The routine begins with a muslin cloth. It turns a shade darker as it's placed under the steaming tap, weighed down with warm water and flung over bare skin.
Then, the sound of a lid opening: a tiny 'click' with a presence way beyond its volume. The cleanser is rescued from its bottle with eager, damp fingertips. The sound of the tap stops and the senses become attuned to the cleanser's calming smell and cool touch, gliding across the face with a well-practised rhythm.
And then it's time for the towel-pat - burrowing a wet face into a clean towel and emerging, after movement so subtle it's invisible to the naked eye, with a dry face and a better feeling about the day ahead.
Then the line-up, the privileged few products that stand outside of the drawer, carefully selected and proudly upright. Inviting pastel shades, words like 'brightening' and 'smoothing', rounded edges and bold promises, all culminating in one precise, twice-a-day routine.
A symphony of unscrewing, clicking, squeezing and silent concentration ensues. An array of textures and smells mix together and greet the senses with familiarity. A conundrum of what needs fixing and what will fix it. What season is it? What will the day consist of? What problems need fixing? What make-up will be placed on top of it? Many factors are taken into consideration.
The world outside can't be controlled. But this routine – probably insignificant and definitely monotonous – is an investment in the future. A guarantee that no matter what else goes wrong, at least I've tried to make my face look as good as it possibly can.
Unlike washing the dishes, it doesn't feel like a chore. It isn't the kind of activity that makes you acutely aware of the passing of time and the evil truth that most of life is wasted on the vapid tasks that consume it. This is despite the fact that most evenings I have to sleepily prop myself on the sink, massaging my head into my hands as I lean on them for support.
I tell myself it's for my own good. Just spending another five minutes dabbing and massaging will ensure that I wake up tomorrow looking better than ever before.
I thought I was quite good at questioning the things that we’re in danger of just letting happen. But the other morning, when laying out three different serums to put on different parts of my face, I realised I'd never really thought about why I put three different serums on different parts of my face.
I don't really believe what the bottles tell me: ‘Your skin will appear smoother'. Yes, but it won't be any smoother. What I do believe, however, is that this is an obsession inherited from my mother.
She’s not a religious woman, but if she were she would pray to Elemis. And, just like her ability to deafen and badly injure anyone in a five-metre radius when she so much as hears a wasp, I’ve picked up my superfluous skincare routine from watching her.
I never suffered with acne, nor with eczema, or any other medical condition that needs attention. It’s never been a case of needing to own seven different face masks. And it’s the same with my mother – there’s nothing on her face that needs fixing.
It’s a case of lust, of being drawn in by alluring creams that all smell different, all feel different, and promise they’ll do something new, something amazing. Every time I visit home I'm abetted by my mother’s enthusiastic praises of a new moisturiser. Logically, I know it makes no sense, but I make a mental note to pick some up for myself anyway.
I’m not sure whether my skincare routine is a comforting reminder of her when we’re apart, or if it’s in the vain hope to look as good as her in 30 years' time. We may be tremendously gullible and shallow, but at least we’re doing it together, apart.
I don’t like to admit that vanity plays a part, because vanity gets a bad name. Even if I do secretly hope my efforts are worth something, at least it is a secret. Between me and my skincare. And now, you. Please don't judge me. You might get frown lines.