Until August, the extent to which I cared for my skin was facing my shower head and clamping my eyes shut while the hot water beat down on my face. Outside that, I didn't really do much to my face. It just wasn't important to me — until it came time to end a really toxic relationship. If that sounds like a weird catalyst for developing an appreciation for moisturizers, I am totally with you. And yet, getting into skincare after a breakup that left me feeling like I was running on empty was the thing that reminded me how OK it is to prioritize caring for myself.
At the end of the worst summer of my life, (shout-out to 2018, don’t miss you, honey) I knew I needed to leave the relationship I was in and yet I had no idea how to do it. When I finally got the guts to break up with my ex, she did not take it well and it took a lot of work to end things. The biggest feeling that consumed me during this breakup was guilt. I felt terrible for leaving my ex, and didn't feel like what I needed was worthy of prioritizing. I just had to trust that I was worth prioritizing in my own life, even when it felt impossible.
The day after my breakup, I went to Lush on a whim because I wanted to treat myself after a hard couple of weeks. As I stood in the store, pasting different colored sample masks on my arm, I realized that this the weight of this horrible relationship and damaging breakup had left my shoulders. I was free, but I also felt like a shell of myself. I bought a tiny pot of a green cream called Mask of Magnaminty ($14.95) that tingled my skin when I sampled it.
I wasn't under the guise that I could buy my way to healing through skincare products, but I also saw the sacred value in caring for one's self. I picked this tingly green mask because it's supposed to clear your pores and invigorate your face, and, well, my breakup necessitated some "me time." It was also a plus that I was saving a ton of money by not eating out on dates with a partner, and just decided to spend a portion of that on myself.
After a couple of weeks, when it was all finally, truly, completely over and my ex and I were no longer on speaking terms, the weight off my shoulders was enormous. The stillness of my newly single life was also very loud. I had my life back, but I was also faced with the formidable task of healing myself after a toxic relationship. Now that I had a lot more free evenings to spend alone, I rejoiced at the chance to listen to music, clean my room, and walk around in my robe with a face covered in a minty green mask.
As I adjusted to being single, that first month after my breakup became a deliciously quiet time that I took all to myself. I soaked up every minute of it. My sweet best friend sent me a care package with Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch sunscreen ($7.29), so I started applying it every morning before work. Then another one of my friends mentioned how she uses Olivia Care Jojoba oil ($8.99), to moisturize because it's an oil similar to skin's natural sebum. After hearing this, I added the oil to my routine as well. Another friend mentioned that she loves using a night cream before bed and that it was a game-changer for her. A night cream? That was the exact kind of product I would skeptically roll my eyes at before because it didn't seem like it would actually do anything, but now I was intrigued.
I went to Target and stared at the rows upon rows of products, landing on the CeraVe Night Cream ($12.99) and the Olay Eyes brightening cream ($24.99). In all honesty, they weren’t totally within my budget, but were much more affordable than most products on the market. I bought the creams, and that night I slathered my face with tiny amounts of each before tucking into my bed. It felt nice to delicately dab the cream on my eyes, and rub the thick moisturizer along the contours of my face. I slowly began to do this every night before bed, knowing that I would be rewarded in a small way in the morning.
The difference between waking up with a face that I took care of before bed versus one that I didn't was a surprisingly lovely thing. It's not that anything really bad happens if I forget or decide to conk out without doing my skincare routine, but when I take the time to do it, I feel like I am investing in myself and my healing. It was as if I was soothing away my guilt for ending a broken relationship each night I applied those tiny dollops of lotion to my face.
I feel my past self saying, 'You are worthy of your own care.'
When I wake up to a clean, soft, moisturized face, I feel my past self saying, "You are worthy of your own care." Then, exfoliating and donning sunscreen before work feels like armoring myself against another day of my weird, good life; a life I have built for myself and a life in which I put myself first — in small ways, like skincare, and big ways, like ending an unhealthy relationship. It's these little steps that remind me how worthy I am of my own care, time, and energy.
Right after my breakup, I remember talking to a friend about how far I wanted to get from the whole experience. I was left feeling like a shell of myself, and I wanted to fast forward to the "over it" part. She said that I could only get there one day at a time.
Recently, I reached the bottom of my night cream jar and thought to myself how many slow, dedicated, nights of withdrawing tiny amounts it took to reach the bottom. I thought to myself about how many slow, dedicated days had passed since one of the hardest experiences of my life. I think about how taking care of my skin feels like a metaphor for the steady and continued care of myself. Each day I get farther from something I want to forget and closer to the self that I have chosen to prioritize. I put on my sunscreen, I wash my face, I rest, I heal. I heal.