It’s the dead of winter on a pitch-black evening in January 2021, and I notice, perhaps for the millionth time, my own reflection in the self-view box on Zoom. I catch it, quickly look away at the sheer vanity of the act, then look back and wonder if I look glowy enough or if the bleak winter and slate-grey skies are messing with the complexion of the person looking back at me. I’ve never been particularly into skin care. Not because I’m above it, I’m just a bit lazy and tire of routines easily. I barely wash my eyeliner off before bed. But a year on Zoom relentlessly confronting my own reflection made me reconsider. Perusing the frontiers of my face in that tiny reflective box day in and day out, I became acquainted with the quality of my skin as never before. I wasn’t unhappy with my complexion, but I was newly obsessed with perfecting the reflection I was encountering daily. After a tip from a friend who was using a ring light on all her Zooms, I was tempted to get my own. Was there a way to transform the sour January light of South East London into a hazy Los Angeles glow?
But then I remembered I might actually own a cheaper solution. The next day, I rooted it out of a box of beauty products: Gly Skin Lotion Plus by Med Beauty Swiss, quite the mouthful. Like many of my (few) beauty ride-or-dies, I discovered it in Berlin at a facialist in Charlottenburg (a leafy and bourgeois part of Berlin in the former West of the city). In this clinic, with its brown modular 1980s furniture and blue plastic orchid, it seemed as if nothing had changed since 1989. I’d found the clinic via a Google search and was intrigued by its fancy location and accommodating pricing. Despite the dated décor, the facial was spectacular. The clinic used only one brand — Gly Skin — which lined the prettily lit shelves of the reception area. After my facial was over, I was persuaded to buy a small tube of cream, which I put in my handbag and, a year later, brought back to London unused.
Back in the present day, after cleansing with a Neighbourhood Botanicals face oil, I smoothed a few drops of Gly Skin Lotion all over my face and got into bed. On waking up every day that week, I found the results were surprisingly miraculous — and quick. Seconds after putting it on, I felt an acid sting (the result of the product’s natural fruit acids, which made me feel like it was actually working), but the following day, I’d be glowing. Within two weeks, my complexion looked positively dewy, and the glow lasted all day. I looked more like I was living in Athens than London. I’ve been for facials at fancy places like Dr. Sturm before, but this cream was giving me triple the results, for about 40 quid a tube.
With endless lockdown days ahead and a creeping desire for glamour, I began to use it every night before bed. Checking in on the results as the days passed, I kept thinking of the 1931 photograph Self-Portrait in Mirrors by German artist Ilse Bing, in which she set up her Leica camera and shot herself in two mirrors, the smaller of which looks like the relentless Zoom self-view box. She stares at herself in that tiny reflection, as in an at-home virtual meeting. Over her career, she perfected the female portrait in a way you can do only when you spend hours staring at women’s faces all day — or your own. I’m not a seminal portrait photographer, but after six months, I felt as though I had created skin with Rembrandt-level lighting, all with an off-the-cuff skin-care buy. Even better, despite my nightly use, I’m on only my third tube. Because it’s so potent, you need just a couple of drops.
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