The idea of beauty has been a long-argued issue throughout the world. Each country, time period, and person having their own standards as to what makes something or someone “beautiful.” And I use that word loosely because thinking about my own appearance had become a routine. If that was even what you could call it. The need to fit within the box of what America considers beautiful had become necessary. More comparable to a habitual practice rather than a to do list that I needed to check off. Because the truth is, when you’re consumed with how you look it’s easier to mask it as a healthy insecurity apart of your equally healthy routine. For me though, it was more than just an insecurity. It was an overwhelming sense of ugliness that permeated my entire day like the leftovers that I had forgotten in the passenger seat of my car. It was a series of black check marks for every house spent thinking about some aspect of how I looked, and how my appearance, equaled my worth. Because let’s be honest, being deemed beautiful directly correlates to your social standing. Being beautiful equals being accepted and being treated in a certain manner only reserved for those who possess certain attributes; A tradition passed along throughout the years.
My to do list was as follows:
Eight a.m. wake up and scroll through social media. See the numerous Instagram models with their glass skin (a trend that apparently requires a 10-step skin care routine that costs as much as half of my rent) and their hairless bodies. See everything I’m not: two new pimples had made their home on the top right of my chin overnight and my legs already sprouting new stubble. Stare at the ceiling and wonder why I’m not. Think about the maybes: maybe if I was blonder or maybe just one more face mask. Maybe just one more step to my already 5-step skin care routine. Then roll over and laugh at myself because maybe the truth was, I was just a lost cause. Continue to thinking about the maybes. Check.
Eight-thirty a.m. get up and look in the mirror. Twist my body in a certain way because it’s all about the angles, right? And maybe, my body wasn’t that bad. Maybe I’m not a lost cause after all. Check.
Eight-thirty-five a.m. get distracted by the hills and valleys of cellulite that made its home on the back of my thighs. Blame the ugly grey pjama shorts for making my pale skin look like curdled milk. Grey is an unflattering color anyways. Then take off them off and replace them with tight biker shorts that makes my skin itch. Tell myself that it’s better as I resist the urge to scratch the growing irritation. Turn around and see the results. Kick the mirror. Check.
I did try to change. If paying $70 a session to see a therapist, $250 to bleach the ends of my hair, $80 to get my eyelashes long enough to fly away from my problems, and $150 spent on extra skincare, counted as changed. Maybe more of a foot in the door of transformation. My therapist, Randi, would’ve liked that. A foot in the door of transformation.
Randi always wore her long, grey hair in pigtails. Some of the hair would escape the interlacing as she demonstrated breathing techniques, the fake crystals on her blouses breaking them free. I always liked to think that those hairs thought the breathing techniques were pointless and were trying to walk out of the session themselves. I didn’t blame them. We did a lot of breathing exercises. Inhale through the nose. Exhale through the mouth. Feel your feet pressing in the ground reminding you that you are grounded. If breathing was all it took to fix myself, to make myself “beautiful”, I’d be $550 richer.
Even at the age of sixty-five, her face remained almost wrinkle free. The only visible lines appearing at the corner of her eyes and branching out like the roots of a tree. I thought about the three wrinkles on my own forehead. They didn’t branch out. They ran parallel to each other and reminded me of college-ruled notebook paper. I wish it was as easy to throw them out as paper. One day I leaned back into the couch, closing my eyes, and imagining crinkling up my wrinkles into a ball and tossing them into the trashcan that sat in the corner of her office.
By now I had learned to prepare an answer beforehand to her question of how I felt. Sometimes something short: “sad.” Sometimes something longer: “Ugly. I spent thirty minutes today in front of my bathroom mirror picking at my skin.” To which she would respond with her favorite question. Why? Why are you sad? What makes you think you’re ugly? Why do you think you pick your skin? Well, let’s see Randi, where should I begin? Maybe because I can’t sleep at night sometimes because I lay awake thinking about how my coworker has clear skin that glows from within, not a single trace of discoloration, and how I spent the next eight hours asking myself why I can’t just look like that? Or maybe because I spent three hours after that making a list of things, I can change about myself to be considered good enough. Maybe I pick my skin because in my mind it will improve it even though realistically, I know it won’t, because at the end of the day I will still be just me. And that will never be good enough.
Dinner conversations had become a list of everything I would change about myself. Instead of sharing humorous anecdotes about drunken nights in college or childhood memories, I hared recipes of insecurity: two cups of eczema, followed by once cup of acne, and for the finishing touch, half a cup of thin lips. Pass the salt.
Skin and the care of it was always the ruler over my negative thoughts. I didn’t understand why, how this organ that was supposed to act as a protective barrier was only protecting me against one thing: being beautiful. The psoriasis at the back of my neck, the eczema under my eyes that made me constantly look sick, my acne and the way if stared back at me in the mirror taunting me.
