Recipe: Crunchy Facial Skin
In April I found myself on a flight from Barcelona to London, sandwiched between a French teenager listening to the same techno song on repeat and a large man taking up one and a half seats. That extra half seat, of course, was mine, but the limited space I crammed into wasn’t even the worst of it. My face had swelled up over the course of the three-hour flight to the point where I looked like I had been on the receiving end of several jinxes, light yellow fluid oozing out from between my pores and crusting over from the dry airplane air.
It all began with a face cream purchased in Barcelona and some high school-level Spanish that had only become more and more rusty with every passing year. I had wanted to purchase pimple-drying cream since I had seen it on a beauty blog, and when the opportunity arose in a Spanish drugstore, I felt like the adage, “When in Rome, do as Romans do,” applied—Barcelona substituted for Rome, of course. It should also be noted that I am a medical student firmly rooted in the world of science and probably should not be falling for the advice I read on beauty blogs, and yet when a D-list celebrity shares the contents of her bathroom cabinets, I can’t look away. I hail from a heritage that prizes skin tone as a marker of female value above all else, and sometimes I do wonder if I have subconsciously absorbed the messages of India’s Fair and Lovely campaign more than I care to admit. Through buying facial creams and exfoliating scrubs I will never have light skin, but maybe I can one day have a radiant glow at the very least.
But back to the pimple-drying cream—I was and am incapable of translating chemical compounds from Spanish to English, which certainly proved problematic. A sulfur allergy runs in my family, so my mother took great pains to make sure I was never exposed to any sulfur medications as a child, but I wasn’t sure if I was actually allergic to sulfur or if this was some excess paranoia on my mother’s part. A hypothetical sulfur allergy was the last thing on my mind as I scanned the label of the pimple-drying cream. What is the Spanish word for “sulfur” anyway? A non-cognate like “azufre,” which surely I never would have guessed.
You can see where this is going. Not only am I allergic to sulfur, but I am horribly allergic. Not the kind of allergic you use as an excuse to get out of middle school gym class, but so allergic that my eyes swelled shut for three days and I had to wear sunglasses on the plane and through security in the airport. Given our political climate, sunglasses in the airport is unadvisable, but the woman who checked my passport at the airport said, “I understand,” very sympathetically when I took of my glasses for identity verification.
I was meeting with old friends who I hadn’t seen in years in London, and I had wanted show them the aging gracefully me, not my interstitial-fluid-encrusted self. To add insult to the injury, my skin was flaking off from the weight of the yellow crusts, exposing shiny raw skin underneath. My face had the dimensions of a Jackson Pollock painting, if Pollock had painted a South Asian lady trapped in an oven, simultaneously melting and baking to a crisp.
Old friends are kind, however, which is why we keep them around. I had told them my skin was weeping, a word used in medicine when fluid leaks out from the skin, but they thought I meant weeping like tears from my eyes. “Don’t cry,” they said, and although I saw some slight pupil dilation when I took off my sunglasses, my friends did a good job pretending like I was not Charlize Theron starring in Monster. I hoped that a good night’s rest would cure my skin of its unsightly disposition, and while my eye swelling did decrease a little, my skin was tighter than ever. However, as I was leaving London, I was able to flake off the residual crusting in an airport bathroom, returning my skin to the one-plane state it normally is with a more pinkish hue. Interesting how everything seems to right itself after a reunion instead of before.
I went to the dermatologist just to confirm that I did not have lupus or rosacea because when you are in medical school, all that goes through your head are differential diagnoses that are much more serious than the actual diagnosis. It took the dermatologist about five seconds of looking at the panicked selfies I sent from Barcelona to declare I probably had an allergic reaction to something I used on my face. And taking his cease and desist on all skin products very seriously, I have also cooled off on my relationship with Into the Gloss and the beauty empire for awhile.