That time I Polymorphous-Light-Erupted at the Clinique counter…

I am a sucker for a gift with purchase.


Clinique has been my favorite cosmetics line since I learned there were such things as upscale cosmetics; those that do not contain glitter, cost 99¢, or get purchased alongside such staples as disposable razors and a pack of gum. The fact that the company is dedicated to sensitive skin issues and is 100% Fragrance Free and allergy tested by dermatologists has kept me a loyal customer despite my newly acquired sensitivities to everything. Someday when I am a well coiffed, sophisticated retiree of a certain age, I plan to work at the Clinique counter at Lord & Taylor (only the greatest department store ever, in my opinion). Just for funsies and to keep myself “fresh.” That’s how much I love Clinique- I am planning that far ahead.

So, yesterday, when I got a happy postcard in the mail announcing that (at long last!) it’s Bonus Time at Macy’s! (another of my favorite department stores) I was all set to drop my $27 on a qualifying purchase and enjoy my extra goodies.

In short, I love makeup, and I love makeup that doesn’t freak out my skin even more.

However, in all of my Clinique product loving life, it never occurred to me that the fact that the brand’s signature, beautiful, clean, hospital-white counter is brightly lit with mega-watt bulbs that shine out at you from underneath the glass might one day pose a problem to my previously described super sensitive skin.


You can probably see it from Space.

Well, it has occurred to me now.

You see, friends, of all the 7 Deadly Sins, Vanity happens to be my personal hamartia (fatal flaw). And Vanity, that tough old broad, is taking her job very seriously.

This is what happened:

I went to Macy’s with my mom last night. I already knew that I wanted to get makeup remover (Take the Day Off for Eyes, Lids, and Lips…not to be a product pusher, but it’s good stuff) and red lipstick. I didn’t know which lipstick I wanted, so I spent a good 5-10 minutes mulling my options. I decided on Crimson, and the very helpful Clinique Lady went to look for it behind the counter. She was back there for a while, so I continued to peruse the other products. A glowing bright white section beckoned me like a moth to a flame to come hither and investigate such confections as Moisture Surge Overnight Mask, which I have heard is great for dry skin.

Speaking of dry skin, I have it, and so that morning (let’s be honest-afternoon) after showering, I covered myself in a lovely product called Cetaphil. Cetaphil is a heavy cream for sensitive, super dry skin, so it’s kind of my go-to product. It doesn’t have sunscreen in it (bummer!) but it was cloudy yesterday (yes, I know the UV rays can still find you when it’s cloudy) and I spent most of the day inside, so I put some on my face, as I’ve been creeping towards peeling territory lately. It worked, I was happy, I forgot about it.

Let me just tell you, Chronic reader, that all creams (good creams that is) contain some sort of fat. Your skin needs fat (call it “good fat” if it makes you feel better) to be plump and moist and happy. Eat avocados, olive oil, salmon, etc. to get your insides in order, and on your outsides, get yourself a dose of fat-like product to perk yourself up on the outside. This is why Crisco, that hunk of “vegetable” shortening in your pantry is the wunderkind of do-it-yourself/natural/homemade remedies for scaly skin. (Put it on your feet before you go to sleep. Seriously. Magic. But be warned that grease stains, so wear socks you don’t care about. Crisco will also get gum out of your hair, get goo off of anything your toddler stuck a sticker on, and will remove wax from the countertop, if say, you happen to spill while waxing your own eyebrows…)

In kitchen uses, Crisco and its related fats will fry up just about anything you want to golden perfection. It’s handy that way.

Ok, getting back on track. Let’s recap, shall we? Crisco fries food. Cetaphil is like Crisco in its fatty ingredients and consistency. I have Cetaphil all over my face. I am leaning over a counter that is brightly lit from underneath glass, which is magnifying the intensity of the light.

Do you see where this is going, Chronic friends?




Remember how I have that teensy-weensy allergy to (sun)light that results in a rash/reaction called Polymorphous Light Eruption (see What’s POTS? to the left)?


That’s where this is going.

My Crimson lipstick was not in stock, so the Clinique Lady ordered it. She needed all my information so they can send it to me at home. My face felt really hot, I was still standing next to that display, but I was trying to ignore it. It’s late, I’m tired, but I just took my blood pressure meds and I’m wearing my compression stockings so I’m good. Right?


My mom comes around the corner behind me as I’m checking out. She asks if the Clinique Lady found my lipstick. I turn around to answer her, and she sees my face.

Her reaction:


So I knew it was bad.

Then it got realllllllly hot up in there. Like really, really warm. And my throat started to feel weird. Like I swallowed something large and furry, like an unpeeled kiwi.

