I Tortured Myself For Perfect Skin

It's 8:30 in the morning in the dead of a bitchy, bitter New York City winter, and I’m already on my first work task of the day: a phone interview with Harold Lancer, MD, the renowned dermatologist, who is graciously helping me with a story. Fifteen minutes into the conversation, I realize that Dr. Lancer is based in Beverly Hills, which means he was speaking in full, coherent sentences about topics like anti-aging, cellular turnover, and retinol at…5:30 a.m.  When I express my incredulity at this fact, he laughs for a nanosecond, and then resumes speaking in his firm, concise tone. (He’s a former military surgeon.) Then, he tells me he’s already made breakfast — a grilled chicken breast over a bed of lettuce. It’s a practice he’s gotten used to since pioneering The Lancer Method, which he explains in his book, Younger: The Breakthrough Anti-Aging Method for Radiant Skin. 
Photographed by Tory Rust.
“The Method,” as it’s often called, is unique for a skin-care brand in that it addresses aging holistically. This may seem like quite the surprise coming from a military man (and a derm), but Dr. Lancer has always believed that lifestyle and diet contribute just as much to your skin's health as the products you apply topically. I know — this doesn't seem revolutionary, now that we’re in the middle of a wellness boom, with oil pulling and what-have-you — but the good doctor has been preaching this for decades. (And, The Method has wrangled quite a few celebrity devotees, including Kim Kardashian and Sofia Vergara.) I, fairly fresh from a post-breakup-induced “spree,” shall we say, complete with a date during which I was so hungover I actually passed out cold during the previews before a movie, and, on a separate occasion, seductively purred the wrong name into some poor guy’s ear mid-makeout sesh, decided that it was probably high time I attempt The Method for 30 days. Here were some of the doctor’s orders:
1. Limit the intake of the following: dairy, salt, gluten, refined carbs, and sugar.
2. Make vegetables a part of basically every meal (25% of total diet).
3. Have lean, non-red-meat protein twice per day (35 to 40% of total diet).
4. Quit caffeine altogether.
5. Make time for “physical activity” daily.
6. Limit self to two to three glasses of wine per week; no hard liquor.
7. Adapt to a prescribed skin-care regimen. As you review this checklist, you're probably thinking either, “That’s my life” or, “That’s not bad at all. I could do that.” But, look, this is a lot for me, okay? The word “diet” in my family typically triggers eye rolls and second helpings of pasta. I’m the kind of date you take to burgers at Minetta Tavern and then get dessert after. I fucking love wine. I’ve had a Red Eye with no milk practically every morning since I was 17.  So, let's just start with the easy parts of The Method, shall we? For one, limiting dairy intake is shockingly simple, especially in a city where almond milk is a request that's not made exclusively by people who drive Subarus or unironically wear Birkenstocks. I've rarely had any beverage with actual milk, yogurt gives me unpleasant bathroom moments, and ice cream is a no-no because I’ve been planning a beach getaway. At the urging of the doctor, I started treating cheese more like a dessert, and I found myself much more pleased with my digestive system. (He said dairy affects the metabolism of the skin, slowing down the processes — plus, all the added hormones can really eff you up, but you already knew that.)
Photo: Via Lancer Skincare.
The vegetable thing was initially a challenge for me since I’m much more of a carbs person, but then I found Juice Press. I made sure to scoop up a couple of juices per day — which, let me tell you, can definitely squeeze your bank account. Dr. Lancer notes that a glass of green juice can pretty much cover your daily veggie intake, which is essential for oxygenating the body and fighting inflammation. Making time for “physical activity” was also pretty easy, considering a quick prance around the corner to a local lunch spot actually counted as exercise. In fact, much to the chagrin of pretty much all my footwear, I started walking to work. Do you know what 25 minutes of walking down the street while listening to Beyoncé does to your productivity levels and your confidence? EVERYTHING, that’s what it does. As for skin care, Dr. Lancer prescribed a regimen based on the products I was already using, my eye and hair colors, skin tone, and skin type. There’s a whole fascinating chapter in the book about how your genetic makeup determines what sorts of products you should be using and how you will age. It’s like a horoscope for your face. Since I have olive skin, blue-green eyes, Italian heritage, and no history of skin conditions, Dr. Lancer finally gave me some good news: Genetics are on my side (thanks, Mom)! That meant, however, that he threw things at me he wouldn’t recommend to the average twentysomething: a 10% glycolic cream, a vitamin C cream, and daily exfoliation. “Your skin can handle it,” he insisted.
