Everything I Know About Skincare, I Learned From my Dad

I pass by plenty of stories about dads playing sports with their daughters, dressing up as Frozen characters, or crying during wedding toasts, but when I see the rare one about a father getting actively involved in his daughter’s beauty rituals, there is a very good chance I will click through. Like many sentimental fools, I smiled at The New York Times piece on dads learning to braid, and returned over and over again to an image of a couple doing their daughter’s hair in the morning.

Yes, I’m aware that mothers around the world (mine included) have been doing this work since the dawn of time without so much as an “Um, thanks,” but it invariably warms my heart to see dads wading into what has traditionally been purely mother-daughter terrain.

Typically dads are hands off when it comes to beauty, unless of course they think their daughter is wearing makeup too soon, or overdoing it, at which point they may decide to get involved. Take Isaiah Mustafa, better known as the Old Spice guy. As a single dad to a teenage daughter, he’s on the front lines. “If you see too much mascara or whatever, just say, ‘You’ve got the eyes workin’ today! Cool.’ Leave it alone the first time,” he explains on a recent trip to Toronto to host the P&G Beauty Awards. “The second time, you’re actually able to come in and say, ‘I see you’ve put more on. Last time, it looked way better with less.’ You land and then take off again. That’s the best way you’ll have influence. If you try to get in there and force the issue, it’s not going to work. She’ll say, ‘You’re trying to tell me what to do.’”

I had a totally different experience growing up. As I’ve mentioned before on this very site, my dad was basically my skincare sensei. I can fully trace my own vain obsession to his bathroom counter, always overflowing with tonics and potions, a mix of high street products, dermatologist lines, and obscure independent brands that would impress the most seasoned beauty editor.

I still remember waking before the rest of the house on Saturdays so we could drive out to indie beauty boutiques together, and nights spent marathoning TV shows with our faces covered in homemade bentonite clay masks. It’s always been about bonding, adding to an already close relationship based on trust, transparency and humour.

In some ways this bond hasn’t changed as we’ve gotten older. Now, as when I was growing up, I can help myself to anything in his cabinet (when I was home for the holidays, he handed me his new bottle of Kiehl’s Clearly Corrective Dark Spot Solution ($58, kiehls.ca)when I expressed vague interest the packaging), but my moving to London a few years ago has necessitated adjustments.

We certainly don’t talk nearly as much as we used to (we both have jobs and lives, and I’m operating five hours in the future) and early-morning shopping sprees are no longer convenient, but we find ways to make it work, mostly via text. I’ll send him a picture of my leg after using a new moisturizer while drinking pre-mixed G&Ts in London; he’ll send me a selfie post-facial, from a New York hotel room. Once, after weeks of not communicating, he sent me the link to the Dr. Dennis Grosswebsite, which I assume was code for “I miss you, cherished daughter, and I hope you’re taking care of yourself.”

Tech aside, the fundamental nature of the relationship has evolved too. I don’t look at what he says as prescriptive the way I did when I was a kid. I’m more likely to do my own research, find what works for me, and think more critically about the anecdotal advice he’s given me in the past.

For instance, he taught me never to pop my zits; now I pop them with hydrogen peroxide and satisfaction. He’s had supernatural skin his whole life without the use of sunscreen; I wear Supergoop City Sunscreen Serum SPF 30 daily ($42, supergoop.com). He swears by Kiehl’s Calendula Deep Cleansing Foaming Face Wash ($36, kiehls.ca); I used it once and immediately developed a rash. My dad takes vitamins and exercises regularly; I recently finished a 20-pack of McNuggets by myself.

Another proud development: I now find myself giving him recommendations more than ever before. It feels good to extol the benefits of my three-step winter glow-up regimen (Soap & Glory‘s Smoothie Star Breakfast Scrub, cocoa butter, body oil) on Skype and know he might actually check the products out; or to iMessage him mini essays about my experiment ditching cleanser and not have him block my number.

So I guess we’re relating to each other more as adults, even if it’s just to debate the benefits of toner or the right age to start using anti-aging products. But regardless of those changes, I’ll always value that deep down, I owe so much of what I am today to his advice, support and encouragement — and so does my blemish-free skin.

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