Glass is lifeless. Invisible. It’s nothing, really. It exists to be seen through. It possesses no beauty of its own. It refracts the light and bends the truth.
I do not want to look like glass.
And yet! There are 348 emails in my inbox telling me I should. There are 402,000 Instagram posts suggesting the same. There are over one billion Google search results for “glass skin,” a mélange of articles and blog posts and product pages, all offering advice on how to make my skin look less like skin and more like an amorphous solid.
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How To Completely Replace Your Human Skin With Better, Dewier Dolphin Skin!
OK, fine, these headlines are made up—but the energy behind them isn’t. The pursuit of glass skin really is this ridiculous and unrealistic. To embrace glass as the aesthetic goal is to abandon (and worse, injure) the skin’s inherent functions.
There is a reason skin does not look like glass.
The aesthetically inclined have been glorifying glass skin for a while, since 2017 at least—long enough that the K-beauty creation is no longer a beauty trend but a beauty standard. Like all beauty standards, glass skin is a physical impossibility, and as such, the path to Windexed perfection is paved with products that always need to be repurchased. (How convenient for capitalism!) It’s unending. It’s addicting. It burrows into the brain. It inspires that specific kind of obsession that comes with coveting the unattainable.
I gave into this obsession for a time. I lamented the fact that my textured, sensitive skin would never look like glass. Or a glazed donut, or a seal, or a steamed dumpling, or Saran Wrap or a peeled egg. Insert shiny-skin catchphrase here.
Then I realized: It’s a good thing that glass skin is unattainable IRL (honestly, have you ever seen glass skin outside of social media?), because all the features I’d need to erase in order to get that smooth, glassy glow literally exist to protect me.
Like pores! Pores are outgoing channels for sebum and sweat, the skin’s natural highlighter-slash-moisturizer and the body’s temperature regulator-slash-detoxifier, respectively. You cannot shrink your pores and you wouldn’t want to. Without pores, or with too-small pores, you would overheat and/or explode.
And dead skin cells! Heads up: They aren’t dead. They serve an important biological purpose as part of the all-important skin barrier. Dead skin cells also store NMFs, or Natural Moisturizing Factors—basically, they’re the skin’s very own hydration station. The young, fresh skin cells underneath (you know, the ones you expose in an effort to look like glass) don’t do that. That’s why over-exfoliation can lead to dry, flaky skin.
And pimples! I’ve come to think of pimples as communications from my body, alerting me to what it needs. Cysts on my jawline? Time to take a hard look at my hormones. Closed comedones? My skin’s not into my product lineup. Inflamed cheeks? My body might be begging for a vegetable instead of another everything bagel with cream cheese. Even if I could Zamboni the blemishes away, I wouldn’t. They’re sharing need-to-know information, people!
Really, any type of texture is a communication from within—even the glass look itself. “A waxy, glassy, shiny forehead is incorrectly associated with a ‘glow,’ which it is not,” Dr. Barbara Sturm, the founder of the skincare line of the same name, once told me. “It is the sign of injury.” Seriously: Skin that looks like glass is skin that’s lost its essential skin-ness, its humanness, its health. If you can see your reflection in your complexion, it’s probably trying to tell you something—like, “Look at what you’re doing to me!!!” or perhaps, “Please stop.”
If glass skin is both unattainable and unadvisable, why do we want it?
Well, for one, it’s a natural progression of unnatural beauty standards. It’s the age-old pressure to look like a Barbie doll, updated for modern times: We’ve simply swapped plastic for glass (so eco-friendly!) and the male gaze for self-objectification (attempting to emulate an inanimate object is self-objectification in the most basic sense of the word).
But I also think our phones and laptops and televisions are to blame. In an increasingly virtual world, everything we see is behind a shiny glass screen—and as glass is wont to do, it creates a barrier. It places you on the outside, peering in at all the perfect people. Nevermind that the people are actually pixels. It’s human nature to want to join them, to want to be beautiful, to do almost anything to belong. I feel it, too.
If I’m being honest, when I say “I don’t want to look like glass,” what I mean is, “I wish I didn’t want to look like glass.”
I wish I didn’t internalize this impossible standard. I wish I didn’t have to justify the existence of my pores and pimples. I wish I didn’t let the state of my skin determine my sense of self-worth. I wish I didn’t doubt it, just a little bit, when my boyfriend tells me I’m beautiful. I wish I didn’t feel compelled to convince us all that it’s OK to let our skin be skin, but here I am.
Skin is skin.
It is not glass, and it is not supposed to be.
It always has texture and pores, and it sometimes has acne and oil slicks and inflammation.
It’s alive, it’s dynamic, it’s divinely designed, and it’s talking to you.
Do you really want to silence it for the sake of looking like a transparent shard of molten sand?