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PARIS Spring 2004

I am haunted. Haunted by what I would like to call the "Don Quixote Syndrome." Not so much because I am a big fan of fighting windmills, but because I am literally obsessed with reaching "the unreachable star." My entire life has been animated by my irrational determination to seek and pursue all things outside my reach, not to mention the realm of possibility. While my high school friends attended dances with their boyfriends, held hands and kissed by Lake Lugano, I spent my time imagining romantic scenarios with a dead rock star, Jim Morrison. By the time I reached college it became apparent to both my friends and foes that whenever I attempted a relationship, things fell apart as soon as my object of desire began to reciprocate my interest. In fact I slapped a "sell by" date on every guy sooner or later, depending on how glazed over his eyes were when he looked at me, or perhaps simply how willing he was to ditch his friends to carry my Neiman Marcus bags while I sought out the perfect pair of Louboutin stilettos. I am sure many of you have met or at least heard of the impossible she-devils - such as me - that step all over the men good girls would like to marry.

But what does all this have to do with beauty or skin? To tell you the truth it really does not have anything to do with it. However, it has everything to do with my intrinsically fickle nature, which has led to my complete and utter lack of success in finding comfort in what I already have. Let me elaborate. Until a month ago, I was blessed with beautiful, glowing skin that turned heads with a single layer of foundation and a couple sweeps of Guerlain Terracotta. As of now I am sitting here typing frantically, hoping that keeping my hands busy will help me resist the temptation to scratch my face, covered with a layer of Cleosin T, an acne fighting anti-biotic topical solution. Is my social life over? How did this happen to me? Could it have anything to do with the bad karma I must have attracted as a result of years and years of cutthroat dating? Why does my dermatologist refuse to put me on Xanax or better yet valium to help me deal with the anxiety of having a potato field for a face? These questions and others are flashing through my head as I fight the urge to bang it against the wall for stupidly insisting on getting a microdermabrasion.

I am sure you have all seen those ads on the final pages of fashion magazines and newspapers promising the holy grail of beauty: perfect, radiant and youthful skin. They claim that a new miracle procedure, microdermabrasion, can help you get rid of acne scarring, dull skin, wrinkles, fine lines and more. The mere prospect of achieving such results is so appealing to the openly and unabashedly vain (like myself), that were the Sudan the only place this procedure was being performed, we would not think twice about hauling our Louis Vuitton suitcases filled with jars of Crème de la Mer across continents. Fortunately I did not have to go that far. When I first heard the pitch for microdermabrasion, perfectly flawless skin like that of the models in Vogue or Elle seemed to be close within my reach, so without really researching or speaking with my dermatologist, I scheduled an appointment with a beautician in one of the most exclusive spas on the East Coast. The night before my appointment, I was so excited and anxious that I barely slept.

The next day, as the aesthetician examined my skin, I almost wanted to scream at her "enough already, give me my miracle!" Instead I mustered what little self-control I had and maintained an outwardly calm facade. Alas, after the apparent eternity of roughly 5 minutes during which she scrutinized my complexion under the magnifying glass, this trusted expert devastated me by expressing concerns about a few small blemishes on my forehead. Applying such an abrasive procedure on skin that was already fragile could have negative consequences, she said. She went on to explain that microdermabrasion is the process through which the surface epithelium is exfoliated. "I am going to use a special device with a vacuum, which transports tiny aluminum crystals under your skin, so this process could exacerbate your already existing skin problems manifesting themselves in the form of acne." To me she might as well have been reciting the multiplication table. I did not care about ramifications, I wanted results, and I wanted them fast. Needless to say in my usual no-matter-what-you-say-I-will-not-take-no-for-an-answer fashion, I pressured and coerced her to the point where she agreed to perform microdermabrasion on my face. Oh yes, I was getting what I wanted… I was indeed a very happy camper.

Immediately after the procedure was complete I rushed to the mirror, expecting to see a fully made up Giselle Bundchen staring back at me. Much to my dismay, instead of supermodel looks, I was confronted by the harsh reality of a radish-red complexion no amount of foundation could camouflage. "Well this is a small price to pay for the exceptional results I'll observe in a few days," I said to myself in a fit of wishful thinking. I was completely wrong. Actually, hold on, I take that back. If you consider flaking so badly all over your black clothes that you look like a walking poster child for "Head and Shoulders" to be "exceptional results," I was right on target. Last but not least, a few days after my fateful trip to the spa, the few blemishes on my forehead had spread across my entire face. The final domino had fallen, that was for sure. There was nothing for me to do but seek professional help from a dermatologist. That was that, but there were several big questions that loomed large before me: would I ever again have healthy skin, and the healthy self image that went along with it? Why had I ignored the aesthetician's good advice and insisted on getting the treatment?

Recent advances in technology have produced a number of new and innovative ways to improve the condition of one's skin, and there are many options out there to choose from. However, one must now be especially careful in choosing a treatment appropriate to the condition of one's skin, age, and expectations. Before rushing to a decision, one should make certain that one is pursuing an attainable goal. For one thing, the desire to achieve the kind of skin featured in magazines may not be a realistic goal for all of us. (Please, most of those pictures are airbrushed anyway.) As I myself found out, it is quite easy to over-process your skin and thereby exacerbate old problems and create new ones, all in pursuit of an elusive state of perfection. Yes procedures like peels or lasers or even microdermabrasions can do wonders, but my advice is this: make sure the option you choose is the right one for you. Research! Listen to professional advice! But most importantly, try more conventional methods before you move on to extreme measures, especially if you have young skin like mine.

Recently I was reading the incredibly innovative makeup book Makeup Your Mind by the legendary makeup artist Francois Nars. Here is what he has to say about good skin:

"Without good skin you are in trouble. It is ever woman's responsibility to take the best possible care of her skin. I can never say enough about this. Every woman can have beautiful skin if she took the time (minimal) and the effort (also minimal) to take care of it. If you have any problems whatsoever, make an appointment today with a good dermatologist and get professional advice."

So, do strive for healthy and beautiful skin, but don't allow yourself to become a cosmetic products addict, or worse yet a cosmetic procedures junkie; it can do more harm than good. Trying too hard and using too many products or procedures is similar to plucking one's eyebrows. It is easy to go too far with it, and once the line is crossed, reversing the results is an uphill battle. To avert disaster, determine and follow a healthy skin regimen and stick to it. Believe me, you will see results eventually. Try to refrain from being abrasive to your skin with the hope of achieving quick results, or you may end up destroying the protective film over it. Be realistic in your expectations and most importantly, allow your skin to breathe and heal itself. Enjoy all that is beautiful within and outside of you. That is exactly what I am working on right now.