Low risk, no cost, high reward—what’s there to lose?

By Morgan Noll
Updated September 13, 2019
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In my experience, there’s no in-between with the lighting in hotel bathrooms. When it’s good, I’m on a confidence high, thinking that the vacation glow must really be doing wonders for my complexion; I head out for the day feeling fresh and ready for whatever. But when it’s bad, I question my mirror at home, wondering how long my pores have looked this way. I spend more time covering up with makeup, more time trying on and tossing aside outfit options, and more time thinking about how I look than about the vacation views all around me. In short: I’ve wasted way too much time on vacation obsessing over my skin.

This should serve as a lesson to all hotel interior designers to spend more time on the lighting—seriously, it matters. But more importantly, these experiences have taught me a lesson to step away from the mirror and give my skin and myself a break.

I recently made it my goal to keep my distance from mirrors. This doesn’t mean I’m covering up all reflective surfaces or leaving the house without looking in the mirror—I’m just literally keeping my distance, about six inches to a foot. The exact distance for this simple skincare trick isn’t that important here; it’s more about the principle.

If you’re all caught up on Stranger Things, think Hopper’s rule about keeping the door open three inches, only instead of discouraging hormonal teens from swapping spit, my rule discourages me from getting all up close and personal with my face—and my skin has thanked me for it.

There’s a dermatologist-backed reason for my mirror restriction. You’ve probably heard the warnings before: Don’t touch your face and don’t pop your pimples. The extra oils and bacteria from your fingertips can trigger breakouts, and picking at pimples can lead to scarring. When you lean into the mirror to get a closer look, everything is magnified, and the temptation to touch your face is hard to resist. But no matter how satisfying it can be to temporarily get rid of that whitehead, the inflamed mess it leaves behind is no better.

I can think of multiple nights where I’ve lost upwards of half an hour in the bathroom just picking at my face and inspecting everything that’s rising to the surface. It’s a vicious cycle of shame: I would go to bed with my skin looking worse, wake up angry at myself for making it that way, spend the day feeling insecure, and repeat. I wanted my skin to stop consuming so much of my time and so many of my thoughts.

My self-enforced mirror rule isn’t just about attaining healthier skin—it’s also about building a healthier relationship with my skin. For women especially, it’s easy to internalize the pressure to have a flawless, airbrushed complexion. We rarely see acne or even pores on the pages of a magazine and in close-up shots on TV, so it feels wrong to see them in the mirror. But no one other than your dermatologist should be holding a microscope up to your skin; that saying about being your own worst critic applies here, too.

A few times in the past couple years, I’ve been completely caught off guard when someone has complimented my skin. Even though my acne and overall complexion have significantly improved since adolescence, my perception of them hadn’t kept pace. I didn’t understand how someone could see my skin as something to compliment when I was spending so much time analyzing all of its imperfections up close.

Cutting back on my mirror time has helped me close this gap between how others see me and how I see myself. It bothered me how much my self-esteem was tied to my complexion. My good skin days and my bad skin days directly correlated to how confident I felt and how present I would be in my daily activities, but now my skin doesn’t take up as much of my mental energy.

This doesn’t mean I no longer care about how I look or that I don’t still hop on new skincare trends. I frequently break my mirror rule to apply winged eyeliner and I’d be lying if I said I was into gut health for the digestive benefits. But whatever amount of time I dedicate to changing my skin or appearance, I try to dedicate just as much to loving and accepting it—and keeping a healthy distance from those mirrors.