Snake Oil

I know where my tax rebate is going. I had planned to save it or invest it, but I just stimulated the economy by spending every penny on a complete system of prescription-only skin care products that promises to make my face flake, peel, redden, and look wrinkly. But that’s just the first phase. After a few months of shedding my old skin and nourishing the new, I’m supposed to reach the “healthy glow” phase, where my friends will notice that my skin is firmer, smoother, and naturally hydrated. My doctor and a whole raft of online testimonials tell me it’s true.

I like the doctor who prescribed these products for me. She was the second one I consulted, after the first pronounced me the inheritor of “crappy English skin.” I bumped him off for his bad chair-side manner, even as I acknowledged he was right. My mother, recipient of a greater share of our Portuguese genes, has fewer wrinkles than I do. For that matter, my sixty-three year old boyfriend, who has been on this planet soaking up UV rays for more than twenty years longer than I have, still has baby-soft skin. So it seems that I drew a short straw in the skin-condition lottery. (I also, as my mother likes to point out, got my father’s goofy bow legs and something strange about his teeth, but really, I’m fond of these things.)

Bottom line, I believe there’s nothing more important than cultivating integrity, kindness, and a meaningful inner life, but I’m still a little bit attached to the packaging these inner workings came in. So while I do look forward to getting older — and living a life every bit as wrinkled as those of my beautiful, fair-skinned grandmothers — if modern pharmaceuticals can buy me a little more time without so much dry stuff stuck to my face, I’m all for it. I just hope it works.

I talked with Stewart about it, and we figured that, at worst, this is an expensive mistake we can both learn from. If I don’t start radiating from the “therapeutic cascade of actions” promised by these products, I’ll take what glow I have from the inside out, and the next time someone tries to sell one of us an expensive scheme or regime, we can laugh and say, “Remember that time you spent $600 on snake oil?” But if this goes according to plan, my doctor will be nothing like the snake-oil sellers of old, peddling exotic goods with outlandish guarantees. She’ll be a professional — a prescriber of ingredients that will cause my face to make like a snake and start shedding, leaving me a little more glossy and supple than before. I might even post before and after photos. Or maybe not.

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