Yeah, I know I’m ugly… I said to a bartender, ‘Make me a zombie.’ He said ‘God beat me to it.’ —Rodney Dangerfield
Beauty is big business. Looking at revenue amounts for the billion-dollar industry don’t begin to fully embody the scope and reach of the behemoth that is Beauty. We’re surrounded by the messages, both pro, and con, on a daily basis. Regardless of one’s personal opinion, regimen, or gender, the onslaught of beauty-related messaging is downright ugly.
Consider, for example, that I can be sure that I will see a short video teasing some manner of beauty article every morning in my newsfeed. Today, it was Amanda Steele’s #GirlBoss Tricks to a Gorgeous Bold Brow on the Go published by Teen Vogue. The subject of the article, Amanda Steele, is a beauty blogger on YouTube. Beauty is one of the largest content areas on the video streaming site, rivaling gaming and music. There are teen beauty bloggers, black beauty bloggers, Latino beauty bloggers, Asian beauty bloggers, and even beauty bloggers for those who don’t like makeup. One might get the impression that people are a bit obsessed about beauty.
Then, people come along like Lena Dunham and Jemima Kirke who aim to upset the status quo by emphasizing a more natural, non-shaming approach to the subject. When this photo hit social media yesterday, the whole planet seemed to go rather berserk.
— National Post (@nationalpost) August 25, 2016
Great for them, right? It’s wonderful to have role models not afraid to be themselves, but the attention they received shows just how ugly the beauty business can get.
This Gets Personal
Not wearing makeup has become a “thing,” a movement, a trend, even a form of self-righteousness. Leading the battle, at least from a public standpoint, is singer/songwriter/grammy-winner Alicia Keys. She made her #NoMakeup campaign public last spring, but her continued refusal to wear makeup even as a judge on the television show The Voice has raised attention for the topic yet again. Yay for personal freedom! Yay for not covering up! Congratulations on being naturally beautiful enough to not be publicly condemned!
So, this really gets at all those beauty companies who make billions of dollars selling makeup, right? Think again. They simply shift tactics. Sephora even started offering “No makeup makeup” classes in some of its stores. Not wearing makeup doesn’t mean one stops taking care of their face. In fact, if one’s personal genetics leave one prone to oily skin, patchiness, or other issues, getting a no-makeup look that is as attractive as Ms. Keys might actually be more work than not wearing anything at all!
Then, there’s the whole matter of shaming in both directions. Recent studies from the University of Chicago and the University of California, Irvine, show that makeup and personal grooming are the primary factors in determining a young woman’s salary. Her skills might make her employable, but how she looks, which includes how well she wears makeup, determines at which end of the salary range she starts. What is ultimately being said that if you don’t wear makeup, you’re ugly. If you wear the wrong makeup, you’re ugly. But by all means, be yourself. How the fuck is someone supposed to make sense of that mess?
Whether or not one wears makeup, one still consumes beauty products and that’s where matters really get ugly. We pay a lot of attention to things that are supposedly helping our skin. Exfoliants and moisturizers, creams and lotions, and myriad other products are used by both men and women in abundance. What we too often don’t realize is that those products, not the makeup, are what cause one’s face to break out or appear blotchy or have patches of dryness. Even more frightening is that regulation for these products is practically non-existent. Beauty companies can put just about anything they want in a cleanser or a skin cream, and they often do.
One of the biggest issues of late has been the presence of microbeads in a number of products, especially soaps, shampoos, cleansers, and toothpaste. While they are technically illegal in the US, if one is buying their beauty products online, which a lot of people do, the actual source of the product might not be disclosed. The results are about as ugly as anything you’re going to find. Not only are the microbeads bad for your skin, they’re even worse for the environment. Microbeads don’t break down and can be ingested by even the smallest of marine life.
The problem of microplastics is so ugly that Britain’s Parliament recently called for a worldwide ban on microbeads. While microbeads are a small portion of a much larger problem, they pose a most direct and immediate threat to the larger number of people because they can be ingested without the consumer even having a clue that they’re present. The long-term effects have not been studied in humans, but microplastics are even being found on the bottom of the ocean floor. There’s an environmental disaster larger than your face looming here.
