Why Beauty Brands Need to Wake Up and Clean Their Mess
Senior Sourcing Officer (Myntra Fashion Brands)
Myntra Jabong Pvt. Ltd.
Dept. of Fashion Technology,
National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT)
Beauty industry is quite ironically one of the ugliest industries in the world. Under the glamorous shadow of skincare and make-up, lie over-exploited resources, toxic chemicals and innocent animals, tortured and killed for the purpose of raw materials, testing, whatnot.
Let’s begin with some shocking facts:
- It was estimated in 2016 that 20,000 children were working in illegal and life threatening mica mining regions of Jharkhand and neighboring Bihar. Mica is used as a “natural” ingredient for all the glitter in makeup products.
- It is estimated that between 15 and 51 trillion microplastic particles have accumulated in the ocean. The beauty scrubs, cleansing beads make up for a huge amount of these microplastic pollution particles.
- Unlike other industries in the market that take advantage of our positive feelings to sell us something, the beauty industry takes advantage of low self-esteem.
If this has made you wonder what we humans have been thinking all this while, we’d suggest you take a deep breath, get in a comfortable position and read on as we dig a little deeper.
Beauty and the environment:
When a brand labels a product as “natural”, we all get blinded by the tag and forget that natural things have a cost too. Let’s take palm oil for example, a staple in the beauty industry. It is used in the making of more than half of the beauty products. The rising demand is forcing farmers to clear out forests and replace them with palm oil plantations. They’re also resorting to unethical farming practices, thus harming the environment. The Oprah Magazine states that indiscriminate palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia has decimated rainforests, and research indicates that deforestation releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than all the cars and trucks in the world combined.
Less than 20% of the palm oil plantation worldwide is sustainable. In fact, during the very first decade of the 21st century, Indonesian palm oil production caused 268 million tons of carbon emissions.
“Indiscriminate palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia has decimated rainforests, and research indicates that deforestation releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than all the cars and trucks in the world combined.”
-April Long, for The Oprah Magazine
Heavy metals and toxic derivatives are wrongfully being used in a lot of products. Lead, a common ingredient for products like eyeshadow and kohl, can cause severe brain damage and nerve injury. Coal tar dyes are also used for these products as it is great at tinting, but can cause skin/eye irritation. Asbestos, a carcinogen, is being used in trace amounts in a shocking number of products without regulation. A lot of nail and hair styling products release formaldehyde into the atmosphere, which in turn comes back to us in the form of the air we breathe, causing respiratory issues like asthma.
Next up as part of the “all natural” tag are mineral rocks that are being over-exploited. Mica is a resource that is used in all your shimmery products. India makes up for more than 60% of the global mica production, with majority of it coming from the states of Bihar and Jharkhand. Despite being such mineral-rich places, the population is very poor. Slavery and child labor is common for people here. Refinery29 recently came up with a shocking video, that shows that children as young as 5 are out in mines, chiseling mica in conditions harsh enough for adults, let alone kids. It is not surprising for a mine shaft to collapse over there. Think about someone being under there when that happens. Guess what? It actually does happen. A lot.
Beauty and pollution:
Wastewater is one of the biggest issues in most of the industries out there. It is not being used or treated properly before disposal. Everything in nature works on balance, so it’s only fair that we return whatever it is that we’re consuming. Taking up all of the fresh-water and returning toxic waste-water is not really justified, right? Wastewater usually contains high concentrations of harmful chemicals, metals and plastic microbeads amongst various other things that pollutes water bodies greatly and affects marine life. Oil and grease, used to give a creamy texture to creams and washes, forms a layer over water bodies. This prevents natural light to enter and also affects the oxygen dissolving process. All in all, these things also get ingested and become a permanent waste in our ecosystem.
These were just natural ingredients that we looked at. Going towards synthetic materials, the situation is even more grave. Plastic Oceans International states that more than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in our oceans every year so let’s start with plastic microbeads. Basically, microbeads are small solid plastic particles, around or less than 5mm in diameter. They are a common constituent of scrubs and polishes. They act as exfoliators as they don’t dissolve in water and can rub the dirt off our skin. Considering that they’re so tiny, they easily escape drainage filtration systems and enter water bodies. Fish, birds and other aquatic species end up ingesting them and it enters their system. Up as we climb the food chain, it reaches us. Granted that plastic is a valuable resource if used correctly, but it is being used currently in highly unsustainable and polluting ways.
All of these atrocities are packed in a pretty container, made out of plastic more often than not. Over a 100 billion plastic packaging units are produced every year. Companies put in extra efforts to make the packaging fancy and pretty. They weigh down the cases to make them feel more luxurious, making them worthless in the process by turning them into non-recyclable plastic. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 70% of all plastic packaging goes into landfill. This sort of packaging is shamefully marketing at its best, but vigilance at its worst.
You might want to check this out too: https://youtu.be/pfq000AF1i8
Beauty and animals:
All sorts of animal derived ingredients are used in beauty products. In fact, some of them are disguised under such fancy names that the consumer is unable to recognize. Gelatin or ‘gel’, has become a household name now, but not many know that it is obtained from boiling animals’ skins, ligaments and bones. Surely people wouldn’t be massaging their favorite creams onto their skin, if they knew where it was actually coming from.
