As someone who’s spent the better part of adulthood not wearing much makeup or fussing over my hair (I’m terrible at doing both and care way more about my outfits) my current affinity for lipstick and hair products is one that I never saw coming. The latter started two years ago, when I stopped flat-ironing my kinks into oblivion and started wearing my natural hair in a ‘fro. I began making weekly trips to my neighborhood beauty supply store, each time emerging with a new cleansing cream or leave-in conditioner. Or styling gel, or hair oil, or detangler. Then, a few months ago, I was inspired to give lipstick a chance after I was assigned a story about ’em—so inspired, in fact, that I now own about 60 pink and red tubes, housed in my apartment alongside four-dozen-plus hair products.
Given that I cover beauty, this stash isn’t all that outrageous. Trying products is part of my job (rough life, I know) and during a brief survey I conducted in my office, one coworker copped to owning 50 mascaras and another said she threw out her spice rack to make room for her sheet mask collection. Skin care over sage—I get it.
Here’s what is a bit outrageous, though: I’ve already identified my favorite lipsticks (Tarte Creamy Matte Lip Paint and Bite Beauty Amuse Bouche) and hair products (Oribe Glaze for Beautiful Color and Nuance Salma Hayek Blue Agave Curls and Waves Hair Mask), and yet I continue to procure more and more, as if I need them to maintain optimal well being; as if they’re essential to my survival; as if the yet-to-be-tried-beauty-product grass is greener. You won’t find an ironing board or dining table in my apartment, but there are a dozen hair masks in the linen closet—11 of which I’ve only used once because, again, Nuance is the best.
I go back and forth between thinking “Who cares if I’m a beauty hoarder? I get so many of these products for free, and it’s not like I’m hurting anybody” and “Leah Faye, get a grip, girl. This excessive and wasteful and totally unnecessary.” Being of the latter mindset recently, I sought out a professional diagnosis, calling Manhattan-based psychologist Dr. April Lane Benson. A compulsive buying specialist and the author of To Buy or Not To Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop, Benson offered some valuable insight into my obsessions. Below are some outtakes from our conversation, along with my thoughts while it took place.
StyleCaster: I already have two favorite conditioners (which, for the record, are Bb. Curl custom conditioner and Shea Mositure Raw Shea Butter Restorative Conditioner). Why do I constantly feel the need to try new ones?
Dr. April Lane Benson: What I would want to know is what you think the new conditioner might do for you that the old one doesn’t. Do you have any fantasies about how your hair is going to look with this new conditioner? And if it does look that way, what is that enhanced hair going to bring into your life? Also, some of us feel the need to try everything that’s out there, because maybe there’s something better. There’s often an inability to let good enough be good enough.
Don’t we all have hair fantasies? Mine is Tracee-Elliss-Ross-meets-Solange-on-her-wedding-day-meets-my-own-hair-minus-the-frizz. And I suppose I do wish that I could find that in a bottle. It would bring me immense happiness.
I have at least 25 pink lip colors. The other day I was getting ready and said to myself, “none of these are going to work.” What’s that about? Any one of them would have looked fine.
We would have to tease out what ‘work’ means. Does it mean ‘I look unbelievable and four out of five people on the street are going to do a double take when they see me?’ Or it could relate to what’s called the self-discrepancy gap—the distance between who we are and who we’d like to be or how we’d like to be seen. So the lipstick that will ‘work’ might be the one that closes the self-discrepancy gap. If you own 25 and still think you need more, we have to at least hypothesize that that self-discrepancy gap is not closed.
Oh no! I have an unclosed self-discrepancy gap? And I’m trying to close it with… lipstick? This is embarrassing.
I love trying hair masks. I’ve already found a favorite, but I genuinely enjoy testing new ones. Is this a hobby or an instance of me thinking the grass is greener?
If it’s a hobby, than you take pleasure in trying new hair masks regardless of the outcome. If you’re constantly disappointed that the new ones you try aren’t as good as your favorite, that would be a piece of evidence for me that this is about the grass being greener and you not being satisfied with what you have or who you are.
Because of the line of work I’m in, a lot of products are sent to me. But even if I’m not buying them, I feel like collecting so many is silly. Is there a tipping point? When do I know if this interest or “hobby” has gotten out of hand?
The tipping point is when there are some serious negative consequences. For example, you’re at an important meeting and you’re daydreaming about the next lipstick that you’re going to buy, and you miss some important information at the meeting which causes you to make an embarrassing mistake. Or, when you are spending money, the tipping point would be you having spent so much that you you don’t have enough money to get through the next pay period. The negative consequences—financial, emotional, spiritual, or interpersonal—they have to be negative enough that you really notice.
The only thing I daydream about in meetings is what I’m going to eat later, so thankfully, this hasn’t impacted my work. I do, however, feel extremely wasteful, so that’s one negative consequence.
Why won’t I throw away the six half-used hair gels I have in my apartment? I don’t like them and know I’ll never use them again, but I can’t bring myself to throw them away.
People feel a tremendous amount of relief when they can finally let go of things that they’re not using, but getting rid of them means that they have to face that they were wasteful; they’ll have to come to terms with some negative self beliefs.
This is so true. Throwing anything away that I haven’t completely used pains me, but I need to suck it up and toss the unused gels. From now on I vow to stick to my go-tos: Eco Styler, Curly Whip, and Bb. Curl anti-humidity gel oil.
If amassing way more beauty products than I need is a habit that I want to break, how would I go about doing that?
You can begin by asking six questions when you contemplate a new purchase. First, ‘Why am I here?’ Maybe you’ve just had a fight with your boss; maybe you’re overwhelmed with childcare responsibilities; maybe you have a sick parent; maybe somebody has gotten something you wanted. So, why am I here? How do I feel? Do I need this? What if I wait? How will I pay for it? And where will I put it?
Got it. When I’m in a beauty supply store the answer to ‘Why am I here?’ is usually ‘Because I’m ridiculous and can’t stop trying hair products,’ so if I start telling myself that I should be able to leave empty handed.
Do you have any advice for young women in terms of developing healthy shopping habits when it comes to beauty products?
You have to think about what you’re really shopping for. What do they think a purchase is going to do for you, and how likely is it that a product is going to meet that need. Think about what else you could do that’s not shopping to meet that same need—whether it’s the need for love and affection, the need to belong, the need for self-esteem or even for autonomy? We tend to believe that those needs can be satisfied with products, but that’s rarely true. So it’s important to tease out what is is you’re really shopping for. It’s not that twenty-sixth pink lipstick. You may think that’s what it is, but it’s really what that lipstick represents—what you think is going to come with that lipstick.
You’re making way too much sense, Dr. Benson. While I don’t think loving pink lipstick is a problem in itself, I have from time to time looked to beauty products and other material things to fill small voids.
Is beauty hoarding something you’ve come across in your work, and are there any products in particular that people tend to have a problem with?
Yes, absolutely. Lipstick and hair products.
You don’t say.