Do you have Instagram? If you do and you follow green beauty pros then you’ll know what I mean when I say there doesn’t seem to be a single person who has not heard of or tried May Lindstrom’s The Problem Solver. It’s almost an unspoken requirement that to be inducted into the green beauty club, one has a signature Problem Solver #maskselfie.
May Lindstrom’s The Problem Solver is one of her core products that helped start it all. It’s a correcting mask made of powdered clays, salts, warming spices, charcoal, and “soil nutrients”. May calls this her “hero. over-achiever. superstar” and describes it as follows:
The jet-black fusion of antioxidant-rich raw cacao, healing bamboo charcoal, soil nutrients, salts and exotic warming spices goes deep, on a mission to reveal your most radiant self. This intense treatment masque effectively purifies and tightens pores, extinguishes inflammations, fights and heals blemishes, jump-starts circulation in the epidermis and detoxifies skin with delightful ease and power. The radically different powder-to-mousse formula activates on contact with water, only releasing its magic at the exact moment of use so you experience full potency every time.
I had read about how this mask provides for quite an intense, heated experience and I will never forget the first time that I used this mask. When I opened the jar, it felt grand. The hefty, weighty jar seemed like it could go on forever. The powder looked a little like ash or soot and smelled like cacao, spices and clay. I diligently followed the instructions and rejoiced in turning the mask into a jet black fusion. Immediately upon application I felt an initial sting that quickly grew into a burning sensation and my face became frozen in a state of grimace.
5 minutes in, I was sweating. My breathing grew heavy and every second tested my resolve to stick it through. But I was so afraid of seeing lobster-red irritated skin if I washed it off prematurely as I believed that this must be the reason we’re instructed to leave the mask on for 45 minutes. As the mask began to dry, my pain gradually subsided. I thought I was out of the woods. And it was then a single god forsaken drop of sweat dripped into my eyes and I discovered pain on a whole new level. I was now crying while wincing and grimacing simultaneously. 45 minutes could not come soon enough and when it did, I washed with tepid, low flowing water which was all my battered skin could take. The rinse off actually provides exfoliation which is good in theory but horrible when your skin just got destroyed. It took me about 5 minutes to wash my face as I needed to be gentle and also because this mask rinses pretty dirty. I was pleasantly astonished to see that my face wasn’t lobster red after the blistering burn I experienced. However it felt traumatized and I looked like I had just emerged from an all night bender. My pores were blackened which required toner on several cotton rounds to clean. My skin looked sullen, dull, and lifeless.
If I’m being fully honest, this is the first beauty product I’ve purchased that I’ve seriously thought about returning. Given that this mask costs $90, I was determined to make it useful in some way: trying it on friends, boyfriend, family – no one really took to it. Then I read through online advice provided by May: apply this mask pre-cleansing/showering, or add some honey. But these are all just ways to keep as many things between the mask and your skin as possible, in other words creating barriers from your skin and the mask while still convincing you to use it.
Now let’s figure out why I had this experience. This is the full ingredients list for The Problem Solver:
Fuller’s earth clay, red moroccan rhassoul clay, raw cacao, red alaea sea salt, ascorbic acid,sodium bicarbonate, bamboo carbon charcoal powder, organic vanilla, organic lavender, organic marshmallow root, wild harvested frankincense, organic gotu kola, organic angelica root, organic cinnamon,organic nutmeg, organic clove, organic turmeric, organic cayenne
Baking soda, raw cacao, cinnamon, clove, cayenne pepper. The aforementioned are not my Whole Foods shopping list for my next baking project, they’re what you’re marinating your skin in when you apply The Problem Solver. Cacao is a very popular product that’s antioxidant rich, however it’s kind of like wine – there are great properties but nothing exceptional but people laud it because it’s pleasurable. Baking Soda is something I use to scrub and clean my bathroom, it is also very alkaline which really messes up your skin’s pH and functionality so it is not something that is going to do your skin any favors long term. These are among the first 6 ingredients in the mask.
