Man Ventures Into Luxury Skincare Marketplace, Discovers $53 Sunscreen


About three years ago my ex-girlfriend gave me a $60 gift card to a local massage parlor and retail shop. This was not something I was eager to use, as I have an aversion to strangers touching my body (an artifact, perhaps, of my years as a Catholic altar boy).My ex’s heart was in the right place: she loves massages and wanted me to be able to share in her appreciation for them, and she thought this gift might nudge me into trying a new experience. But I never was quite able to get behind the idea of exchanging something of value for a service the thought of which makes my skin crawl.Nevertheless, I figured a third of a decade, particularly one marked by higher-than-average inflation, was long enough to leave a gift card sitting on my coffee table losing its purchasing power. So I went to the joint to see what $60 could get a guy in 2024 other than, like, half of a massage.After five minutes of squinting at a few spare racks of creams and facial wipes, one of the 20-something clerks mercifully came over. She not so much asked if I needed help as demanded to help me.“Do you wash your face?” she said.“Uh,” I grunted, “Yes? You know, in the shower.”“What do you use?”I thought about it for a moment. Was this a trick? “Soap.”She gave me a pitying look, like how you might look at a puppy that just went belly deep into a puddle and doesn’t know any better. She showed me several small dispensers of face wash that my $60 gift card would just barely cover (and two or three that it wouldn’t).“Or, are you outside a lot?” she asked.I nodded.This cheered her up. “Well, in that case we have a few great options for sunscreen.” She eyeballed me a little closer. “I don’t know if it’s construction work or what, but you really ought to use one of these every day for your face.”My heart momentarily swelled with pride when she thought maybe I was a construction worker.So, for $53 including tax, I bought a 1.7 fl. oz. tube of SPF 45.At the checkout, my skincare savior asked me if I wanted anything else because there was still $7 left on my gift card.“Is there anything here I can buy with $7?” I asked, already knowing the answer.“No.”On my way out I gave the gift card with $7 remaining to a woman who was waiting for her appointed time with the masseuse so she could apply the balance to her own bill. She tried to say she couldn’t accept it, but I explained that I’d already bought what I wanted. And it was a gift from my ex-girlfriend. And it would just be nice to see someone put the remaining value to good use. So she took the gift card. And gave me that same pitying mud-puddle puppy look.My dignity thoroughly shredded, I went home and deposited my new 1.7 oz. tube of really good sunscreen on my bathroom countertop, right next to a huge 12 oz. squirt bottle of Banana Boat.The “good” sunscreen cost about $31.18 an ounce. The Banana Boat was something more like 91 cents per ounce. In economic terms, this only makes sense if my new sunscreen is 34 times better than Banana Boat.I suppose what makes one sunscreen better than another is, to an extent, a matter of opinion. Sadly my opinion is that the main difference between these two sunscreens is how they are marketed.Statistics are all over the place when it comes to the size of the beauty and personal care industry. If you use the more all-encompassing phrase “self-care industry,” the market might even cross the trillion-dollar threshold.Easier to wrap your head around, perhaps, is a recent survey that found the average American spends $1,754 per year on beauty products, cosmetics, and related services, with most of that spending attributable to skin and hair care. About half of survey respondents said social media influenced them to spend more on beauty. Gen Zers (52%) and millennials (40%) regretted overspending in this category, and nearly a third of respondents in these generations said they had gone into debt as a result of beauty and cosmetics overspending.Caring about your appearance is a good thing. Obsessing over it is not. Don’t try to spend your way into looking like whatever social media is telling you that you should look like. I’m pretty sure I’ll look about the same when I get through my tube of $53 sunscreen.Jonathan Wolf is a civil litigator and author of Your Debt-Free JD (affiliate link). He has taught legal writing, written for a wide variety of publications, and made it both his business and his pleasure to be financially and scientifically literate. Any views he expresses are probably pure gold, but are nonetheless solely his own and should not be attributed to any organization with which he is affiliated. He wouldn’t want to share the credit anyway. He can be reached at [email protected].

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