Remember the good old days? Jumping out of bed (late), getting on the bus to work and slicking some mascara on your lashes at the traffic lights, before grabbing a coffee and running to your desk? Day-to-day you’d barely look at yourself in the mirror. I mean really look. Life was too full to dwell on the little things that get you down.
But now, with our social lives on pause and human interactions confined to a 2‑D 15-inch screen – that also acts as a mirror – it’s impossible not to over-examine every line, crease, bump, lump, sag, spot, hair or dreaded double chin. Whereas before we might have refused to give these so-called “flaws” airtime or feigned ignorance, lockdown is making us face the fear of face-fear.
“Getting a pound of botox injected as soon as it’s legal” was the recent Twitter declaration of author and journalist Megan Nolan. A slew of messages appeared beneath, echoing her sentiment. “Being forced to stare at myself on zoom for the last year has me seriously considering under eye fillers,” replied one. “Oh my god thank you my interest in botox pre pandemic was so minimal now it’s right at the top of my to do list why has this pandemic done this to us,” wrote another.
Dr Saleena Zimri, co-founder of the Skin Doctor Clinics in Leeds, York and London’s Harley Street, believes that increased screen time is one of the major factors responsible for this sudden shift in the way we view ourselves.
“So many people have been working at home and seeing their face ‘live’ on screen,” she says. “We are used to seeing our reflection in the mirror a few times a day. But seeing it for hours at a time on a video call can be quite distracting.”
Dr Zimri drops the buzzword “Zoom Face”, a term coined early last year as a hashtag on social media, aptly describing how incessant video calls are making us more self-conscious than usual. “‘Zoom Face’ is real. It’s inspiring the type of aesthetic treatments my clients are after. You start to analyse the way you look, talk, and pull facial expressions. We’re all going to try and achieve the filter effect in real life in 2021.”
So now the UK is back in lockdown and fillers are temporarily off the table, to what lengths are people prepared to go to achieve skin satisfaction? Well, given that we’re dealing with a serious lack of face-face communication, and with social platforms such as Instagram and TikTok fuelling our need for perfection, we’re seeing the birth of a new series of trends.
TikTok dermatologists have become one of the latest viral addictions, with qualified doctors and beauticians giving much-needed skincare advice via the video platform. Meanwhile, it’s been reported that Pinterest searches for “face yoga exercises” and “how to get naturally glowing skin” quadrupled in 2020, with brands like FaceGym and Adipeau encouraging a non-invasive approach to improving appearance.
As for skincare, from January to October online sales were up 54 per cent on the previous year. A recent article by trend forecasting agency The Future Laboratory reported that searches for “home-made skincare” remedies have increased by 110 per cent since last year, too, suggesting that people are looking for cost-savvy alternatives to create at home.
When Yorkshire-based communications coordinator Katie Langford started working from home in March last year, her tried-and-tested skin care regime was thrown out of whack.
“Normally I would only have about 15 minutes to wash my face, throw on a quick moisturiser and sunscreen, and throw my hair in a ponytail before I was out the door,” she tells us. “At first working from home was great because I would go days with no makeup and didn’t have to ‘get ready’ – I was trading dresses and heels for leggings and T‑shirts. After a few months, though, I noticed my skin breaking out a lot and looking a bit dull, especially in video calls.”
That’s when Langford started to investigate ways to improve her skin.
“I watched videos about how to wash and exfoliate my face, what products to use and how I should apply them. Then I started to put my research into action.” Now, Langford applies a pink clay mask in the morning, pre-Zoom meetings, plumps her skin with a collagen sheet mask in the afternoon and uses a micro-needle roller once a fortnight – with serum, of course.
“I have also noticed I have started to get ‘Tech Neck,’” she adds with a smile, “which is ring lines on my neck and chest from looking down at my laptop and phone. So I bought a day and night neck cream, plus I do neck toning exercises when I am listening to a call but don’t have my camera on. I would be too embarrassed to do them at my desk in the office but at home, why not?”
Langford is just one in a long line of people adopting a new, intensified routine. Since the start of the pandemic, 41 per cent of 16 – 24-year-olds admitted to moisturising more, while almost a fifth (18 per cent) spent longer on their routine and one in seven (14 per cent) had used more facial treatment products, like masks.
But in spite of Nolan’s botox blast, it seems the beauty industry is noticing a decline in cosmetic procedures. Now “beauty routines are increasingly adapting to reflect increased periods of time spent at home,” noted The Future Laboratory’s latest beauty report. Indeed, as we start to embrace our natural skin texture, people are investigating natural treatments like retinols (a derivative of Vitamin A) and salicylic acid to improve the overall appearance of skin.
“Quick-fix solutions are being replaced with more measured, long-term beauty rituals,” says Livvy Houghton, senior creative researcher at The Future Laboratory. “The emotional impact of the pandemic, extended periods of working from home and the burden of an uncertain future have resulted in anxiety, declining skin health and premature ageing.
“While we’ve seen this unfold in a matter of months, surprisingly, consumers – being more time-rich than ever – have gained more patience when it comes to treatments and improvements.”
All of which goes to demonstrate that, although our traditional regimes have been disrupted, our new obsession with skincare at home is ultimately positive, providing us with an almost meditative ritual and a welcome dose of escapism – and boy do we need it.
If the trends that have emerged over the last 11 months are anything to go by, Dr Zimri predicts that, once lockdown restrictions are lifted, people will turn to effective medical-grade skincare to make a difference to their skin at a cellular level. “With all this extra focus on the face, it’s likely that face treatments will reign supreme over body treatments, at least for a little while.”
All of which brings home one truth: Zoom Face is actually a pandemic-accelerated quest for the “perfect” face. No wonder we have frown lines and worry wrinkles and that seem like cracks in our laptop screen.
“We’re exposed to a new version of our face – one in a digital mirror, and one which might usually be covered by filters or effects,” says Houghton. And with that comes pros and cons. While it’s a positive that we’re seeing a huge movement around people embracing pimped-up skincare regimes, asking ourselves whether we are “screen fit” has also made us highly self-critical and, as a result, more self-conscious. After 11 months (and counting) shut at home, it’s going to be quite a journey to resolve these conflicting feelings. Either way, though, Houghton advises that “we must learn to be in control of our own feelings towards our appearance”.
But whether it’s holistic methods, manufactured treatments or secret off-camera head-wobbling exercises to battle Tech Neck, one thing is certain: at least we’ll emerge from lockdown with glowing skin.