The Spirit of Caveat Emptor
Beauty has always been an industry that enjoys extremely little oversight in the United States. While the EU, for example, has banned or restricted over 1,400 substances from beauty products sold there, the US only has a complete ban on eleven. Eleven. No wonder beauty companies like doing business in the US so much. Anything goes! Even worse, we are so gullible that once a company starts touting the beauty benefits of a product, consumers start flocking to it without doing any investigation. We just grab new products and start slapping them on our skin without so much as reading the ingredients list. When our skin breaks out, or dries out, or cracks open and bleeds, we might complain to our friends, but we don’t do anything to stop that product from harming others.
Back in the spring of 2015, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced bill S.1014 – Personal Care Products Safety Act. The bill, in my opinion, is mild. It says, in part:
If the FDA determines that a cosmetic has a reasonable probability of causing serious adverse health consequences, it may prohibit the cosmetic’s distribution by suspending the cosmetic ingredient statement. If other cosmetics from the same facility may be affected, the FDA may prohibit distribution from the facility by suspending the facility’s registration.
One might have thought that the FDA already had the ability to stop dangerous cosmetic products, but it does not. Even within the definitions set down within this bill, were it to ever be passed, the FDA would only have to investigate four products a year!
Freedom To Be Stupid
Since being introduced in 2015, Bill S.1014 has gotten exactly one reading in the Senate and assigned to the committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Heaven forbid the US Senate to have a committee structure that makes a damn bit of sense. Since arriving in that committee, absolutely nothing has happened. There have been no hearings. No one has undertaken any kind of investigation. The United States Senate has done absolutely nothing. Beyond Congress’ current attitude of complete and utter obstructionism, the prevailing “wisdom” among our elected officials is that regulation takes away a corporation’s “freedom.” Since we now consider corporations as people, they are, supposedly, free to do whatever stupid thing they wish without government interference.
So, the beauty industry is free to be as ugly as they want. They can foist any ridiculous product on the market, including no-makeup makeup, and there’s practically nothing can be done to stop them. Sure, they claim to have the consumer’s best interest at heart. A number of them even signed on in support of Bill S.1014. Senator Feinstein’s website lists the following:
- Johnson & Johnson (brands include Neutrogena, Aveeno, Clean & Clear, Lubriderm, Johnson’s baby products)
- Procter & Gamble (brands include Pantene, Head & Shoulders, Clairol, Herbal Essences, Secret, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Ivory, Cover Girl, Olay, Sebastian Professional, Vidal Sassoon)
- Revlon (brands include Revlon, Almay, Mitchum)
- Estee Lauder (brands include Estée Lauder, Clinique, Origins, Tommy Hilfiger, MAC, La Mer, Bobbi Brown, Donna Karan, Aveda, Michael Kors)
- Unilever (brands include Dove, Tresemme, Lever, St. Ives, Noxzema, Nexxus, Pond’s, Suave, Sunsilk, Vaseline, Degree)
- L’Oreal (brands include L’Oréal Paris, Lancome, Giorgio Armani, Yves Saint Laurent, Kiehl’s, Essie, Garnier, Maybelline-New York, Vichy, La Roche-Posay, The Body Shop, Redken)
Yet, for all the talk, no one is actually doing anything to actively protect consumers. The entire beauty industry is bent on convincing us that we’re ugly, even while telling us that we’re beautiful from the inside out.
The Battle Is Yours
Fuck waiting on Congress to do anything. This battle is your own. Whether you wear makeup or don’t wear makeup is irrelevant. Everyone consumes some form of beauty product, whether it be soap or toothpaste or moisturizer. That means everyone is potentially at risk. The industry is not looking out for you. The government isn’t looking out for you. You have to look out for yourself.
Best line of defense: talk to a professional. I know Kat has a list of products she recommends as does Danelle French. Either of them will discuss the particular needs of your skin and help direct you toward products that are not likely to leave you in worse shape than when you started. Take control of the situation for yourself.
The world of beauty really is an ugly business that too often runs akin to the snake oil salesmen of the 19th century. Dangers lurk everywhere. Take care of yourself.