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In the Pursuit of Happiness, I Tried a Longer Skin-Care Routine

Cotton Codinha
Researchers are catching on to something we've known all along: The way our skin looks can have a huge impact on the way we feel. Could the road to happiness be paved with sheet masks?

When describing their approach to beauty, many people start by referring to themselves as "low-maintenance," and while I respect their humility, my routine makes most of them look like Kardashians. No person has ever looked at my messy bun and naked face and thought, Wow, that must have taken hours! I like what I look like and what my five-minute routine telegraphs to the world, which is: "I am comfortable!" It also telegraphs to the world that my routine takes five minutes.

But I realize that my low-effort routine is, in part, a psychological trick: I'm trying to embody a self-confidence that I don't always feel. And I'm not the only one who connects what's happening (or not) in my beauty routine with what's happening in my head. Many studies link mood and skin care, specifically when it comes to chronic skin conditions. In a new study in the British Journal of Dermatology, researchers found that in the first few years after developing acne, participants were at greater risk for major depression.

"While imperfect skin has a negative impact on mental health, a 'good skin day' can have a positive impact," says Joshua Zeichner, a dermatologist in New York City. "I see patients every day who say that bright, clear skin puts them in a good mood."

I wonder if upping my own skin-care game — and taking my skin from lackluster to radiant — could be a route to confidence and contentment. I'm primed to begin immediately, thanks to the beauty editor's hoard of products I've collected under the dubious premise that I will get around to trying them. What kind of results will a supersized skin-care system bestow? What new person will I be?

DAY 1:

I figure adding a few steps — including, but not limited to, exfoliant, serum, lotion, mask — couldn't be all that demanding. Perhaps it will even be fun. And that first night, it is fun. "Putting on skin care can be a time of self-care and relaxation," says Zeichner. "Experiencing the textures and scents of products, enjoying the packaging — in this way, your daily skin-care routine is good for your skin and also good for your soul."

And it does feel soul-warming. I take so much care massaging and moisturizing that by the time everything has seeped in and I've brushed my teeth, I'm too exhausted to even take the bath I'd been planning without risk of drowning. My mood: delighted with all my new creams, feeling fancy and cared for, happy to avoid a watery demise.

DAY 2:

My enthusiasm has yet to wane, and I continue to joyfully embrace this experiment, slathering my face with light lotions between meetings and using BeautyBio sheet masks on my hands while I type — because hands have skin, too. That evening, I call my best friend in Colorado, who has been talking up her Ziip, a nanocurrent skin-tightening device that she returned all of her Christmas presents to buy. I grab my own device, and she walks me through the 15-minute program.

I am delighted by how tight my skin feels, and she is delighted to have someone to talk to about it. After lubing up my entire body with multiple oils and lotions, I retire with a slight fear that I'm so hydrated that my sheets will be sticky. But when I wake up, my skin is insanely soft — everywhere. So far, so good.

DAY 4:

At work, I slap on an Orgaid sheet mask, which is extremely pleasant, if ridiculous-feeling in this context. I spritz Boscia Rosewater Mist With Witch Hazel dramatically over my face while I'm talking to a colleague. My skin feels incredibly pampered. My evening routine starts as soon as I get home. I draw a bath, dump in CAP Beauty The Captivator Love Bath salts , and smooth AmorePacific Youth Revolution mask over my skin. After toweling off, I'm so overwhelmed by the prospect of sifting through my lineup of serums and creams that I sit on my bed in a towel and just...stay there. The experiment takes a slight nosedive.

DAY 5:

My phone starts blaring marimba. It is 6:50 a.m., and I am exactly where you left me. Luxury is exhausting. Why have no celebrities warned me of this? I use two rollers simultaneously on either side of my face to hasten the absorption of my face oil.

At my desk, I apply Patchology eye masks and forget to remove them before a meeting. One team member monotones, "Is... something on your face?" I am mortified. Later, I spritz with Aritaum Baby Face Mist in Tea Tree, which feels like a soft cloud descending on my increasingly irritated skin.

DAY 7:

I'm feeling inundated by products. The only refuge is the bath, where just one step is required of me. I treat myself to Aveeno's Soothing Bath Treatment — I have sensitive skin, and whenever it's stressed (like after using 100 different products for a week), this is my reset.

On my poor, now-rosy face, I layer foundation, which makes my reflection look borrowed. I am disheartened that the high I initially had from indulging is fading, but it is not totally surprising. "An elaborate, multistep routine can be overwhelming, so you get the opposite of mood enhancement," says Matt Traube, a psychotherapist specializing in skin conditions.

That's not to say a serotonin boost from skin care is out of the question. "A skin-care routine can absolutely make you calmer or happier," says Traube. "It's about the ritual and putting time and energy into taking care of yourself. It absolutely has positive, mood-boosting benefits."

So maybe I went overboard. A hyperluxe multistep routine is not for me, if only because I do not have that much time to devote to moisture. Traube suggests finding a specific product lineup that can become a true ritual. So I've curbed my hummingbird-like approach to every essence that glints in my direction and cut way back. I continue to Ziip — I've come to associate it with FaceTiming my friend — and take frequent baths, which feel meditative. I am happy bonding with friends over new products we're trying, or letting my mind go blank as I massage a serum along my jawline with a roller. Can a skin-care routine make you happier? For me, a little pampering (emphasis on little) combined with FaceTime can go a long way.

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