I put my cold hands (#POTSproblem) on my face and felt the intense heat radiating. I said, “Wow, it’s warm in here. Is my face red? I don’t know that I feel well.”

That’s when friendly Clinique Lady volunteered this helpful information, and I quote:

“It’s ok if you faint. I took a class and I’m trained in what to do if that happens. I mean don’t, because that wouldn’t be good. But if you do, no problem. I can handle it.”

To which I replied: “Good, because I have a medical condition that causes me to faint.”

Usually people freak out <just a pinch> at this point. Not Clinique Lady. Clearly that was some really top-notch training she attended. She stops what she’s doing, looks me in the eyes and says, in all seriousness:

“It’s ok. You’re safe here.”

Which made me kind of laugh. A lot. And not just on the inside…

It was so sweet! So earnest! Clinique really is my happy place!

My mom figured this was a sign of me cracking up or entering some strange stage of severe allergic reaction and made me sit down at the poorly lit Estee Lauder counter in their makeover chair while she finished my transaction.

Luckily, the sight of my Polymorphous Light Erupted face was enough to keep their counter-keepers from spritzing perfume samples in my direction.

The Clinique Lady handled the whole thing exceptionally well and even brought my bag around to Estee Lauder for me so she could confirm that I wanted my Bonus Gift in the Violets color selection. Which I did, thanks. A+ marks for her!

Mom and I on the other hand? Well, let’s just say it was nice of Clinique Lady to tell me I was “safe here” because it calmed down my mounting panic considerably (Mom was Not Convinced) and I remembered to do my very important breathing exercises. Mom kept looking at me sideways and shaking her head. A lot.

You can’t blame us- we’ve never had an instance of actually watching this reaction erupt on my face before.

Usually, I have unprotected light exposure (SPF, kids, it’s important) and I get a little spot that grows over a 24-hour period. I can only imagine that this was different because, as I was leaning so intently over the brightly lit counter, the light (an uncovered light bulb) was magnified by the glass of the counter top and then reflected by no less than three mirrors, surrounding my poor lard-ed up face with a light beam so strong that I had an immediate allergic reaction to it.


I just really wanted to look at the pretty products…

What were we to do?

Well, we had to go into Costco to get peanut butter and Prilosec (not for me, in case you were wondering), and they have a fountain drink machine. We happened to have an empty Ziploc bag in the car, so we filled it up with ice cubes (#ThanksCostco) and I walked around Costco with an ice bag on my face for a little bit. I also drank a Coke. And we made bad jokes to keep from freaking out.

And you know what?

It worked!

The ice took the “burn” out of my face, and about 2 hours of icing later (we left the mall right after we got that family size PB&P combo) my PMLE went from a tomato face medical emergency to a small circle on my upper cheek that I have been assured is “not that noticeable”. The swelling subsided with a large dose of ibuprofen, and as long as I keep it in my system, I feel like maybe I’ll be ok.

Situation, contained.

The most ridiculous part of the whole thing? In the middle of our making-bad-jokes-marathon, Mom turns to me and goes, “Well at least you have something to write about for your blog tomorrow!”

Yes, yes, I do.


Tina Fey gets me.

Super glad that keeps happening.

Lessons learned:

Vanity is dangerous, darlings.

Wear sunscreen, even when shopping indoors.

Ice and Coca-Cola fix most things.

The Clinique counter is hazardous if you are allergic to light. (I may need to reconsider my post-retirement employment plan.)

However, their employees are exceptionally helpful.

And their gifts-with-purchase are kinda worth it.

clinique bonus 2014

It is a $70 value for goodness sakes.




7 thoughts on “That time I Polymorphous-Light-Erupted at the Clinique counter…

  1. abodyofhope says:

    Oh my goodness!!! Girl, what a trip!
    I’ll bet you gave Clinique lady something for HER blog too, lol. 😉 I wonder if she secretly wanted you to faint, just so she could take her skills out for a lil test run. You think?

    When I pierced ears, I had people faint on me once a week and it got pretty common place, so I could keep calm about about it, but still didn’t like it… I wish I had gotten a class 😦 You went to the RIGHT make-up counter.

    I loved this entry. Great writing. Lots of fun!

    • Breanne says:

      Also, reply to myself (?!), how do you do with the lighting there and your eyes and the scents? I usually run through a make-up/fragrance area because the lighting and smells flare me up big time!

  2. asouthernceliac says:

    Love how the Clinique Counter Lady handled it. Normally, people freak out when you tell them you’re about to faint. Also, you’ve just convinced me to wear my sunscreen. Always. Even in the dark. (I’ve never had a reaction to light THAT bad, but there’s a reason I spend most of my time indoors.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s