Madonna is standing in front of a small room of beauty editors talking about her new skin care line MDNA Skin. "Are you nervous?" she asks all of us. We laugh, because of course we are. It's Madonna. After a brief pause it becomes clear that her question isn't rhetorical. "Why?" she asks. "Because you're Madonna," a brave soul replies. And the strange thing is that we aren't the only ones who are a little on edge — Madonna, the biggest star in the world, seems visibly nervous as well. It becomes very clear, very quickly that for "M," as her friends and colleagues call her during the presentation, MDNA Skin, and the literal years of work that went into it, is something important.
For the past 30 years, Madonna has been calling the shots when it comes to everything from pop music to redefining ageist expectations for women. While a Madonna-inspired and approved anti-aging skin care line doesn't seem like much of a stretch for the 59-year-old entrepreneur, some might argue that creating a skin care line that aims to keep women's skin looking younger is playing into those same ageist expectations that Madonna has always spoken out against. But, according to Madonna, they'd be wrong. "We're not talking about perfection and conventional standards of beauty," Madonna says of MDNA Skin. "We're talking about taking care of your skin."
As Pacific Standard points out, anti-aging beauty and skin care has been on the cosmetic scene since about 2500 B.C.E, when powders were used to prevent hair loss. Now, products aimed at making us look younger are not only everywhere, but skin care in particular is an overwhelmingly huge money-making business. For the U.S. alone, skin care is expected to be an $11 billion industry in by 2018, according to Global Cosmetics Industry.
Somewhere between those first powders in 2500 B.C.E. and now, the ideas of healthy skin and younger-looking skin were conflated — and how could they not be? Try to separate the two for yourself, and you'll probably find it's much more difficult in practice than in theory. Based on traditional standards, younger-looking skin is, in fact, more hydrated, moisturized skin. Sun damage-free skin is both more youthful-looking and healthier overall. The differences between anti-aging skin care and thorough, healthy skin care are almost nil. The concept of "anti-aging" is simply easier to sell.
Skin care marketed as a quick way to look younger is just another example of advertising repackaging a product as the solution for something women are supposed to feel bad about or compelled to "improve." This subliminal messaging about how women need to look as young as possible for as long as possible is something that Madonna is familiar with and aware of. And it's not something that was forgotten during the years of development that went into MDNA Skin.
"I do believe we live in a very ageist society [that's] particularly unkind towards women," Madonna says. "I think it's ridiculous that we have to hide our age or not be able to embrace it."
MDNA Skin features a range of products that highlight benefits like giving skin "radiance, clarity, and and vitality." In fact, although the line's anti-aging properties have been mentioned a couple times in the press by the dermatologist behind the brand, when it comes to the MDNA Skin website, the descriptor doesn't appear once. Take the much talked about chrome clay mask for example, which uses "double-coated volcanic clay, botanical extracts, and M.T. PARCA [thermal water] from Montecatini — one of the leading clay therapy destinations in the world."
When Madonna talks about the mask and other items in the line, she doesn't hail the products as anything that you'll use and wake up looking like her, or 10 years younger, or really any different than you. At the US launch of MDNA, Madonna tells us about the line in a passionate, anecdotal type of way. She lets us know that she uses the whole line on her children. She mentions in passing that she sometimes puts the clay face mask on her butt (really). "I literally douse my entire body in it all day long," she says of the ultra-hydrating serum. She is clear about the work she put into the products, and that she happily uses it all herself. Take the $120 rose mist spray, for example, for which Madonna happily went through 50 different types of roses before coming to the final product.
"A lot of the things that I developed were things that I personally thought were missing for my skin," Madonna says. "Rose is my favorite smell. Ask anybody who knows, I carry a rose mist spray in my bag and I use it 24/7."
Despite what the hefty price tag of the products might make you think (the line starts at $50 and goes to $600), the goal of MDNA isn't about looking radically different at all. It's about taking care of your skin in the most effective way possible with with the most effective ingredients.
"Just take care of yourself a little bit every day and love who you are," Madonna says when asked about the goal of MDNA. "Take care of your insides; take care of your outside. It's all part of the big package."
Yes, the products and ingredients in MDNA Skin are, in the most traditional sense of the descriptor, anti-aging. But the line itself and the work behind it isn't anti-aging as much as it is pro-skin health. Even if the line is a little (or a lot) out of your price range, this focus is refreshing for the luxury market. And OK, OK, yes, creating a $600 face mask set is probably just little (or a lot) out there. But, you know — it's Madonna.