Should the makeup industry be stopped to put an end to its unethical messes, enlarged to promote social awareness and be a role model to other highly industrial societies, or simply remain untouched?
by Aashna Chudgar
Every day, millions of people turn to makeup for everyday wear, self and gender expression, art, confidence, cosmetology, and so much more. But as more statements come out, we realize that the makeup industry has been covering up more than just blemishes.
Makeup is a highly profitable industry. From small lipgloss businesses to designer brands, the revenues generated from the beauty industry sustain the economies of any country that has the privilege to be an importer, exporter, or manufacturer. It’s a tool that started out as a cultural or traditional statement, from the dark Kohl of the Egyptians to the red lipsticks of Asia and the powdered faces of Europe. Makeup at first was made from natural ingredients such as berries and charcoal, but the industry has since transitioned to using dozens of artificial pigments and shimmers to mass-produce glamorous substances.
Now, the controversy surrounding the makeup industry is quite notable. Makeup has a history of an unethical past, using child labor and animal testing, as well as unethical ingredients that prove to be atmospherically and medically devastating. On the other hand, makeup has been a great catalyst of social progress. Makeup industries have destroyed racial segregation and gender norms through their diverse users, as well as being environmentally progressive.
So this brings us to our Trilemma: should the makeup industry be stopped to put an end to its unethical messes, enlarged to promote social awareness and be a role model to other highly industrial societies, or simply remain untouched? Let’s find out.
The Modernist Perspective
In our modern world, there are two things we strive to preserve: our planet and our people. Especially in the United States, most countries have a history of inequality and discrimination. However, makeup has proven to be a bridge to people of all colors and genders. According to The Medium, Fenty Beauty, to name one company, has released a matte foundation line that has 40 different shades, being one of the leading companies involving racial inclusivity. Art for Change has publicized, “how the art of makeup can be used to raise awareness around topics including gay pride, cervical cancer and anti-bullying – while promoting love and empowerment at the same time”. Mental and medical health, as well as social awareness, have been largely spread using makeup and the causes it raises money for. According to The Photo Studio, since 2016, the makeup industry has worked hard to include Black and Asian women in their products, including L’oreal Paris, and have openly promoted men and gender non-conforming individuals of all sexualities to participate in the art of makeup, including BM Cosmetics. Covergirl, for example, was the first makeup company ever to have a gay man be their spokesperson. Makeup has destroyed a lot of social boundaries that hold humanity back.
Not to mention, makeup is also extremely environmentally progressive. According to CosmeticBusiness, 33.5% of beauty companies use all-natural ingredients, 20.6% use botanic, or plant-derived, ingredients, and 20.2% use all organic ingredients. Using natural ingredients rather than artificial plastics is an important aspect of any production industry, and we can applaud makeup for this. 20% use free from claims, for example, no parabens (preservatives), and 18.6% are fragrance-free. Again, denouncing artificial production is extremely important, and the nature of these products is much more earthly. And finally, 18.2% are cruelty-free, and 11.4% use recyclable packaging. Holding animal and plant life to be equal to human life is an important value to have, and we can see these important values in the makeup industry.
The Realist Perspective
Although the front of the makeup industry does headline the progressive parts of its production, the basis of cruelty and devastation it’s built on will never completely go away. The reason the makeup industry has been given an unethical reputation is because of the way two reasons: the way it tests its products, and the way it sources ingredients, particularly Mica. According to Scholars UNH, many companies including Clinique and Estee Lauder use animals to test products that use toxic chemicals and keep them in horrible conditions. This is especially troubling considering that there are around 10,000 ingredients used in the industry, but only 10% of them have any documented safety reports. The other troubling humanistic aspect of makeup is how it sources Mica. According to The Medium, Mica is used in all bronzers and blushes, 40% of mascaras, and 60% of foundations. It’s what gives highlighting products their shimmer. It’s sourced by African and Indian child labor, where 20,000 children, some under the age of 5, are severely underpaid and forced to walk great lengths to mines where they harvest silicate and Mica. These children are prone to diseases and suffer from malnourishment. Mica is also untraceable, meaning makeup companies actively hide it when they receive Mica from child labor. This makes buying any kind of makeup dangerous and risky because you don’t know what you’re supporting.
Now that we’ve covered the people, let’s talk about the planet. Palm oil is an ingredient found in almost any beauty product in the world, not to mention there’s a good chance you’ve consumed some of this crude oil before. According to The Medium, “In Malaysian Borneo, palm oil production has accounted for 57–69% of deforestation from 1972–2015, destroying the species-rich rainforests in the process. This has not only led to 99% less tree diversity compared to natural forests but has also devastated the wildlife within the region. This sadly includes endangered species like orangutans, gibbons, and tigers”. Palm oil exists in 2,000 different variations, all cheap to produce, so make sure to thoroughly check your shampoo’s ingredient list next time you go to the store.
The Neutral Perspective
There are pros and cons to every industry, and makeup is no exception. While the unethical systems in place in makeup production cannot be dismissed, the social progress that has been achieved through makeup is impressive. The environmental, humanitarian, and social effects of makeup, both the good and the bad, have had a global influence on people from all walks, and the steady progress we’re seeing in the world is the stability we haven’t seen in years. Perhaps keeping makeup the way it is will prove to be beneficial in the long run.
The takeaways from both sides of this argument are things we can implement into our daily lives. Fighting for humanitarian justice by volunteering and donating to charities like UNICEF and Save the Children is something that anyone can do to ensure that every child in this world can have the future they deserve. Encouraging racial and gender diversity not only in the catwalk but in the workplace and schools, can seriously help someone feel included in a world where they’ve known too many people that are against them?
So what do you think? Is makeup a beauty or a beast?