Beauty IRL: Picking Your Skin Is Gross, But It Feels So Right

Lots of things happened after I turned 30. Hangovers went from tolerable nuisances to crippling events that required utter silence and very little movement. Eating pizza and maybe some peanut butter from a spoon at 11:30 p.m. was no longer a suitable dinner, and the soft blub that formed at my waistline didn’t go away like it used to. There’s a gentle furrow on my forehead right now, but I can just tell that it’s waiting for its time to emerge as a full-blown wrinkle. All of these things I got used to as the year passed. At 31, I learned to stop caring about the wrinkles and just wear more sunscreen. At 32, I finally figured out what I needed to do to be able to drink and not be incapacitated for the rest of the week. The one thing that hasn’t changed at all — not one single bit — since I’ve turned 30 is my skin. Pimples don’t go away when you turn 30.

I can tell when I’m going to get my period by the condition of my face. If a red, angry cluster of zits pops up on my chin overnight, the blood moon is nigh and I must take to my bed until it is over. Did these breakouts happen when I was a teen? Probably! Honestly, I can’t really remember what I had for lunch last Monday, so my zit-resolution strategy from over a decade ago is pretty foggy. I try to prepare myself now with the tools available to me. After vanquishing one particularly large and pernicious zit blossom from my chin, and seeing the scar that it left, I’ve tried my best to keep my fingers off my face. Picking at your skin is gross, even though it feels so very right.

There is immense satisfaction in just digging in and getting the devil out of that huge, honking thing that taunts you every time you catch a glimpse of your reflection. There is a zit popping video section of the internet that hones in on this very pleasure, giant pustules filmed at close range that explode in a horrible, ribbon-y cascade of goo. I have a strong stomach, and I can handle most things that lots of people find repulsive.  Watching in silence as disembodied fingers press on either side of a zit until it bursts is something that makes me physically ill.

To perform the same act on my own skin is deeply fulfilling. I am an inveterate skin picker. The blackheads that crop up every now and then are swiftly eradicated. Magazines tell me to use q-tips and gentle pressure. I prefer the blunt force of two fingernails on either side, pressing down until it gives. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve emerged from the office bathroom with two crescent-shaped indentations around a very angry red spot on my cheek, the result of an emergency DIY dermatological exam. Yes, I should wait until I get home, but who knows what it’ll turn into while I’m out? That deep, huge thing on my chin feels like it’s laying dormant for now, but maybe a couple of drinks and a walk through the rain will somehow cause it to rear its ugly, inflamed head. They’re unpredictable! I wouldn’t be surprised if one day I see one wearing a top hat, waving a cane and whistling show tunes. My skin has stopped making much sense to me, and it is infuriating.

Having an actual pimple isn’t that bad. The horror of walking around with a giant whitehead on my chin is never my reality, because I usually pop them before they reach that stage. Pore strips tell you that they’re yanking all the bad stuff out of your pores, so when you rip that sucker off, the forest of gunk left behind feels like validation. You are cleaner and clearer now, they say. Pat some oil into your face and go on with your day.

I will not tell you not to pick your face, because I would never deny anyone the perverse pleasure of watching television while idly worrying at a zit that’s almost ready to burst. Use Q-tips and hot washcloths and oils and serums if you want, or stick your tried and true method of thick swipes of Clearasil, tempered with a cool layer of toner. Whatever, it’s fine. It’s your face. Your zit. Go at it.