Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate

Shannon Cooke

I was a staunch cynic regarding the concept of “serums” for a long time. I’d look at my boyfriend’s immaculate face and never lose sight of the fact that his daily skincare routine is simply water. Any sort of “mist” was also off the table, because they seemed to be just rose fragrance and, again, water… packaged up and sold to schmucks for $38 a bottle. Of course, I changed my tune pretty quickly once I hit my early thirties. And with Google listening to all my girls chat about skincare in nearly every communication forum available to us, it wasn’t long before Kiehls started wooing me online.

My introductory serum was a free sample of the brand’s Midnight Recovery Concentrate — and, unsurprisingly, it ended up being a holy grail product for me. Just a tiny drop at night, pat-pat-pat all over the face, and by morning I’m a fawn in spring. (I also eventually bought a mist — Caudalie’s Beauty Elixir — and yes, it makes me glow like a celestial being.)

Around the same time, I lost the will to not drop $50 on anything that could make me look like Mia Sara in Legend, one of my favorite aunts suffered a stroke. She survived, but the doctor mentioned that she was on the verge of an aneurysm, and since “the women in your family have a history” we should all get checked. It’s important to note, that at this point in my life I was still a decade-long smoker, and not aware that it was commonplace for Rosenberg women to just blow a cranial gasket.

You can’t prevent an aneurysm. You can just try to avoid them by drinking in moderation, not smoking, eating healthy, being active, and avoiding high stress levels. So… everything the women in my family struggle with most; we’re chain smokers, drink like fish, eat like shit, and marry melodramatic, immature men. The men in my family have a hard time standing on their own two feet and shift that weight to the women. Throughout their adulthood, my father and two uncles lived with their mother off and on until she passed. My aunt then allowed her two fully-grown brothers (men in their forties and fifties) to sleep on her couch for a decade a piece, long after they wore out their welcome.

And when they finally did wear it all the way out, they simply moved to the next couch; her daughter’s, who continues the tradition of exhausted matriarchy. These are generous women who love unconditionally, and put family first, and I respect them for it, but goddammit, boundaries are nowhere to be found. “It’s just what you do” doesn’t work for me, because, in reality, what we do is allow our blood pressure to rise to a level where the arteries in our brain can’t take it and they pop.

Terrified that I too would suffer the fate of a swift, merciful death with no warning that an aneurysm can bring, I quit smoking with the help of an app (that sends me digital stickers which  are actually very motivating), lost forty pounds via the classic duo of diet and exercise, and, at a snail’s pace, found my way to drinking in moderation. Four out of five is pretty damn good! But it’s that fifth that’s really the killer, and it trickles down to the rest. Stress.

Stress in my thirties has felt like a time-release pill. The fury that has poured out of me in the last five years has been… unexpected. Drinking in moderation isn’t just to avoid nasty hangovers or aneurysms, it’s to keep the dark Kraken at bay. My identity in my twenties rested heavily on the fact that I was effortlessly optimistic, and a blast at parties. I used to drink long into the night, becoming more loving and fun with each passing hour. Now in my thirties, I grow increasingly raw and aggressive when I drink. The ability to maintain a Chill Sweetheart™ image, while privately being a petty spaz, is getting harder and harder. Despite being with a responsible, lovely man, I wonder sometimes if, ultimately, I’ll end up my own melodramatic, immature husband. My emotions drag me around the room, exhaust me, and leave me aching for a cigarette, or a greasy burger, or half a dozen whiskey gingers.

My skin though… the texture! The tone! The glow! I may create lines all over my face with scowls (and laughter! I’m a fun Kraken), but if I just pat-pat-pat every night, they soften. The heavy under-eye bags that are destined to join the math of my face, are (at least in my mind) delayed a couple days for every night I complete my facial ritual.

One Sunday morning last year, I woke up after a night of heavy drinking, with no recollection of how I got home. I went to the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and was stunned. “I did my fucking night routine…” I double washed with oil and soap cleansers, cotton-balled astringent, sprayed my mist, eye cream (pat-pat), serum (pat-pat-pat), and moisturizer — all while blackout drunk. The commitment to my face has permeated my deep subconscious.

The assumption in my mind of how the women in my family perceive me, is that I’m selfish. I need a lot of space (sorry, no vacancy on my couch), and I focus on myself (the tone! the texture! the glow!) more than taking on the needs of others. I don’t disagree with them, and I have my fair share of guilt regarding all that, but I’ve also come to accept: this is how I operate.

I like to use a big chunk of my expendable income on vain pursuits. I want to wait until my late thirties to have kids so I can build my career. It’s important to me to change the role the women (and men) play in my family for the next generation coming in. And, at the top of the list, ideally, I’d like to not drop dead in the middle of Vons, but if I do, you bet your ass my skin will be fucking immaculate.

Next Article