I have what is known as “sensitive” skin. No, the more accurate term is “touchy.” Actually, it might be “hysterical.”
As a kid, I never thought too much about my complexion. Who does? But then puberty hit, and my skin acted pretty much the way my 13-year-old self did: It flared into dramatics at the slightest provocation. When Doug Shelley—the Brad Pitt of my eighth-grade class—asked to borrow a pen, I broke out in flaming hives all over my face and neck. If someone made eye contact for more than two seconds, I blushed. In the days leading up to a party, I’d get so nervous my face would erupt in a hideous constellation of zits. Sometimes, just to complete the look, my body would break out in a bumpy red rash, too.
Worse, I was easily the palest person in my class. This was New Jersey in the 1980s, when it was the height of fashion for white people to bake themselves the deep brown of a Louis Vuitton bag (a look that Snooki and various Housewives are trying their best to revive). Meanwhile, I was as translucently pale as a baby squid—not the most alluring look. So I spent countless weekends at the Jersey Shore, basting myself with oil like a rotisserie chicken, but my pigment-free skin was incapable of turning any color but magenta.
My skin was my enemy throughout high school and college, constantly ready to betray me. No matter how cool I would try to act, my hives would announce my real feelings to the world. At least hives were temporary: My blemishes never seemed to go away. Desperately I cycled through drying creams, harsh scrubs (maybe the worst idea), and masks. I moved on to folk remedies: blobs of toothpaste, lemon juice, crushed papaya, a paste of salt and water. I tried rubbing alcohol. Nothing worked. I layered on cover-up, followed by pressed powder, until my face resembled cracked soil after a drought.
Thankfully, the eruptions were fewer by the time I got my first job after college, as a writer for Rolling Stone. Even better, a grayish-white pallor was the norm among my coworkers, who only ventured outside after dark, to go to music clubs. So when, a few years into the job, I got a call to audition as a VJ for MTV2, I thought, “Why not?” My skin had, for the most part, calmed down. It was no longer something to fear.
Well. The hives began to form the minute I saw the crew. When I was told to improvise some banter as the camera rolled, I felt like they were physically pulsating.
“Stop tape,” barked the producer. He and the makeup artist hustled over to me as I miserably explained my situation. “I’ve seen worse,” said the makeup artist kindly as she spackled my cheeks and neck. (I asked when, exactly, but she couldn’t remember.) Despite my changeable skin, I got the job, and from then on, the crew knew that if I was interviewing any major celebrity, I had to wear a turtleneck or a scarf and trowel on the makeup.
As for my acne, it only appeared when I was stressed. There was one problem: In my line of work, I was in a constant state of mild panic, given that I never knew if the musician in front of me was going to be in a bad mood, or a no-show, or drunk.