I have been feeling nothing lately. I don’t mean this in the coolly detached “i’m
thirteen, found tumblr yesterday and decided not capitalizing anything is more
aesthetically pleasing” kind of way, but I feel deeply discouraged and very annoyed with
the state of beauty. Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading bell hooks, maybe it’s
general, maybe I’m just twenty and feeling ugly (shout out last column). I haven’t worn
makeup in a while and I really don’t want to. I haven’t washed my face with anything
more than my washcloth in a while. Describing this to anyone who doesn’t see me
regularly makes it sound like I’m verging on a serious depression but I promise, I’m not.
Not like it matters, but beauty isn’t skin deep – physically, it’s deeper. In this
stage of “letting myself go” I am reminded of a conversation I had with a friend a couple
nights ago about the acid mantle.
“Dude it’s why I don’t need lotion,” Austin said as he admired his (rough) skin.
Don’t worry, I’m substituting canonical white boy names in for my white boy-friend so as
to not doxx him too hard for his questionable bodycare views. We had been chatting
that evening about bodily myths when what was previously an entertaining session of
banter devolved into me roasting Grayson for being an ashy ass white man. “I don’t
know the science off the top of my head but I promise it’s legit.” This is the beauty of my
verbal relationships with my friends – their choice vaguery almost always lead to me
down exceptionally nasty Reddit holes.
So the acid mantle: it’s the power couple of your sebaceous glands and your
sweat glands. Basically, they go full Mighty Morphin’ Power Ranger mode and join
forces to create a barrier protecting the skin from harmful bacteria, viruses etc. Is it
possible for some people to have more powerful acid mantles than others? More
importantly, does an extra-strength acid mantle mean you’re above lotion?
As someone who grew up a) obsessed with showers, b) a swimmer and c) Black,
not wearing lotion is not a choice that has ever crossed my mind. Unless I wanted to
actively turn myself into Maya-jerky, a fresh coat of Lubriderm was necessary at least
twice a day and, while everyone is different, I find it hard to believe that there are some
people (Tanner) who “don’t need” lotion of any kind. I joke that lotion is a form of self-
love, but what does that mean as I sit here writing, having not showered for a day and a
I find myself thinking about 19th century cowboys and what their acid mantles
were like. There is a legitimate case to be made about the genetic variance of the acid
mantle – what it means for different peoples’ production of sebum and sweat as a
stronger/weaker binary where higher production connotes strength and vice versa. Did
cowboys have strong acid mantles like Bennett?
From my own personal experience: when I don’t shower, I don’t put lotion on
because it makes me feel icky which, in turn, inspires me to shower. Cyclically, this
makes sense, but I’m going to use this column to take the opportunity to interrogate my
own motives here – is it the absence of routine that makes me feel gross, or is it the fact
that my skin physically needs it? If this were true, lotion would act as a supplement for a
weak acid mantle of sorts, which would mean that susceptibility to ashiness = weak acid
mantle. With this hypothesis, I guess have a pretty strong acid mantle as my skin gets
grimy (yet lubricated) when I don’t shower, versus ashy. Is this science, Mom?
Experimentation aside, I am deeply interested in the beauty looks that go along
with the cowboy fad. If authenticity is what we’re striving toward, don’t shower and make
sure to hand-roll your cigarettes so you have that rough-and-tumble look with a sharp-
shooter attitude. Did cowboys wear lotion? I have no idea, and unless you have a time
machine you have no idea either. These are just some thoughts I’ve been facing as my
beauty routine phases from natural into non-existent – we’ll call it the “cowboy” look.
No one is perfect! We don’t always smell like jasmine or whatever the new “It” Le
Labo fragrance is – we skip showers and re-wear tights for an embarrassingly long
periods of time in the winter (oh, just me?). What I love the most about the cowboy look
is that is promotes the kind of homegrown badassery that can only be achieved by not
trying to achieve anything at all. So: whatever your acid mantle strength, proclivity to
use lotion or willingness to shower, you can always follow suit to Mitski and “Be the