I remember one night, after laying in bed, my face burnt and tender from a DIY mask gone wrong, I decided to focus solely on my goal to one day have clear skin, because weren’t those whose skin glowed with health happy? And didn’t I deserve happiness?
With that idea in mind I set off to fall down a hole of skin care, natural skin care and the best ingredients for happy skin, with a Snickers, my water, and my cats by my side. Three things that were essential in my quest to obtain a piece of beauty.
However, what I wasn’t expecting, was to find ingredients that I had used before. Which brings me to this point:
Aloe. Or more specifically the different types and what they mean for those of us who are struggling with sensitive skin. As someone who has every skin issue in the book, trying to find and add clean skincare ingredients into my routine was hard work. Not to mention, thanks to having fair skin and living in the south, I’ve had my fair share of experience with the gelatinous inside of what we know as aloe.
But let’s be honest. We’ve all been there. Coming back from the beach, the river, or the lake and not realizing that, that bronze glow you thought you had finally achieved after baking in the sun for hours, was actually a first-degree burn. Sounds familiar right? There’s nothing like the sensation of applying aloe onto the skin of a fresh sunburn. Slathering the gel onto your body and face, limbs splayed out, covered by baggy clothing as you wait for it to dry and praying that the burning goes away soon.
What we typically use for after-sun treatments, is what we know as Aloe Vera, a succulent species that origins from the Arabian Peninsula. However, there’s another species that should be brought into the limelight for its own restorative skin properties: Aloe Ferox, a species originating from South Africa. So, what’s the difference between the two and how does it benefit those who have sensitive and problematic skin?
Benefits of Aloe Vera
It contains healthful compounds
Each leaf of the plant contains bioactive compounds such as vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and amino acids. These compounds, specifically the antioxidants belong to a family of polyphenols that help inhibit the growth of bacteria that can cause not only infections but also bacterial acne as well. Because of it’s antibacterial and antiseptic properties, aloe is well known for being used to treat wounds and skin issues.
It accelerates wound healing
Remember the sunburn scenario? The use of aloe vera as a topical medication isn’t a new idea, it’s history going as far back as the early 1800’s where the United States Pharmacopeia prescribed the plant to be used as a skin protectant. For example, a review of experimental studies found that aloe vera could reduce the healing time of burn by about nine days. The study also found that it helped prevent redness, itching, and possible infection.
It may improve wrinkles and the appearance of your skin
There is a suggestion that aloe vera gel can slow the signs of aging such as fine lines around the mouth and eyes. Studies suggest that it could help the skin retain moisture and improve the overall integrity of the skin, which benefits those who have drier skin.
While the benefits of aloe vera have been drawing us in for years, each of us having our own experience with the plant, that’s not what we’re here to talk about. With a name meaning “fierce” in Latin, the aloe ferox lives up to the reputation. Although similar to its better-known relative aloe vera, this plant produces twenty times more sap than the aloe vera. It’s nutrient concentrations also outshining that of it’s relative. Take that aloe vera.
Benefits of Aloe Ferox
It’s an anti-everything
Commonly used in skincare to treat inflammation, aloe ferox contains the same antioxidants as aloe vera, except in higher concentrations, that make not only the sap but the gel as well, a powerful anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial topical treatment. These properties help prevent the growth of bacteria on sunburnt, irritated, and broken skin.
It works on all skin types
We all love to feel special and specialized skin care helps create that for us. Dry skin, oily, sensitive, all marked in bold text on the bottles of our favorite skincare products. However, aloe ferox is one ingredient that works on all skin types. We also love inclusivity, and this plant has it. It helps improve the texture of skin by balancing sebum and contributing to the exfoliation of the top layer of skin. But sensitive skin people, do not fear, aloe ferox is high in humid acid, which helps to treat skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, and acne.
It helps aid collagen production
In 1967, a surgeon on Professor Christiaan Barnard’s first heart transplant team noted that applying aloe ferox to wounds accelerated the production of the cells responsible of collagen production. Later studies found that it’s high in polysaccharides, amino acids, and minerals all of which work toward fighting the signs of aging. Meaning say bye bye to wrinkles.
At the end of the day however, after uncovering the effects of aloe and how a singular plant could push me towards the boundary of beauty, I had a realization: by worrying about my appearance I had only made those issues that bothered me more apparent. The phrase “beauty is on the inside,” means exactly that. When you think beautiful thoughts, or in my case when you don’t obsess over meeting specific standards, it reflects on the outside. Yes, we can add certain steps into our routines that act as Windex for shining up those reflections, but ultimately, we have to treat our minds just as gently as we do our skin.