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The Don't Buy List: Beauty Anxiety, ScarJo Skincare, & Shutting The F*ck Up About The Sun
Plus, the questionable power of SK-II Pitera Essence.
Hello, dewy dust bunnies, and welcome to another edition of The Don’t Buy List. This column is usually for Paid Eyes Only, but since The Unpublishable had so many new sign-ups over the past two weeks — thanks Maybe Baby! — I figured, what the hell? Why not give all the New Kids on the Beauty Chopping Block a freebie? So please, all of you, join me in analyzing these vintage makeup ads I found on Pinterest:
Oh, there’s much to unpack here. The cognitive dissonance of “THIS IS NOT MAKE-UP” on an ad for... makeup! The tagline “Self-Realization: Now you can do it too with cosmetics”!! The phrase “lipsticks can change you”!!! This copy is completely unhinged, yes? (Yes.) And yet… it’s not entirely dated. I mean, what is the modern insistence that injectables are a form of self-care if not “THIS IS NOT ADHERENCE TO A HARMFUL BEAUTY STANDARD”? What is Confidence In A Cream if not “Confidence: Now you can do it too with cosmetics”?? What is the Simone Biles SK-II commercial — in which the gymnast bizarrely proclaims that using Pitera Essence makes her feel “on top of the world, like I can do anything” — if not “skincare can change you”??? (Honestly, I cannot get over this commercial. Like… really? Are you sure that feeling is coming from your toner and not your world-class athletic talent??) Anyway!
The celebrities, please, they still need to be stopped. Scarlett Johansson announced she’s launching a skincare brand in 2022. Her co-founder told WWD that the line “fills a void in the market and addresses a true consumer need,” but I cannot for the life of me fathom 1) what void exists in the already-oversaturated skincare space that 2) a wealthy white woman could possibly fill. Cleansers for Woody Allen supporters? Inclusive formulas that work for any person, any tree, any animal? We shall see! (But we shall not buy.)
Influencer Lauren Evarts Bosstick released a “skincare” book called Get The Fuck Out of the Sun. Unless you are one of the scary little children from The Others, this is very bad (albeit very popular) advice. The sun is a literal force of life-giving energy. It is essential to your existence. It’s good for your mood. It’s good for your immune system. It’s good for your sebum production. It’s good for your gut bugs. It’s good for your pineal gland, which regulates melatonin, which regulates sleep, which stimulates skin repair. All of the above contribute to healthy, high-functioning skin. “Get the fuck out of the sun” is a pandering extension of the “you don’t deserve to live if you don’t reapply three fingers of SPF every two hours” extremism that’s taken over mainstream beauty media. It’s a deeply privileged and colonialist perspective that demonizes nature and positions humans as separate from it. Yes, you should obviously protect yourself from excess UV exposure — the American Cancer Society recommends seeking shade first, wearing protective clothing second, and applying SPF third (as SPF is clearly a fallible product produced by fallible humans) — but Get The Fuck Out Of The Sun can get the fuuuck out of here with this fear-mongering, mob-appeasing, trendy-but-not-true sales-grab of a title.
You need to read “Beauty Anxiety” from Haley Nahman’s newsletter, Maybe Baby. Trust me, you just do. “Spending hours every week putting on makeup and counting my calories, straightening some of my hair and shaving the rest of it—these became sources of pleasure for me because they relieved my self-hatred,” she writes. “I knew the relief wouldn’t last, but the fact that it came at all was enough. It was like living paycheck to paycheck, only the labor was self-beautification and the currency was self-worth.” Oof. Yes. So good. Follow it up with the corresponding Maybe Baby podcast episode “Who Gets To Be Beautiful?” — featuring yours truly! In it, Haley and I discuss makeup as a coping mechanism, and the pseudo-science of skincare, and the costs and benefits of divesting from beauty standards. (While the podcast is behind a paywall, I can personally assure you the weekly episodes are well worth $5/month.)
Speaking of impossible beauty standards, Kim Kardashian recently claimed her family doesn’t contribute to them. (Ha!) Not surprising: Sentient beings everywhere reacted with a collective eye roll. Somewhat surprising: InStyle and Harper’s BAZAAR reacted with “Agree to disagree” and “Sure, Kim,” respectively, which I guess is less surprising and more… ironic? Hypocritical? Worthy of a “this you”? If Kim K & Kompany model unattainable beauty standards, then InStyle and BAZAAR distribute them to the masses with articles like Kim Kardashian West Swears By This $10 Anti-Aging Serum, Inside Kim Kardashian's Strict Diet and Exercise Plan, Kim Kardashian's Nutritionist Just Shared Her Top Dieting Secrets, and Kim Kardashian's Complete Beauty Evolution. That the masses keep clicking — which keeps this kind of content in circulation, which keeps the Kardashians relevant, which perpetuates these bullshit ideals — is a (touchy) topic for another newsletter.
Related: I just pre-ordered All Made Up: The Power and Pitfalls of Beauty Culture, from Cleopatra to Kim Kardashian by Rae Nudson. It comes out on July 13 — who’s reading it with me?
As reported by CNN, a new study found that 52% of makeup products tested contained PFAS — bio-accumulative chemicals linked to cancer, thyroid disease, liver damage, fertility issues, and hormone disruption. The bigger issue (in my opinion) is that 88% of those products didn’t list any PFAS-indicating ingredients on their labels… meaning either some shady shit is going on behind-the-scenes of the beauty industry, or this chemical contamination is tricky to track. (Probably both, per CNN.) The solution, then, is less about “clean” ingredients at the individual/brand levels and more about transparent sourcing, traceable supply chains, product testing, and environmental regulation at the government/FDA levels. Of course, the government has allowed PFAS usage to run rampant in plenty of other industries for decades, and the FDA is a fairly useless (at best) and corrupt (at worst) organization — even the Harvard Center for Ethics thinks so! — so we’ll see where that goes, I guess? Until PFAS and cosmetics are properly regulated, the simplest way to lower your exposure to potentially harmful products is to use fewer products. Bonus: Using less is also better for your skin! And your finances! And the planet! Wait… what’s the point of beauty products, again?? (And for all you froggy little freaks who defend cosmetic chemicals as if they were dear friends — “This study doesn’t matter because PFAS are everywhere, the amount in these products is negligible, there are more PFAS in the air we breathe, blah blah blah” — please refer to this Instagram thread from green chemistry lab Evolved by Nature. PFAS are everywhere because we put them in stuff… like cosmetics… which wash off our faces… and enter the water supply… and circulate in the ecosystem forever… because PFAS don’t biodegrade… so even small amounts add up over time. Don’t you just love science?!)
Where Are All The Brown Hands? That was the headline of the first-ever issue of this newsletter, an investigation into the blindingly white Instagram feeds of the biggest nail care companies in the business. Last week, British Vogue nodded at the article’s one-year anniversary (!!) with a feature on Brown Girl Hands, an Instagram account and product photography studio that SCAD student Hannah Harris founded after reading the piece. Watching Harris single-handedly transform the industry over the past twelve months (literally — her fingers have graced the feeds of Glossier, Benefit Cosmetics, Supergoop, and more) has been motivating, to say the least. It reminds me that the beauty industry can change, and it will change, as long as we keep demanding change.