Editor's note: "Words from Wiechers" is a series considering the lessons our industry can learn from the late Johann Wiechers, Ph.D. He was an industry adviser, colleague and thinker until his passing in 2011. Presenting Wiechers's insights is Tony O'Lenick.
In Chapter 45 of his book, Memories of a Cosmetically Disturbed Mind, Wiechers asks: 'How can a 35-day-old pig skin mimic the skin of menopausal ladies suffering from cellulite?'
“My colleague and I could measure testosterone and estrogen in your skin and link it to skin moisturization," Wiechers wrote. "Using the same technique, we were able to show that the skin of people that smoke is on average about 15 years older than that of their non-smoking counterparts. Tout ce qui est bon est mauvais (all that is good is bad)...
"People love to do all that God has forbidden. At least, that is what they like to do in the Netherlands, but considering the number of tourists coming to Amsterdam every year, they like it just as much anywhere else. We all love meat, fat, sugar, alcohol and sun, sex and the beach. Meat has cholesterol and fat, which is not good for you. Most fat is saturated and certainly not the good conjugated linoleic acid that we put in our cosmetic products. Sugar can act as a skin moisturizer but is normally adding more carbohydrates than water.
"Sun is so bad that we need to protect ourselves from its UV radiation with large SPFs. Sex, I already discussed [in a previous article], when I said that our industry is all about sex. And all these oh-so-joyful but horrible things take place on the beach, so our preferences are not only a Sodom and Gomorra for our health, as Paris-Londres says, but also for our beauty. After all, beauty is the ultimate outcome of good health, also in evolutionary biology. “
The fact is, our products are designed to make us look younger and not to set back the age clock in skin.
Several comments are appropriate here. Firstly, I (Tony O'Lenick) believe that in the period of time since this since this column was written (2008), we have made progress in minimizing doing the “good things” that are bad. Johann always amazed me with his use of language, as he did here with the alternate meanings of “good and bad.” In one case, “good” clearly means beneficial to your health. In another, it relates to how we feel when we do something. As in, I feel good when I do bad.
The fact that humans do things that are unhealthy because we get pleasure from these activities cannot be denied. Additionally, we love numbers generated from testing that allow us to claim we have younger skin; and if we can assign this youth, even better. The fact is, our products are designed to make us look younger and not to set back the age clock in skin.
See related: Words from Wiechers; What You Say is What You Get
Going from the test method Wiechers mentions to generating a number is only the first step. Say the levels of certain markers in the skin of subjects who smoke are comparable to levels of subjects 15 years older. This does not equate to their skin being 15 years older.
We need to keep in mind that we may be able to maintain an appearance of youth and even measure the difference in a chemical marker in two people; but we need to avoid the Dorian Gray effect1—i.e., where internal factors of the personality or self-perception influence physicality.
If the intent is to look healthy, cosmetic products are wonderful but to use them to justify doing unhealthy activities simply leaves us open to surprises like the picture Dorian Gray kept in his closet in the Oscar Wild work.2
Modified from the previous: Is All That is Bad Really Good for Skin?