My mother did not teach me many useful beauty secrets — rather, I learned from her mistakes. Never use a magnifying mirror. Holding a glycolic acid exfoliating pad to your chin for an entire episode of Dancing with the Stars is a good way to give yourself a chemical burn, not get rid of a zit. Do not buy DVDs from the man who sells them in the back room of the salon where you get your spray tan; they are bootlegs. Instead, it was my dad who fielded my early beauty questions.
As is said to be the case with many Russian Jews, not just the ones in my family, my dad is very superstitious. This ancestral trait has worked in his favor. Years ago, unreasonably paranoid that he would lose his job if he ever stopped using L’Occitane Green Tea Shower Gel, he purchased 30 bottles, just in case it was ever discontinued. It was — and he was prepared. He’s since switched to another body wash, but keeps the last bottle stashed in a dusty drawer, just to be safe. (Little does he know he could have made a quick $59 off it.)
At any given time, my dad owns several different sunscreen formulas of varying degrees of SPF. “Do you want 15, 30, or 70?” he’ll ask. “Spray or lotion?” He considers an SPF lip balm, the kind that turns your lips white, a must-have, but he will get annoyed if you point it out. Proper sun protection is crucial, but some of his beauty beliefs are significantly less rational, like his insistence that he follow up every professional haircut with a few “tweaks” of his own. Some of them may even be illegal, or at least frowned upon, like hoarding prescription steroid creams and salves that you dole out to your adult children like candy when they complain of any skin ailment — a rash, a blister, a cut, a bug bite, a breakout. Topical corticosteroids for everyone!
Most importantly, my dad has been there during my biggest beauty emergencies. He was there when I tried to speed up the at-home bleaching process by holding a blowdryer directly to my hair, which made it sizzle and set off a smoke detector, at which point he came rushing in to hose me down with the handheld showerhead and also yell. Once, in a stroke of genius, he taped a maxi pad to my leg when I cut myself shaving and, I think, almost bled out on the Persian rug.
He also passed down perhaps the most important beauty rule of all: Don’t care too much about what you look like, because nobody is even paying attention — they’re too worried about themselves to notice if you have a pimple. But it still can’t hurt to stock up on Garnier Fructis Surf Cream pomade (the original, not the reformulation), because even if you're leaving the house in Ugg slippers and a pair of gray sweatpants you’ve had for a decade, there's no excuse for having bad hair.