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Dr Jaishree Sharad's new book cuts through the skincare clatter

The Skincare Answer Book by star dermatologist Jaishree Sharad offers a level-headed understanding of skincare

The book offers bite-sized responses to questions.
The book offers bite-sized responses to questions. (iStockphoto)

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The celebrity endorsements in star dermatologist Jaishree Sharad’s third book, which has just released, are strong: It opens with nine pages of testimonials and messages from popular names, in addition to front and back cover blurbs, from Bollywood actors like Amitabh Bachchan, Alia Bhatt and Dimple Kapadia. Through blurbs and forewords, Bachchan’s support, for instance, has featured in her previous two books, Skin Talks(2014) and Skin Rules(2018), too.

Other than this, The Skincare Answer Bookis one of the drabbest examples of self-help in beauty that I have seen in a long time—and for someone who has learnt most of what she knows about skincare from social media videos, what sweet relief that it is.

I turned 30 during the pandemic. Hitting a milestone age like this is never easy, either mentally or physically—and being locked down, with unmatched levels of anxiety about and around the world rising, only made it a little more complicated. It was around this time, with little to no IRL interactions, that I found myself drawn to beautifully filmed skincare videos online. They would hype up just the very basic human act of a stranger on the internet washing their face, tapping in some serum and slathering on a moisturiser.

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Watching these felt oddly comforting, even calming. When their previously tired faces revealed themselves as fresher, softer and more relaxed versions, the videos bordered on the hypnotic.

For many middle-millennials, these videos and Reels, which boomed especially during the pandemic, brought a shift in understanding, and engaging with, skincare as a daily lifestyle choice. In October 2022, Kofluence, a platform that connects brands with influencers, carried a piece which noted that “millions of Indian men and women from varying socioeconomic backgrounds are increasingly joining a flourishing consumer base for India’s budding beauty and personal care industry…80% of consumers prefer to make purchases based on influencer recommendations”.

This may seem trivial to state now but for a large section of us, a visit to the dermatologist is still largely considered only for a medical need; it is not a choice for detailed and disciplined DIY upkeep. We did not have anyone hand us a detailed but quick breakdown of the steps to follow every day, like Sharad—herself pretty big on social media—does at the end of the chapter on Layering Of Skincare Products. The simple, tabulated format, one for daycare and one for nightcare, marks out what is optional and what especially dry skin might necessitate.

The Skincare Answer Book: By Dr Jaishree Sharad, Penguin  Random House India,  344 pages,  <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>299.
The Skincare Answer Book: By Dr Jaishree Sharad, Penguin Random House India, 344 pages, 299.

During the lockdowns, stuck in the loop of endless days indoors, it was not easy to turn away from the lure of routines egging me on to experiment with serums and actives. Especially because a few months into 30, it felt like even the slightest deviance in my day would show up on my skin: Dehydration, especially if dinner the previous night included alcohol, meant I would wake up with terribly oily skin the next day; a bad night’s sleep would make my face visibly dull and my smile lines starker; and just as I thought I would never have to deal with acne again, a more stubborn version flared up with a vengeance.

These were not just cosmetic concerns. The frustration and helplessness at how the largest organ of my body was getting so easily affected by anything and everything could have been better calmed and helped by the almost-boring, textbook-like approach Sharad takes in The Skincare Answer Book than the exciting and well-produced glamour of skincare content on Instagram. The latter only pushed the many new products of the $26.8 billion (around 2.2 trillion) Indian personal care industry my way, with only a side of information.

I did pick up a fair bit of the lingo online. From being raised on wholesome sunni pindi (an ubtan typically made in Andhra homes, a mild exfoliant) and Mysore Sandal Soap, I thought I was now fluent in AHAs, BHAs and the benefits of hyaluronic acid versus ceramides. Had I read Sharad’s book, though, I would have known better than to buy random BHA serums. Instead of the reduced acne and blackheads one expects from using BHAs, an Instagram-popular brand’s serum left me with a bright red rash and burning skin (this industry’s alarming lack of access to patch tests or sample sizes for online orders did not help). It is only upon reading Sharad’s book that I have realised what might have gone wrong: She explains that for a person with sensitive skin, like me, AHA and BHA serums are better avoided. “You can use a polyhydroxy acid-based serum for mild chemical exfoliation,” she writes.

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Before jumping into the sea of recommendations online, Sharad’s book would be a great kiddie pool, divided into sections starting from the Basics Of Skin, building towards Active Ingredients, Layering Of Skincare Products, and on to Skin Agingand Home Use Gadgets.

While the book hasn’t offered me anything new on topics I was already interested in, it is a great resource for a level-headed, foundational understanding of skincare—whether it is as basic as the need to double-cleanse or topics as specialised as HIFU (high-intensity focused ultrasound) or the Morpheus 8, a radio-frequency micro-needling device.

Her passages are bite-sized responses to questions. They do not set out to “influence”, only to inform, while their length keeps in mind the attention spans they are fighting for. They just about prepare the reader enough to know what they need to seek from a dermatologist when considering a lifestyle change or a medical intervention. What an individual follows up on from this is, as Sharad iterates through the book, best left to these specialists.

I couldn’t help but notice that the unglamorous FAQ style also keeps time with the rise of the “deinfluencer”—a popular social media person who tries to take the authenticity game to the next level, telling you a specific social media-popular product is not worth your money.

Regardless, I wish I had had this book sooner.

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