I’m more the type to use Tata Harper and Tammy Fender, which are super gentle and pretty naturally derived, so this was an interesting change of pace. Exfoliating daily with Polish, his super-intense scrub, seemed outrageous. He ordered me to start at three times a week. My skin felt a little raw at first, but eventually, I was waking up to a much brighter complexion. And, I barely noticed any sensitivity to the glycolic or vitamin C. So far, so good, right? But, then things got a little…difficult. Sugar, we all know, is not great. But, Dr. L lumps sugar and white-flour stuff (including my beloved pasta) into one category: “sugar molecules that are not used for energy or stored as fat attack protein and lipids in the process of glycation.” Glycation, as he calls it, is “the aging process that destroys collagen.”
On top of that, I also had to give up coffee. “Caffeine screws up the glandular function in the body,” said Dr. Lancer. “Caffeine reduction lets hormonal function restore itself, so menstrual cycles will become more regular, and you’ll reduce the risk for ovarian cysts.” I attempt to point out that I don’t have ovaries or get my period, but I’m not sure he cared/heard me. “Have a green juice instead,” he said, upon hearing my whining. Right, because that’s the same? Actually, it turned out to be awesome. Giving up coffee made everything different — I was sleeping better, I had a steadier work pace throughout the day, I was less prone to crashing around 4 p.m., and I felt like I could actually tell when my body was tired. The difference I noticed in my skin — my undereye circles were noticeably improved after just one week — was probably from sleeping more, which is another of Dr. Lancer’s great pillars. Okay, so now for the alcohol bit. I want you to know I was doing really well at one point. I even ambitiously joined CrossFit and was attending 6 a.m. classes for eight days, so for about two weeks, I wasn't even really drinking. A glass of wine with dinner, no more, was my rule. My checking account loved it. Too bad my social life didn’t! As soon as I fit in the time for a Tinder date, I realized how truly difficult it is to grin and bear the “getting to know you” niceties with someone you never plan on speaking to ever again without a security blanket made of pinot grigio. And, there’s no buzzkill quite like the person at the birthday party who says, “I’m not drinking, because it's bad for your skin. I’m writing a story about it." One night was all it took to throw me over the edge. (Isn’t that always the case?) Right before New Year’s Eve (so, about two weeks into this experiment), I met a guy who was so wonderful, so truly expectation-shattering, that we spent five hours in a bar, just genuinely enjoying each other’s company. (Bonus: I did not forget this one’s name.) Our next few dates, which happened immediately and back-to-back, were filled with good food, good booze, and plenty of sleepless nights. I felt guilty that I had abandoned most of the doctor’s orders, but at the same time, I was newly happy
Photo: Via Lancer Skincare.
Rather quickly, though, I was transported from cloud nine to a very sad weekend. After a long battle with cancer, our beloved grandmother, Elena, had passed away. My family, normally boisterous and impulsive, spent days reciting memories of her in slow, thoughtful sentences.  Many of our conversations came back to food: her recipe box, her famous eggplant parmigiana, how this sweet old lady devoured a lobster like a character from Game of Thrones, the popcorn drowned in melted butter that she used to make for us as kids. During her second round of radiation, we watched, enraptured, as she ate a generously sized Italian sub. (I could barely finish mine.) “I don’t want to be skinny,” she told me one day, after chemotherapy. “I miss my fat. I wish I could have it back.” She poked at the skin on her face, which was paper-thin, and let out a large sigh.  She was not one for diets, my grandmother. Nor was she one for anti-wrinkle cream, eyeliner, eyeshadow, concealer, or foundation, despite my constant attempts every Christmas. But, she was still so damn beautiful. In fact, what made her so lovely was that she had a constant appetite for life. She was happy.
That weekend, mostly due to post-funeral food and my mother’s cooking, I ended the carb-counting and the wine-watching. I still abstain from caffeine, and I keep up with my newfound, tougher-than-nails skin-care routine. I maintain my morning green juice, and I work out regularly. But, I stopped making reservations at vegan restaurants and denying myself carbs. I’ve had a few nights of being out until 5 a.m., only to wake up and order a bagel sandwich the size of my face.  Dr. Lancer himself said I’ve got great genes…and I’ll give the guy that. But, it’s not in my genes to ration my meals and be in constant pursuit of vegetables. I’ve learned, through this experiment, that I can still be healthy without feeling like I have to deprive myself of the things I love. I’d rather let my diet and skin care be about enjoying myself and the life I’m making — not the wrinkles I may or may not develop as a result. Sure, youth is on my side: Perhaps, I should agree now to update this post when I reach the big 3-0. But, odds are that I’ll still be eating tons of bread...I’ll probably just be taking it with a side of Botox. And, that’s pretty all right by me — as long as I’m happy. 

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