face masks, hair conditioners, skin-softening bath soaks, etc. Some of them are genuinely useful -- a dab of honey as lip gloss is a longstanding favorite of mine, and beaten egg white indeed makes a nice astringent mask.

But some -- I daresay maybe most -- do not work.

Case in point: an oft-repeated beauty treatment includes cracking an egg on your head and smoothing the drippy innards on your hair. Rinse it out, the writers promise, and you'll have silky, slip-through-your-fingers tresses. What they don't mention is that if you use anything but ice-cold water, you'll end up with egg foo yung clinging to each strand.

Some guidelines to keep in mind when you're considering hitting the kitchen instead of Sephora: Sticking your fingertips into a grapefruit half for ten minutes really will bleach nails of their over-manicured yellow tinge -- but inspect your fingers well, for the grapefruit juice just loves the tiniest hangnail or severed cuticle, and it hurts like a bitch. Oatmeal in the bath will leave a lovely, cement-like ring around your tub. Mashed-up banana will not rinse out of your hair -- ever. And applying lemon juice (an astringent) near the eyes is just asking for searing pain.

Homemade concoctions are usually made with simple goals in mind: shine up my hair, buff my skin, soften my hands. But the truth is, most over-the-counter treatments work as well as, if not better than, their produce-section equivalents. A bottle of deep conditioner will probably soften up your hair like crazy because -- ready? -- that's what it was designed to do. And don't give me that saving money crap: Have you looked at the price of an avocado lately?

DIY: Doctor It Yourself
As the saying goes, it's easy to go broke saving money. Drug stores now stock all the fixin's for at-home versions of treatments you really should leave to the professionals. Take the aforementioned wide array of at-home microdermabrasion kits. Let's isolate those last three syllables for a moment. The process involves physically grinding away the outermost layer of the face (the stratum cornea -- it actually has a scientific name, because it's that important). Although the process requires no medical oversight and can be done at a day spa, attempting the treatment yourself means turning over your facial skin to your unpracticed fingers and a wad of directions printed in English and Español. No peace of mind, and no one to sue for your raw post-project cheeks. We all know what stress does to your skin, so leave the skin-sanding to the insured. Dead skin cells will pack their bags just as speedily with an inexpensive exfoliant like St. Ive's Apricot Scrub.

Chemical peels come with a similar warning. Remember when Samantha got one on "Sex and the City" and looked like Louie Anderson? And that was after she paid her fancy cosmetic surgeon lots of money. During a chemical peel, an acid is applied to your face, creating a controlled burn to the top layers of your skin. Some states even regulate the types of peels that can be applied by non-physicians!

At-home kits, of course, target only the shallowest layer of skin, usually via alphahydroxy acids (AHA). But AHA peels treat the skin kind of like a sunburn: there will be pain, redness, and peeling, all of which will clear up in a week. Assuming the procedure's been performed correctly and conscientiously, of course. If those are the side-effects of proper chemical peel, do you really want to find out what happens when the controlled burn goes awry?

We dames deserve to feel pretty, but let's do it without the burning, singeing, and stinging sensations, okay? Don't we have enough pain in our lives without asking for it?

Andrea Bartz is a junior at Northwestern University. She's currently interning at a women's magazine in New York and avoiding the beauty department's newfangled advice, recipes, and devices.

 
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