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The Kids Cosmetic Market Is Not Alright
The Don’t Buy List: Issue #63
Hello, dewy dust bunnies, and welcome to another edition of the The Don’t Buy List! Stock in E.l.f. Beauty fell last week when the brand’s creative agency, Movers+Shakers, was revealed to have ties to the NXIVM cult. Co-founders Evan Horowitz and Geoffrey Goldberg “confirmed they participated in a leadership training course that was run by the cult,” according to AdAge. Much of the apparent NXIVM-E.l.f. overlap comes down to the concept of joy: NXIVM leader Keith Raniere preached about “the science of joy,” and E.l.f. pushed more joy-themed marketing messages after partnering with Movers+Shakers.
This language isn’t exclusive to E.l.f., though — it permeates the entire industry. Maybe because beauty culture is cultish and rooted in emotional manipulation and structured like a multi-level marketing scheme? Also… I can’t help but wonder if this is how E.l.f. managed to convince former makeup-free advocate Alicia Keys to start her very own, very very cult message-y makeup brand!! (Keys Soulcare is owned by E.l.f.)
Anyway! This edition of The Don’t Buy List is juicier than a tube of (cult-favorite) Dior Lip Glow Oil. Read on for:
Skincare obsession as “dermorexia”
Dior’s skincare line for babies
The industry’s response to the Israel-Palestine conflict
Post-human beauty standards
The FDA’s ban on hair relaxers
The cancer patients suing L’Oreal
The scam of beauty advent calendars
When good hair is anti-fat
When boys want to be pretty too
Goop & Vogue <3 Amazon
Here’s a disturbing article for you, via the Cut: “‘They Always Say the Younger You Start, the Better’: For some teens, the fight against aging skin is already underway. What are they fighting for?” I think it’s time to name the condition this piece describes (extensive anti-aging skincare routines at 12, teens consulting dermatologists about cosmetic procedures). Dermorexia? Obsessive Cosmetic Disorder? I don’t suggest illness-coded terms lightly; this behavior is disordered and harmful. It negatively affects skin health (reminder: the skin is part of the immune system) and mental health. If you’re skeptical, consider the relatively new term orthorexia, which was coined in the late ‘90s to describe an obsession with health, wellness, or exercise and took off as a clinical diagnosis as the health, wellness, and fitness industries grew to define American culture in the 2010s. The same is happening with beauty today. It warrants medical attention.
I’m also not convinced the motivation for skincare-obsessed teens is anti-aging so much as pro-avatar. Virtual technology is arguably the biggest influence on beauty standards today — Instagram Face, “Filter Serum,” et al. — and the hallmark of an online avatar is that it’s frozen in time and space. It’s not human, not alive, not aging. There is significant overlap between idealized tech and idealized youth, so the output is pretty much the same. But I do think the input may be different?
Dior released a luxury skincare line for babies. (Also, a $230 infant perfume.) As I told the hilarious and appropriately horrifiedwhen I heard the news: Existentially, it makes me want to exit my corporeal form. Scientifically, it’s the worst possible thing you can do to a baby’s developing skin microbiome. I predict we’ll see epidemic levels of inflammatory skin conditions in adolescents about 10 years from now (and the skincare industry will love it).
Customers are boycotting Selena Gomez’s beauty brand, Rare Beauty, over its response to the conflict in Gaza. The company announced it would donate to a number of humanitarian organizations, emphasized a desire to “protect … “Palestinian civilians,” then specified that some of its donations would go to Magen David Adom — a government EMS organization in Israel that acts as “an auxiliary service to the Israeli Defense Forces in time of war,” per its website.
With that in mind, I’m surprised “Beauty4Israel” got such positive press? The sale, which was organized by beauty editors, solicited product donations from premium brands like Cle de Peau, Dr. Dennis Gross, and Peter Thomas Roth and procedure donations from plastic surgeons — and a portion of proceeds also went to Magen David Adom (which, again, “works in cooperation with” the IDF). Personally, I find “nose jobs for Israel” to be a stomach-turning manifestation of the military-industrial-complex-to-beauty-industrial-complex pipeline but that’s just me!!
