Like the average person who grew up in the hellscape of American capitalism, I am not immune to a gimmick. And that’s exactly why I found myself intrigued by the idea of Oscar Mayer’s new bologna-themed, moisturizing face masks, intended to tap into the nostalgia of those times that you acted like a total freak and put lunch meat on your face to amuse your friends.
I was not the only person enticed by the lure of lunchmeat-themed skincare products — the masks sold out in a matter of hours on Amazon, according to CNN Business, becoming one of the top-selling new items in the beauty category. There was something uniquely compelling about the sheer absurdity of Oscar Mayer making a foray into the skincare market. I imagined marketing executives sitting around in an hours-long meeting trying to figure out ways to make the brand seem relevant on social media, and out of sheer boredom one of them put a slice of bologna on their face and a stunt was born.
Though I did not snag one in the initial retail launch, I was able to obtain a bologna face mask from a publicist for Kraft Heinz, the multinational food conglomerate that owns Oscar Mayer, and set out to sate my morbid curiosity about whether or not a company that purveys processed meats could actually make a decent skincare product. More than that, I wondered if it would inspire those feelings of bologna-faced lunchroom nostalgia, or simply provide a brief, if silly, distraction from the mundanity of being stuck inside my apartment during yet another COVID wave.
To be sure, this product’s branding is spot-on. The packaging looks just like a package of Oscar Mayer deli meat, the key exception being a message printed in large red text on the back that reads “DO NOT EAT BOLOGNA MASKS.” The mask itself looks like many other sheet masks of its type, made by Korean company Seoul Mamas, which produces similar products for top tier brands like Neiman Marcus and Ritz-Carlton Spas. The mask itself is constructed from a bizarrely slick “hydrogel” that’s infused with ingredients like witch hazel, a common astringent toner, hydrolyzed collagen, and whatever the fuck polymethylsilsequioxane is, among other ingredients.
When I removed it from the package, the first thing I noticed was the smell. I admit that I was slightly disappointed that Oscar Mayer hadn’t really leaned in and made the mask smell like actual bologna, though in hindsight I imagine no one would want to try it if it reeked of an old sandwich. Instead, the scent was lightly floral and pleasant, something you might expect in a typical skincare product not inspired by a paste of ground-up pork parts.
The mask’s light pink color, on the other hand, was much more evocative of my elementary school lunch box. It’s pinker than real bologna, but still looks unsettlingly like the flesh of something that was once alive, especially when applied to my actual face. Following the instructions on the packaging, I painstakingly peeled away the protective backing and applied the mask — split into two pieces, one for the top of my face and another for the bottom — for what I assumed would be 20 minutes, as recommended.
I stepped away from my laptop, put some lo-fi beats on YouTube, and tried to find a moment of midday zen, and immediately felt like a complete idiot. Once applied, the mask made my face look like it was dripping in peeling flesh, and the alcohols and fragrances in the mask started to sting after only a few minutes. Despite feeling perpetually cool to the touch on its own, the mask warmed as it lingered on my face, and I found myself a bit queasy. Somehow, it was worse than all those times I’d slapped a slice of deli turkey on my face in the elementary school lunchroom, and there are few sensations more revolting than the feeling of lukewarm lunch meat on your skin.
Over the past several years, the Brands have scraped desperately for relevance, and merch has been a big part of that. Popeyes and Taco Bell are making bikinis now, even Cheez-Its have their own web store where fans can buy hoodies, blankets, and socks decorated with the logo of their favorite snack. That makes sense, people love to show off where their loyalties lie. But there’s something that feels uniquely bleak about the idea of purchasing a bologna-shaped face mask for the sole purpose of making Content. At least once the trends die down, you can still wear socks.
After only about 10 minutes, when the stinging sensation had really started to rev up — I pulled the mask away from my face and discarded it on its own foil packaging. Instead of delighting in the irreverence, I was just a dork. Why did I try to find some kind of self-care moment in a brand’s goofy gimmick, and why was I so quick to buy into the idea of skincare products from a company that knows jack shit about them? I went looking for a lunch meat brand to solve my pandemic boredom, and I just ended up slightly more depressed.