Then we have the spices, or what Tata Harper and countless other skin experts call sources of irritation and inflammation. Despite being culprits for the intense burning, their skin benefits are arguable yet what is absolutely for certain is that these spices cause inflammation. There was a short lived sitcom starring Michael J. Fox on NBC when I first got this mask where his TV character’s family makes a effort to connect with his zanny sister-in-law who always flocks to the next trendy thing. She makes them all mask together and they all going with it to accept her, and then they get burned and run to wash their skin as she says “there is cayenne pepper! They said it’s dujour!” and that summarizes the nonsensical nature of this mask.
To be fair, I understand everyone’s skin will respond differently. And you might love this mask and have no idea what I’m talking about when I share my experience. The reason I call out these ingredients is because I think they’re objectively bad for anyone’s skin.
And that spells the genius of the May Lindstrom hype machine which has convinced legions of beauty junkies and hopeful customers to not only apply these ingredients that go against one’s intuition but to idolize this time as the most delicate form of sensual self-care. As an industry, beauty is swayed more by a pretty story, visuals or ideas than actual scientific data which is irresponsible because the products we use should be more thoughtfully considered.
Case in point: it wasn’t until May introduced a mask that used cayenne pepper that now multiple green brands also happen to have masks that use cayenne pepper despite this being highly irritating and inflammatory. It wasn’t until May educated us on the benefits of honey for skin in her Honey Mud that multiple green brands now have honey based products, despite it being essentially unviable when any other ingredient touches it. It wasn’t until May made us eye-gasm over the Blue Cocoon’s hue that other companies jumped onto the bandwagon with blue tansy oil despite the fact that with exception to its striking color, I would not use it daily or long term as it is listed as an ingredient to avoid for pregnant women and also those with endocrine or hormonal imbalances, which feels like nearly all the commenters on No More Dirty Looks, and I’ve seen multiple comments online from those who use this saying they can’t use it regularly as it leads to clogged pores and breakouts.
So many blogs will write about the importance of vetting brands while hyping up the very lines they should be questioning. Based on what I’ve researched, I cannot find sufficient evidence that shows whether May herself has any educational background in skincare or dermatology – and if I’m being honest, her title as skin chef doesn’t inspire too much confidence (again beautiful imagery, but WHAT DOES IT MEAN). Green Beauty is rife with passion, but passion and good intentions don’t translate into safe nor beneficial formulas. Given my history with her products, I question how these products are supposed to actually be good for skin (see review on Honey Mud).
Due to my very intense experience that created a very real, physically adverse reaction – I did more research on The Problem Solver in particular to see whether I was the only one. To my surprise, upon closer reading I found a handful of reviews where the bloggers acknowledge the burning but also that upon contacting May, a new jar was sent as a replacement that was free of said irritating ingredients, leading to a glowing review. This isn’t really a question on the validity of the green beauty hype machine, but rather at what point the review becomes entirely inconsequential as the product reviewed is essentially a custom-made product that is going to be different from the one that readers are being convinced to purchase? I know May is kind and gracious, but I think it is misleading to assume that your Problem Solver, will match an influential blogger’s custom made version.
This might come off preachy and judgy but I assure you it isn’t my goal – because I’m just as guilty of slathering on the said bathroom grade solvent+spices on my skin when they’re gorgeously packaged in dense black glass and gold lettering. My hope is to have this serve as a wake-up call to truly and actually reclaim your independence and trust your intuition. It’s an exercise in being active about what you put on your face rather than passively streaming in the messages you are bombarded with when you go onto social media from retailers, bloggers, brands and beauty sites. I know that May did the level of work and research that satisfied her and her retailers/customers, but I also know that the way she makes products and her choices of ingredients (& those other lines that mimic her) are just not aligned with my ideals.
If I were to summarize the line it would be this: I think May’s objective and success is that she formulates for that sensory experience. Creating products with aromatic richness or vibrant hues that are instantly photo-friendly and incredibly easy for editors to feature as they’re more concerned with marketable copies while only requiring a superficial understanding of the actual skincare. The priority then isn’t necessarily focused on ingredients that are especially great for the skin which opposes what I believe the goal should be for skincare products. This doesn’t mean in my book she can’t do anything right, it just means I’ll have to be diligent in examining future products in a vacuum away from the hype machine.
So tell me: have you had a similar experience to share or am I being too harsh?