Fashion & Beauty

Good Old Things: A Tribute

September 10, 2023



By Valerie Monroe

For nearly 16 years Valerie Monroe was the beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the popular “Ask Val” column. She now splits her time between Manhattan and Tokyo.

If you’re interested in feeling happier about your appearance—especially as you age—you might like reading what she has to say about it. For more of her philosophical and practical advice, subscribe for free to How Not to F*ck Up Your Face at

Can’t get enough Valerie Monroe? There’s more at

FROM THE Department of Celebrating Good Old Things: I was wandering aimlessly one weekend afternoon around New York City’s Greenwich Village when I happened upon America’s oldest apothecary, the family-owned C. O. Bigelow. [Full disclosure: I was once related to the family by a cousin’s marriage; sadly, a divorce un-related us.] Its windows beckoned. Inside, I was overwhelmed by a cornucopia of delights: vividly packaged soaps, adorable miniature tubes of hand lotion, exotic toothpastes and shaving creams. Oh, the silky rose blushes! The divine, gardenia-scented candles! I wanted to touch and sniff everything (and was kindly encouraged).

The store, I learned, celebrates its 185th anniversary this year. (If you can’t get there, you can have an almost comparable experience in their online establishment.) Poking around, I was reminded why it’s easy to fall prey to conspicuous consumption: It’s fun! But as I spied one skincare cream after another promising one skin-saving miracle after another, I was also reminded that while there are many packaging miracles in the beauty forum, there are few miracle products. Yeah, yeah. Dum spiro, spero: While I breathe, I hope. But caveat emptor!

“Ask Val” answers your urgent questions Vol. 44

Q: In the past few months, I’ve noticed that the skin on my forehead and around my eyebrows is constantly flaking. I don’t use anything except cleanser and moisturizer on that part of my face. I read that it might be due to colder weather but I live in SoCal, so I don’t see how that could be the problem. Any thoughts?

A: My first thought, as I anticipate the New York winter ahead: Do you have a guest room? Second thought: Because my relationship to med school is secondhand, I should get advice from dermatologist Ranella Hirsch. “When a dermatologist hears ‘flaking on the forehead and eyebrows,’ two very specific things come to mind,” she said. “Seborrheic dermatitis is incredibly common and is often seen as flaking on the central forehead, the brows, the glabella (the smooth part of the forehead above and between the eyebrows), and the nasal folds.”

Have you been feeling especially youthful, Baby? Because another name for your issue is “cradle cap.” The exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis isn’t clear, according to the Mayo Clinic. It may be due to the yeast Malassezia (which also causes dandruff on the scalp), excess oil in the skin, stress, or something wacky (technical term) in your immune system.

The best way forward is to see a dermatologist to confirm what you’ve got. Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic condition, says Hirsch, meaning it can’t be cured, only managed; your doctor will be able to prescribe something you can pull from your medicine cabinet when the need arises. Till you see her, Hirsch says you can try a touch of ketoconazole cream. Or you could dance over to TikTok for their viral advice and wash the affected area with Head & Shoulders dandruff shampoo, which contains pyrithione zinc 1%, also effective against seborrheic dermatitis.

If the above solutions don’t work and you’re stuck waiting for a dermatologist appointment, Hirsch’s second suggestion might be helpful. Is it possible you’re using a product on your hair that’s seeping onto your forehead? You might be suffering from what’s called “pomade acne.” Keeping with the theme of grease, Hirsch recommends testing out this hypothesis by styling yourself in an Olivia Newton-John-type headband for a spell. Obviously, if it turns out that a haircare product is the crux of the problem, quit it.

Sometimes seborrheic dermatitis—like other unpleasantries—simply goes away on its own for no discernible reason. Dum spiro, spero!


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