Still, the beauty industry has mostly been silent re: the Hamas terror attack in Gaza and Israel’s attacks on Palestine. “I have always been proud that the beauty industry has been at the forefront of social justice and activism … I’m disappointed by the overwhelming silence about the terrorist attacks and I hope the beauty industry will speak up,” Natasha Cornstein, the CEO of Blushington, told WWD. The thing is, the beauty industry is not and has never been at the forefront of social justice, lol. Its offerings stem from and uphold systems of discrimination (sexism, ageism, racism, colorism, antisemitism, etc.). And sure, the industry has adopted a facade of “inclusivity” in recent years, but this version of “inclusivity” functionally promotes exclusivity. Like… “Ageism for all” is not a progressive take. Hyperpigmentation-clearing lasers for dark skin do not support overall diversity. A sale on “nose jobs against antisemitism” doesn’t end antisemitism. A surface-level aesthetic of social justice is not social justice. The beauty industry “helps” people assimilate into inherently oppressive frameworks, thereby enabling and normalizing said frameworks. Colonialism is the source of so many of the standards it sells. Staying silent as “a textbook case of genocide unfold[s] in front of our eyes” is completely in line with its values.
“F.D.A. Plans to Ban Hair Straighteners With Formaldehyde,” reports the New York Times. “The products, often marketed to Black women, have been linked to an increased risk of uterine cancer.”
Related: “Thousands of Black women claim hair relaxers gave them cancer” and brands like Revlon and L’Oreal are facing over 7,000 lawsuits as a result. L’Oreal has responded, in part, by claiming “its hair relaxers have a ‘rich heritage and history’ originating with Black inventors and entrepreneurs,” Reuters reports — because if the potential poison was created by a Black inventor before studies suggested a correlation with cancer, it’s fine for L’Oreal’s mostly white executives to continue to profit off it decades later, I guess?
“Dark Wellness Novels Turn Beauty Obsession Into A Cult,” Madeline Howard reports for NYLON. I talked to Howard for the piece, which covers the recent boom of body horror fiction — Natural Beauty by Ling Ling Huang, Rouge by Mona Awad, etc. She writes:
The books are all creatively admirable, making each a worthwhile read, but the common thread is their use of cults as the vehicle for societal critique. Though in truth, the books’ premises aren’t “particularly fantastical,” Jessica DeFino, beauty industry critic and founder of The Unpublishable newsletter, tells NYLON. Through today’s popular cosmetic surgeries, “you are literally sacrificing a part of your body to become more beautiful, according to cultural definitions of beauty,” she says, citing procedures such as buccal fat removal, fat transfers, and blepharoplasty.
In our society, “white supremacy is the ultimate cult,” DeFino says. In both Natural Beauty and Rouge, as the women progress further into the cult system, they look physically brighter (read: whiter) in skin tone and their facial features morph toward eurocentrism — the process literally erasing race. This is unsurprising, and again, not particularly fantastical, given the very real $8 billion global skin whitening industry. It also highlights the pervasiveness of what DeFino says is a “Frankenstein-ing of features,” where companies capitalize on the manufactured popularity of co-opted ingredients, rituals, and bodily attributes of various ethno-racial groups when it’s financially beneficial."
Fans are celebrating how much they’re “saving” — but the takeaway here is that these products pretty much have no value. Cosmetic companies create advent calendars because advent calendars are profitable. If you spend $280 on a Cult Beauty set containing items that retail for $1,344, it means the items likely cost less than $280 to produce. (This tracks; margins can be as high as 90 percent in the beauty industry.)
Goop recently added a lower-priced skincare and wellness line called good.clean.goop to its portfolio. It’s sold on Amazon. And it’s like… imagine having as much money and influence as Gwyneth Paltrow and still deciding to partner with Amazon…
Namwali Serpell uses gender-specific beauty norms to question gender-specific writing styles in the New York Review of Books:
“I learned a new word the other day: clocky. It describes someone who doesn’t pass as their (chosen) gender. It originated in the trans community and comes from the idea of “clocking” or recognizing something. Its use can be dysphoric or derogatory, a way to express the disappointment of missing the mark or to throw an insult back at transphobes. But lately, as the gender spectrum expands to include more ambiguous varieties, clocky has become a bit of a compliment. What a great word! I thought. It rolls off the tongue. It’s tongue-in-cheek. It has a little bite. Plus it rhymes with cocky—which makes for a lucky pun whichever way you spin it.”
Read the full piece — “Such Womanly Touches” — here.
Told you “inhuman” was gonna be the look of the year.
Speaking of… “Model says her face was edited with AI to look white: ‘It’s very dehumanizing,’” the Guardian reports.
More Recommended Reading:
“Young Men Seek Answers to an Age-Old Question: How to Be Hot” by Joseph Bernstein for the New York Times
“Why beauty can’t quit talking about anti-ageing” by Kati Chitrakorn for Vogue Business
“#GetReadyWithMe - how social media came for our bathroom cabinets” by Elle Hunt for the Guardian
Finally, I’ll leave you with this tweet:
You’re Gonna Die Someday No Matter How Young You Look,