No lemons, cayenne pepper or questionable bowel habits – I promise! I’ve already posted about the inevitability of a sexier post-camino ass so you’re not going to take need such drastic measures. And if you don’t know what this camino I’m going on about is, feel free to investigate here, here or here.
This cleanse is an altogether different kind of cleanse. A cleanse that one might achieve by first becoming (arguably) a little bit dirtier.
It started with the realisation that an albergue is simply no place to apply concealer: the lighting is TERRIBLE, you probably have to share the mirror with at least two other people and the all pervading smell of feet will make your efforts seem a bit, well, dirty.
I’m not going to go on an all-out war on make up on or off the camino: there is a pan-species precedent for adornment (thanks Darwin!), and personally I like wearing a bit of lipstick and mascara. But few animals have taken quite as far as the court of the sun king or it’s modern equivalent: Somerset House during London Fashion Week.
At the risk of sounding like a “feminine personal care” advert, we all need to be clean and well presented, but do other people care what we look like as much as we’re lead to beleive?
The back story (or, how I obliterated any sign of my actual face, daily)
As a very long time acne sufferer, I spent at least 20 years covering my skin in “product”. My skin was very red, bumpy and I would have new painful “blind” spots and whiteheads almost every day. I spent, probably (I’m pretty ashamed to say) thousands of pounds over the course of around 20 years trying to clean, cover or otherwise rid myself of this broken .
I’m eternally thankful to Elaine Mummery whose dietary advice has almost completely rid me of this issue: no topical products required.
But it’s made me angry: mostly about my own naivety . Claims made by cosmetics companies via their generally beautiful and delicately complexioned staff who, (visibly not suffering from skin complaints) could reasonably peddle any advertising information they had been given as some manner of universal skin health truth.
My own profession too, seemed to play into, rather than stand to oppose expensive and medicated solutions.
A free face at last (I know, this back story is going on a bit isn’t it?)
Imperfect, but reasonably clear appearing skin has been a liberation: from the mirror (minimum half hour prep before leaving home) to the obligatory financial toll of all that snake oil from both the skincare and make up industries.
I was glad about the liberation of my own face, but I hadn’t really considered properly stripping back on, say moisturiser, masks, the odd bit of concealer here or there, nor indeed had I thought in any detail about the products which I continued to buy and my role in continuing to fund an industry which is worth more in the
But the camino forced me to pare back further: to really consider the cosmetic choices I continued to make. I left my first albergue with the decluttered wash bag: a toothbrush, toothpaste, sunscreen, body wash, a nail brush, razor, tweezers, black mascara and red lipstick.
No Poo? Low Poo.
The observant among you will have have noted there was no shampoo or conditioner in that list. I’m not technically “no poo”: I do wash my hair once every three to four months – but I did wonder if the sweat and soil of the camino might push me over the edge. I decided to risk it, in the knowledge that shops were never too far away.
But for every one person who recoils in disgust for my “no poo” lifestyle, many more are disturbed, grossed out or squeamish about my “no deo”. I have intermittently not worn deodorant: at home, at the weekend, and the camino seemed as if it might be a bit sweaty regardless, so I dumped it for the 30 day duration as well.
The Unadorned Face
How will people react, when I speak to them, face (and indeed, hair and armpits) unadorned?
It turns out: totally fine. Although my face would best be cast in the part “scullery maid number 3 (no lines)” in a period drama, or on a bad day (and let’s face it, on the Camino there are bad days) as a stand in for Woody Allen, it turns out that other people couldn’t give two hoots.
And yet, in the UK the average spend on cosmetics and skincare alone last year was £1,759 for 19 to 24 year olds, rising to £2,238 in the 45-54 year olds. The beauty industry say women spend this money because it’s fun and empowering to experiment with your look – and I did too – what am I going to say “I spend the money because I’m ashamed of my face”?
Did I (a vegetarian and pet lover) consider animal rights too heavily when I was trying to rid myself of my suppurating skin? Nope. My face became an ethical blind spot: everything was justified in the name of promise never delivered.
The scientific evidence for the products with which we layer our skin is nigh-on non existent. The marketing budgets for all international cosmetic companies dwarf any spending on product development: their investment in really trying to improve our skin.
Still Travelling Light
The make up bag I carried on the camino continues to serve me now. I have some locally made soap in place of the body wash, and I’ll update the make up with ethical cruelty free brands (more difficult than it first appears – advice appreciated) when they run out.
My hair was rinsed many many many times (particularly after swimming in the sea) but no ‘poo was used during the walking. Although I did wash slightly prematurely at the end of the 30 day walk, and my “low poo” regime continues to this day.
As for the antiperspirant? I certainly wouldn’t bother heading back down that road. Ditch your cosmetics for a small soap and a travel face towel and really “freshen up” in the toilets.
Am I saying “ditch a cleaning ritual”, “ditch the pleasure of beautiful scents and fragrant skin”?
No. Feeling relaxed and pampered is a wonderful gift. I’m more likely now to spend money on going to a hamman or spa: paying a person for their time, and some oils or honey than a pot of high-tech empty promises on a shelf.
Although my cleanse was perhaps less spiritual than most, removed from daily life, this journey across Europe’s north coast can become a place of experimentation: assumptions, possessions and values which we carry can be challenged, and if necessary discarded. I’m sure I’m not alone.
Must we all be beautiful? It’s very tiring and and sometimes a bit of a chore, and I’ve not seen all of series 2 of “House of Cards” yet.