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Glossier is the Cool Girl Brand. I, unfortunately, do not have Cool Girl Skin.
The Glossier Look is effortless, minimal, and very online. The cosmetics company, which launched five years ago, is known for its millennial pink packaging and was an early adopter of the aesthetic Instagram grid. Their account’s cohesive color palette and glimmering products became the foundation of "Cool Girl Makeup," developing a cult following of people who want to wear a natural face and dedicate as little time as possible to achieve it.
Glossier’s shimmery highlighter and berry-tinted lipstick have been worn by celebrities like Chrissy Teigan, Beyoncé, and even Michelle Obama. I’m a Glossier loyalist myself — the brand’s iconic brow gel, concealer, and perfume have become staples of my morning routine.
But when it comes to skincare, Glossier falls flat.
Glossier’s skincare line feels like it’s designed by and for forest nymphs whose genetic makeup consists of morning dew and golden hour. It’s not just me who’s bitter about it, either. One Twitter user complained that it’s "for people who wash their face with water and have picture perfect skin."
Self editor Anna Borges accurately tweeted, "step one for using any Glossier product is already have perfect skin, right?" And during a heated discussion over whether Glossier really clears complexions, my coworker Chloe Bryan brilliantly quipped, "It’s not Glossier Solution, it’s birth control and Spiro."
I never want to be that woman who hates on things that other women enjoy. When my first Glossier haul disappointed me, I wondered if I was unimpressed because it was genuinely bad, or was it just was my own internalized misogyny? Is this just another manic pixie dream I’m not like other girls situation? Am I just adverse to other women owning their femininity through bubbly pink packaging?
After some careful self-reflection (and a dive into the skincare enthusiast subreddit r/SkincareAddiction) I concluded that no, it’s because Glossier’s skincare line really does suck.
On r/SkincareAddiction I found plenty of people to commiserate with me. Reddit users gripe about Glossier’s product pricing, its use of fragrances — a sensitive skin no-no, since it can further irritate already sensitive skin — and the fact that the company isn’t clear about the concentration of each active ingredient in its serums. Because Glossier doesn’t reveal the strength of each chemical in its skincare products, reviews vary. Some complain the products aren’t strong enough to actually be effective. Others report chemical burns from using a product that was too acidic for their skin. One user ran every Glossier product’s ingredients through Skincharisma, a site that breaks down cosmetic ingredients and explains potential side effects, and found that only two Glossier skincare products didn’t contain fungal acne triggers.
Bottom line: Glossier products probably won’t cause any issues if the user already has Cool Girl Skin. There’s nothing wrong with that — some people are just genetically blessed and don’t need worry that any imperceptible change in their routine will set them spiraling into a skincare disaster. For those of us who have been plagued with problematic skin, Glossier products will either do nothing to clear up pores, or, worse, irritate our accursed outer organs even more.
"If you have real skin issues, this is not the brand for you," YouTuber Susan Yara said in her review of Glossier’s skincare line, naming concerns like aging, acne, and excessively oily or dry skin. "If you have nice skin, you’re maintaining that skin … then you might find [Glossier] products you really like."
Imagine your skin being so good that you can wear glossier
— cohl (@cohlsworld) April 20, 2019
This doesn’t necessarily make Glossier an outlier. The skincare industry as a whole is largely unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration, which means companies’ claims that products can clear skin, de-age fine lines, and prevent wrinkles don’t have to be proven. And other than color additives, the FDA doesn’t require the ingredients in cosmetics to go through FDA approval before they’re sold to consumers. Dr. Michael Kim, a dermatologist based in Los Angeles, refers to it as the "cosmeceutical" industry — a portmanteau of "cosmetics" and "pharmaceutical."
"Once you start to regulate a particular molecule or product, they’ll go on to another product," Kim said, referring to the cosmetics industry’s tendency to jump onto buzzy new cure-all products. "It’s an industry that’s way to big and there’s too much funding and power to be going after to effectively regulate it."
There is no skincare holy grail. That doesn’t stop people from pushing a narrative of perfect skin, though. Mario Badescu, the brand behind the VSCO girl-approved rosewater face spray and similarly pink "drying lotion," has been eviscerated by reviewers for failing to be transparent about its ingredients. Other trendy skincare products, like Kylie Jenner’s controversial walnut face scrub and Millie Bobby Brown’s questionable Florence by Mills line are sold by stars who have the resources and access to more than the $34 under eye gel pads they’re selling.
The skincare industry — Glossier included — sells an aesthetic, not just acne-fighting products. In an Instagram video from October 2019, models with glowing complexions described what "Glossier skin" is: Healthy. Natural. Dewy.
What is it not? Irritated. Hormonal. Scarred.
"Natural lmao," Instagram user xbrittneyphillipsx commented on the post. "I aint seein anyone with cystic acne in your ads/posts."
"Disappointing to not see skin with acne, scars, red spots, or texture," Instagram user livkirby also commented. "None of which indicate a lack of care for your face. I guess my skin isn’t ‘Glossier’ skin."
Kim takes issue with the idea of skin being perfect, noting that models tend to have good lighting, a healthy dose of makeup, and access to dermatologists.
"It’s really an aspirational image that people are looking to achieve," Kim said. "It’s not a scientific appeal to someone, it’s really an emotional one."
That emotional appeal is my biggest gripe with Glossier. Yes, the skincare is disappointing if your skin is already sensitive, but it goes beyond that. Attaining "perfect skin" in itself is an unrealistic aspiration, and it certainly won’t be achieved through scented lotions. Those who are capable of keeping their skin blemish-free may also be blessed with good genes and a flesh prison that doesn’t flip out every time there’s an imperceptible change in its nightly routine. To base a whole brand around "no makeup makeup" and "skin first" while selling products that are just, as Twitter calls it, overpriced Vaseline, sucks.
To its credit, Glossier does listen to its customers and reformulate its products; in May 2019, the company released updated versions of its serum trio that were double the volume of its original line. It’s now more upfront about the chemical concentrations of each product, but it still isn’t completely transparent about the strength of each ingredient. Not everyone feels as vehemently opposed to using Glossier’s skincare products as I do, as the brand does have its share of rave reviews. It has a cult following for a reason. I don’t want to hear praise from people who already have Cool Girl Skin, though — if a product really works, I want to hear about it from someone with skin like mine.
I have a routine that works for me, and doesn’t include irritating fragrances or questionable concentrations of harsh acids. Will I keep buying glorified mascara for my eyebrows? Yes. Will I spend regrettable amounts of money on looking like a dewy Baby Yoda? Absolutely.
But I will continue complaining about how much Glossier’s skincare sucks. Naturally Hot people, please leave me alone!!
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