The relationship between clear skin and sexuality has an interesting history.  In an effort to establish dermatology as a medical subspeciality, aspiring dermatologists strategically linked, in the popular imagination, young women’s acne and lasciviousness.  Doctors argued that acne was a sign of sexual desire or God forbid, masturbation or worse.  Parents worried, then, that this would make their daughters unacceptable marriage partners (at a time when that was disasterous for women) and so would pay a great deal of money to doctors who would promise to cure their daughters of this scarlet dot.  Thus, dermatology was born.

Later, of course, acne became seen as a boy’s issue… But since we had different expectations for boys (in terms of both beauty and sexuality), acne was seen as a “stage” to be endured instead of a “problem” to be cured.  This is more or less like it was when I was a kid in the 1980s.

But today, of course, clear skin is linked to sexual attractiveness, especially for women (thanks, in part, to our friend evolutionary psychology).  And, with dermatologists at their beck and call, upper class teenagers (and adults) no longer have to endure bad skin. Thus, science, sex and skin care seem like natural bed fellows.  Consider this ad:

It’s a subtle threat: “Why not wake up in great skin.” Why would we care?  Who is laying next to you?  Does he know what you look like without make-up?  Without beer goggles?  Without make-up and beer goggles!? And what happens if he finds you disgusting in the bright light of morning?  (This, of course, is a very effective marketing tool because sexual attractiveness is linked to happiness. There is a price to pay for not finding a mate and, we are told over and over and over, that price is very high.)

I also see in the ad a perpetuation of the medicalization of sexual desirability (whether that be “purity” or “beauty”). The “3-step skin care” and “consultation” is a subtle medicalizing and scientizing of the make-up industry.  Lots of make-up companies use the notion of “science” to market their product (i.e., “Prescriptives”) and many of them link this with what is “natural” as well (i.e., Aveda).

Thanks to Jason for sending along the image!