The Internet’s Obsession With ‘Status Skin’ Is A Real Problem

Photographed by Ana Larruy.
Whether you're a diligent cleanse, tone and moisturise type of person or you don't care much for a solid routine, chances are you've come across at least one of the following skincare trends. First up, 'glazed donut' skin: skin so slathered in nourishing moisturiser, it resembles the icing atop a Krispy Kreme. Or perhaps 'glass skin' had you in a chokehold, with Korea's beauty influencers championing exfoliating acids for skin that glints, just like glass.
Though skincare can be technical and a little confusing at times, it's also pretty fun. Most skincare trends dreamed up by influencers and beauty experts are totally harmless. But is it possible to take them too literally? Take 'jello skin', for example, a movement that went viral on TikTok recently.
If skin is firm and bounces back when pinched — "like the perfect consistency of jello", according to a pro facialist — that's when you know there's a "beautiful level of collagen" in your skin. TikTokers loved the trend, flicking their skin for a satisfying 'bounce back', but it wasn't long before others admitted it made them compare their complexions negatively. The consensus? Plump, bouncy skin isn't attainable for everyone — unless it's in your genes.
A handful of buzzy skincare trends has flooded the internet since then but nothing has piqued the interest of the media quite like 'status skin'. Intended to take over from the 'skinimalism' trend (which prompted us to ditch the elaborate and costly multi-step skincare routine for something more stripped back), status skin is supposedly all about taking consistent and dedicated care of your skin. As a result of investing in your skincare, makeup is seemingly not as necessary. It's wearing bare, natural skin as a status symbol.
The trend is still bubbling under the surface but trusted dermatologists have appeared on television to discuss its merits, while Instagram makeup artists are using the phrase to hashtag their work and skincare brands are heading to TikTok to suggest products which can help you achieve the stripped back, natural skin look. How realistic is status skin — and can it ever be inclusive?
As ever, language is important and status skin has an implied meaning: that certain types of skin are aspirational and others aren't. We know that flawless skin is not the norm but beauty movements which shine a light on how the skin looks have a tendency to exclude those with skin conditions. According to the NHS, approximately 95% of people aged 11 to 30 are affected by acne to some extent, while this report suggests that atopic dermatitis (the most common form of eczema) is more prevalent than it used to be. That's before we've touched on hyperpigmentation and scarring as a result of both conditions, not to mention rosacea, which has risen during the pandemic.
Dr Ana, cosmetic doctor and skin expert at Dr Ana The Skin Clinic, agrees that viewing the condition of one's skin as a status symbol can be problematic. "It perpetuates unrealistic and potentially damaging beauty standards," Dr Ana tells Refinery29. She encounters a common misconception in clinic. "Your skin doesn't necessarily need to look dewy, glossy and completely clear in order to be normal and healthy," says Dr Ana. "In fact, skin conditions such as eczema, acne, hyperpigmentation and rosacea are much more common than most of us may realise." Thinking of dewy, smooth and clear skin as healthy skin can be extremely unhelpful for many in terms of skin confidence, adds Dr Ana.
Aesthetician and skincare expert Alicia Lartey seconds this and puts forward a rather eye-opening analogy. "We should not be attaching status symbols to our skin because that would be similar to attaching status to your kidney," she says. "We can't really control the condition of our skin completely." Even as a beauty editor, this is something I know all too well. I'm lucky to have access to countless skincare products and fancy devices, with some of London's most revered beauty experts on speed dial. Despite being diligent with my skincare routine, I struggle to keep my hormonal breakouts under control, which leads to scarring and uneven skin texture. As a result I use makeup to feel confident, rather than going bare-faced. Put simply, many aesthetic skincare trends taking social media by storm are unrealistic, especially those perpetuating beauty ideals that make people feel inadequate.
Status skin doesn't come cheap, either. Investing in your beauty routine requires money and with costs rising left, right and centre, skincare trends that call for a certain level of consistency are unreachable for a lot of people. There's a reason why Hailey Bieber is the poster girl for both the glazed donut skin and the status skin movements: it's all about disposable income.
"Celebrities and influencers do tend to spend a disproportionate amount of time, money and effort in keeping their skin in top condition," confirms Alicia. Though she isn't opposed to this (what people spend their hard-earned cash on is their prerogative, after all), Alicia thinks skincare trends are problematic when they become an unobtainable standard for the general public.
Dr Ana confirms that plenty of treatments or medical interventions for the skin can cost a lot of money. In the UK, a 20-minute dermatologist appointment can set you back £250 — and that's before a prescription. "This isn't afforded to everyone," says Dr Ana. "Another example is chemical peels," a favourite treatment among celebrities that can cost anywhere between £70 and £500. "This extra money, especially during a cost of living crisis, is unreasonable to expect some people to spend on their skin."
At-home devices such as facial massagers, LEDs and micro-current tools might feel more accessible but they're no different, with prices soaring into the high hundreds. Alicia believes that by giving skin status, we are essentially commodifying an organ. This implies that people should feel bad for not having access to money or resources to address any skin concerns that arise, says Alicia — and that's an issue.
If you struggle with your skin, beauty trends like these are certainly not helpful in alleviating insecurities. But take it from the experts. "Healthy skin is never perfect," says Dr Ana. "'Normal' skin has pores and 'real' skin has textures and fine lines. These are all essential anatomical structures and are even present in babies' and children's skin." Alicia agrees and advises her patients to be cautious of the media they consume, as it's not all ethical when it comes to showing the skin.
In clinic, Dr Ana reminds her patients not to scrutinise their skin in order to compare themselves to unrealistic beauty trends. She advises them to stand no closer than an arm's length from the mirror when examining their skin. "There is really no positive outcome of so closely inspecting your texture and pores," says Dr Ana, "especially when other people won't be looking closer than this, anyway."
If you are invested in skincare, Alicia recommends deciphering your primary skin concern and spending the bulk of your beauty budget on a treatment product to address it. This can be done on a shoestring. "Look out for brands such as Facetheory, Simple and The Inkey List to find other products that are able to support the rest of your routine on a budget," advises Alicia. Refinery29 also rates affordable Byoma, The Ordinary and Dove DermaSeries, while Dr Ana particularly likes CeraVe, Cetaphil, La Roche-Posay and Paula's Choice (whose website has a great ingredient decoder).
Just like the controversial 'clean girl' aesthetic, status skin may have started out as a buzzy beauty trend to emulate. But in a world where we're steadily embracing and even celebrating things like texture, it feels outdated to elevate certain skin types. Above all else, the skin's main function is to provide protection. Regardless of how it looks, or how much money you may have spent on it, considering one type of skin better than others is a serious backwards step.
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