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I’m Scared of Washing My Face Because What If There’s Something Behind Me

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Thanks a lot, horror movies.

Photo: Jurij Krupiak/Shutterstock

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I’ve been dealing with a nightly haunting. It goes like this: I brush my teeth, take out my contacts, pump some Cetaphil into my hands, and start smushing it into my skin, working off my foundation. Then I turn on the tap, close my eyes, and start rubbing the day’s mascara off my lashes. That’s when it starts.

Me: *Washing my face, washing my face*

My mind: There’s something behind you.

Me: We’re not doing this right now.

My mind: Something just touched your leg.

When I squeegee the water from my eyes, I discover that there is not a dead-eyed child or animated corpse standing behind me. There never is. But I don’t know that this won’t be the case tomorrow, or the next night, so I go on fantasizing about all the possibilities while I rinse my face.

I don’t watch horror movies for obvious reasons, but I’ve absorbed enough of the genre — mostly through YouTube serving up scary trailers alongside Carly Rae Jepsen videos, which isn’t even good ad targeting — to know that mirrors are the worst idea. Don’t splash water on your face in front of them, don’t wipe steam from them after a shower, probably just don’t have them in your home at all. (I am not the only one who feels this way.) The key to unlocking a low-maintenance cool-girl beauty routine isn’t Glossier, it’s a feverish imagination.

This irrational but persistent fear became a daily thing when I moved into a studio apartment by myself, but it started at my parents’ house. The mirror in the bathroom I share with my sister when we come home provides a partial view down the hallway, which is usually dark because my mother is always turning off lights that aren’t actively being used. My mom also likes to stop by for a chat while I’m getting ready for bed but doesn’t always announce her presence before she’s suddenly emerged out of the darkness into my sight line, which is nice of her but makes my intestines panic.

It comes up when I travel alone for work, too, like that time I made a bunch of students at the Savannah College of Art and Design tell me about their personal experiences with ghosts, because Savannah is apparently a very haunted town. I will add that the only wall decoration in my hotel room that night was a large photo of a stone angel in a churchyard.

That said, I’m more scared of what will happen if I don’t wash my face. If you have moody skin like mine, you know that sleeping in your makeup translates to three days of breakouts, plus a mystery rash if the humidity is just right. So in general, I love a good face cleaning. It’s an opportunity to do right by my skin, and it’s a mental reset button.

The trouble with rituals is that you can develop accessory habits along with them, like imagining bathroom monsters, which are hard to get rid of without disrupting the first. And while meditative moments can give you space to breathe and calm your mind, they also open up space for the anxious thoughts you’ve successfully distracted yourself from all day. Lately, it seems like we all have a lot of those.

To cope, I’ve developed some specific techniques, and I’ll share them here for anyone who may have similar concerns:

  • Fire up The Great British Baking Show at top volume. It is the kindest thing on Netflix right now.
  • Consider using an oil cleanser, which drips less than a creamy formula and therefore minimizes the amount of time you have to spend with your head bent low to the sink. (Julep makes a wonderful version that I love but don’t always want to pay $28 for, hence my return to Cetaphil, and fear.)
  • If you prefer, make like a French Girl and invest in a big bottle of Bioderma micellar water, which takes off makeup like a dream and renders face washing totally unnecessary. (I still rinse, but that’s because I can’t get over the feeling that it’s leaving behind a weird residue.)
  • Burn sage, “just because you like the smell of it.”
  • Fixate on something irritating your significant other or best friend said recently. This is not healthy, but it is an extremely effective distraction technique.

Probably you will discover that there was nothing behind you at all. This has been my experience so far. But if you have, please do not comment below.