Cochineal beetles are crushed to obtain bright red dyes, used for lipsticks and blushing powders. Fish scales and crushed are layered to create glossy, shimmery make-up products that everyone is so obsessed with.
Estrogen used in perfumes to give that charming ‘feminine scent’, is extracted from the urine of pregnant monkeys and horses. In fact, they’re chained and kept pregnant consistently for a long period of time, to maintain the supply of this hormone. If you’re not grossed out already, let’s talk about lanolin. It is the greasy build up scraped off the skin of animals that have a heavy fur coat. As disgusting as it is, it is found in most make-up removers and lipsticks out there.
Animal testing is simply a very cruel, unnecessary thing that many industries have made a necessity over the years. Products need to be tested for reaction to repeated usage, so as for us to be able to use them safely. Simple day to day products like shampoos and soaps, are tested on innocent creatures. Rabbits or monkeys are shaved and the product is rubbed onto their skin or dripped into their eyes for estimating the level of toxicity of the product. These chemicals often cause severe skin burns and rashes, that make the poor creatures cry out in pain.
Animals are also force-fed products to study health hazards/illnesses that develop over a period of time or even for determining the “lethal dose” of the product. Newly developed products are shoved into their mouths till they die. If the same thing were done to a human, there would be a huge human rights scene going on! How is it even fair to do this on those mute creatures!
Beauty and the society:
For decades, the beauty industry has set ridiculous standards for women and many of us have fallen prey to it. Be it body shaming, fair skin, red lips, thigh gap, literally whatever it took to meet their topline numbers. We need to understand that whatever we see in flashy magazines is highly fabricated and is practically unrealistic.
A researched conducted by Dove showed that only 11% of women globally are comfortable describing themselves as ‘beautiful’. 72% of them feel tremendous pressure to be ‘beautiful’.
On one side there are women of color trying to get ‘white’, while the fairer ones are all about the ‘sunkissed tan’ look. Makeup has taken over to an extent that it is being used to create a ‘no-makeup look’. There are countless diets being prescribed, no matter how unhealthy or harmful, for getting super thin frames. There are curvy women wanting to get the slim ‘model’ like look, and slim females trying to achieve the curvy ‘hourglass’ figure. The priceless journey of growing old is frowned upon with the emergence of anti-aging products and wrinkle creams and age defying serums. In this race with no end, we hardly stop to think about the intrinsic natural beauty we carry. We often have a negative feeling for our looks when we don’t have makeup on.
Regulations and the beauty industry:
The beauty industry has more or less been self-regulated for a long time. The concerning growth of health issues have finally managed to seek attention and call for more rules. With growing awareness, govt bodies have passed some laws that limit the flexibility of this industry. Now, it is unacceptable to have misleading, adulterated or incorrectly labeled products in the market. Also, many countries have banned the sale of cosmetics that have been tested on animals. Microplastics and microbeads have been banned in countries like the US, Canada and the UK that have realised the threat they pose. This specific industry is strongly a consumer-driven one. Hopefully, with the increasing awareness, sales of beauty products will get continue getting more and more regulated and laws regarding safety concerns will be difficult to avoid.
“In a huge victory for animals, the European Union (EU), Israel, and India have banned the sale of any cosmetics or cosmetics ingredients that have been tested on animals. These marketing bans mean that companies all around the world will have to abandon animal testing for cosmetics they want to sell in these huge markets.”
What is being done now?
If you’ve made it this far with us, surely your mood must be quite sour. To cheer you up a little, do remember that you hold the power to bring in change. The wave has already started with brands becoming more conscious about their supply chains and products.
- Companies are also trying to go sustainable with their packaging by using recyclable plastic or chucking it altogether for materials like glass and metal, that can be reused or recycled easily.
- Zero-waste stores are coming up where people can themselves go and refill their used product containers.
- Make-up brands like Hourglass Cosmetics and Surratt Beauty are offering refills at lower prices, with packaging so beautiful that they’re definitely a keepsake.
- Unilever, the parent company to major beauty brands like Dove and Pond’s, has promised to use only sustainably produced palm oil and reduce their water consumption for manufacturing of their products.
- L’Oreal has publicly committed to going deforestation free by the year 2020 and they’re also switching to renewable energy for their production.
Most of the new beauty brands coming up in the market, are building their foundation around sustainability and natural, vegan options.
What can you do?
Nature has always taken care of us. It’s about time we did the same. Be a responsible consumer and aware about whatever goes into your body and onto your skin. It’s rightly said that we need to bring the change that we want to see. Take up the challenge to eliminate harmful products from your shelves. Opt for DIY products made from locally sourced ingredients. Read the description on your product bottle carefully. Scout for brands that are transparent about their production and are truly promoting conscious beauty. Say no to plastic and yes to recycling. Spread the message to friends and family. Go green, be sustainable and stay happy!
p.s.For all the horrible stats we made you read, here’s a little something to make you smile!
You might want to check this out too: https://youtu.be/etAUOxS_178
Beauty industry has been more or less self-regulated for so long that they have overexploited everything at their disposal. From harming the environment to torturing animals, it’s ironically one of the ugliest industries.
Founder & Editor of Textile Learner. He is a Textile Consultant, Blogger & Entrepreneur. He is working as a textile consultant in several local and international companies. He is also a contributor of Wikipedia.