Being a beauty editor has its benefits: the complimentary spa treatments, the free press trips, the designer handbags as “thank you for your support” gifts around Christmas. But our perk-filled existence is also filled with ghastly mishaps. When your entire life revolves around testing out the latest anti-cellulite cream, zit zapper and hair removal treatments, the results are not always what’s promised. You might end up with your butt cheeks accidentally waxed together or getting your skin burned off your face.
Years ago one of the major beauty magazines did a four-page editorial on a brow specialist I never heard of, so I quickly made an appointment to try her myself. At first, everything seemed promising: a beauty director was just leaving, the room was filled with mirrors, the specialist started measuring my brows with a ruler — it all seemed pretty hardcore. But all of the meticulous measuring and examining my face from different angles didn’t save me from my eyebrows being waxed into a sperm shape. I had a complete meltdown in the chair, which would normally send any stylist into a panic, but she was so proud of her sperm work that she actually tried to convince me that the swimmers suited me perfectly. “You just have to get used to it,” she said. As I headed back to the office, I pretended that I was rummaging through my handbag for lost keys just so I wouldn’t have to look up and have the entire world see my butchered brows. As soon as I returned to the office the IT guy wanted to chat. As I looked up he said, “Dude, what the fuck is wrong with your face?!” You know something’s off with your brows if the tech nerd notices them.
The infantilizing bikini wax came at a Midtown Manhattan spa frequented by models, celebrities and socialites. It was my very first bikini wax, so at the time I didn’t know you could request certain shapes. Twenty-something-year-old me thought she was just going to take a little off the sides. I was so nervous I started sweating like a fat man in July. I kept my eyes closed while she instructed me to lift my legs in various pornographic positions and only caught glimpses of her double-dipping the spatula in the wax. When I opened them, I was completely bald. She removed any hair that would remind me that I was a woman and turned my lady parts into that of a four-year-old. During another treatment at a different spa, the waxer complimented me on my “soft skin,” which was also creepy but in a completely different way.
My trichloroacetic (TCA) peel came at a dermatologist’s office. At the time, I was zitty and had hyperpigmentation, so the peel was supposed to work miracles by removing the damaged layers. My skin wasn’t shedding properly, so I was under the impression that the peel would speed up the exfoliation process. I didn’t take “removing the damaged layers” literally. The clear solution was applied with what looked like a paintbrush and only stayed on for a few minutes, but it felt like an eternity. I was choking back tears while I was literally being burned alive. After the acid burn, I was bright red and raw. I didn’t realize that my face was essentially an open wound because I had just had layers of skin completely scorched off. After a couple of days, my raw face scabbed over into a hard, crusty shell and I was constantly thinking of ways to invent a full facial Band-Aid. Scabby bits and pieces would fall off randomly, so I left a gross trail of scab sprinkles wherever I went. Over a course of two weeks, I resembled The Thing from the Fantastic Four.
Butt lifting creams never work, but I constantly use them because I’m in my thirties and it makes me feel proactive. Plus, I’m still hoping for a miracle in a bottle. I was testing out a serum by a well-known doctor and it smelled like fish. Since it wasn’t particularly overwhelming, I figured no one would notice it under my clothes. I was wrong. In a meeting one of the interns — who was male — asked what that fishy smell was. I was forced to explain the pitfalls of my ass-lifting serum to the group.
So it's no surprise that some magazine beauty editors aren't avid testers. Others are forced to feature advertisers, making testing unnecessary. However, a few of us are in the trenches and willing to get mangled, molested and burned, so you don’t have to.
On the upside, I have been treated to lots of pretty great manicures.
Aja Mangum is a beauty editor living in New York.