Fashion & Beauty

What Do We Want? Radiance! When Do We Want It? Now!

September 11, 2022



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By Valerie Monroe

I WAS THINKING about how to write about inner beauty, and it made me feel like a steakhouse waiter pushing the kale salad. It’s fresh! It’s good for your colon! I thought, If Patti Smith can write engagingly about cigarette butts and dirty socks, why can’t I find a way to write about inner beauty?

But I think I’ve got it—because generating your inner glow and your outer glow (which I’m pretty sure you’re interested in) relies on the same principle: exfoliation.

You know the facial exercise I keep inviting you to try? The one where you stare into your eyes in a mirror until you begin to de-objectify the face you’ve come to know as yours? That’s a kind of exfoliation—a peeling away of your defenses and protective layers in order to expose vulnerability, compassion, and love.

Several years ago, trying to untie the inner beauty knot for a story in O, The Oprah Magazine, I spoke to Matthieu Ricard, a former genetic researcher and now Buddhist monk and author. He told me: When we see what we think of as inner beauty, we’re responding to empathy, compassion, an openness to others. We see it on someone’s face when she feels in harmony with our deepest nature as human beings, which is basically peaceful and loving. That harmony manifests physically through subtle expressions which we pick up both consciously and unconsciously. Hundreds of almost imperceptible muscular movements are constantly communicating our feelings. Love and engagement transform a face; we identify with that look and it evokes in us a yearning to love and be loving, reminding us of the best we can be. And so inspired, we wind up looking out at the world with more loving eyes ourselves. 

Unlike physical beauty, which grabs the spotlight for itself, inner beauty shines on everyone, holding them in its embrace and making them more beautiful, too. If that sounds too theoretical, think of it this way: What you’re aiming to locate during the mirror meditation’s compassionate self-exchange? That’s inner beauty. And if you can see yourself as I hope you do, you know you already have it.

Now for the more . . . fleshly kind of exfoliation, the kind that gives you a physical glow. I prefer the word radiance, though, because glow sounds a bit subatomic to me. Also, if anyone says you look radiant (when you’re not actually pregnant), isn’t it the loveliest compliment imaginable?

First, why you want it. I’ve previously mentioned studies that show when light bounces evenly off a complexion, it’s perceived as healthier, more genetically robust, and, therefore, more attractive. Additionally, judgment of women’s facial skin age is influenced not only by the frequency of lines and wrinkles, but also by unevenness, discoloration, and a decrease in light reflection. As we age, skin cells turn over more slowly, which can result in a layer of dead cells on the skin’s surface. The result: Our skin tone becomes more uneven and our complexion’s light-bounciness diminishes. (Weird note: I often wear black, and in the past few years, I’ve noticed what looks like a lot of dust on the inside of my clothes when I’m undressing. I assume what I’m seeing is dead skin cells—and there doesn’t seem to be enough moisturizer in the world to prevent the situation. I sometimes wonder if this is how I’ll leave the earth, by being slowly rubbed away by my pants.)

But back to your face and the joys of exfoliation. To reveal smoother, more even-toned, and light-bouncy skin, you can goose the halting exfoliation process in a few ways. The easiest, and best if you have sensitive skin, is with a washcloth, which you can saturate with your cleanser and use to gently swab your face. Feeling a bit bolder? Invest in a scrub, which I think of as an old-timey way to exfoliate. But scrubs have been improved since we learned about the evils of microbeads in the environment.

When you want to get serious, try an alpha-hydroxy acid or beta-hydroxy acid peel pad. Of all the products beckoning as you spin deliriously around the beauty aisles, exfoliating acids are the real deal and can make a noticeable difference in your complexion. These acids remove the top layer of skin cells, revealing more clarity. My preference has always been glycolic acid pads, which I googled and found what must be a thousand different kinds. I’m just going to share the two brands I’ve used and like, and then direct you to my friends at Allure, who I trust to give you a wider range. The two I like are Cane + Austin and (for an option that’s a little less expensive) Peter Thomas Roth, with a combination of salicylic and glycolic acids. These treatments can be strong; anything more than a slight, brief sting is too intense for me. Here’s a manageable list of other brands to choose from.

If you find acids are a bridge too far, or if you don’t but you’re the impatient sort, you can always fake it till you make it. I recently faked out myself, when I commented on a friend’s remarkably smooth, almost luminescent complexion. We were ambling, as we often do, in Central Park.

“Your skin!” I said. We stopped walking for a minute. “What are you using?”

“What you told me,” she said, lowering her Covid mask. “In the morning I mix a drop of Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer with my Olay Regenerist.”

I’d forgotten I’d mentioned that little trick. I told her she looked radiant and we resumed our stroll, both rightly pleased with ourselves.


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