Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Makeup and Ethics

Hi Everyone! As you may have guessed from the titles, this is a brainier post than usual; no swatches today.

Robyn of Stay Beautiful recently blogged about the Lime Crime controversy, and raised what I consider to be a few important questions about our role as bloggers and consumers. I wrote such a long comment on her blog, it got my Theory Student juices flowing, and I felt a bit of a moral imperative to continue the conversation over here. I urge you to go check out her post, and see what other readers have been saying in the comments, if you feel like you need to get caught up on the dialogue. I'm not going to talk about Lime Crime specifically here; I have no experience with the company whatsoever, negative or positive, and the hour of research I did on the situation a month ago made me feel even more confused about what has actually happened. All I know is that many people in the beauty blogging community feel very strongly about the company, and most of what I've read seems to be negative feedback.

Before going any further with this post, I want to make some things clear. I really want to hear what you guys think about these issues. Please disagree with me or question my logic if you hold a different opinion. I firmly believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and I would never want to make anyone feel like I'm trying to deprive them of their perspective. My goal is to provide a safe community to express opinions in, where we can expect and deserve respectful, thoughtful responses. I would never want to make anyone feel bad for what they think, and I ask my readers and those choosing to comment to do the same. I have misgivings about using my power to publish or not publish comments as censorship, but I will file especially offensive comments as spam. Luckily, I've never had to do this in the past, and I honestly don't expect to have to do this now.

 Just because we're blogging about largely frivolous things doesn't mean that there aren't deeper issues related to what we do. I know many of my readers are not blogging about beauty, but these issues are relevant to you guys, as well. As bloggers, we act as representatives of a larger makeup consuming community. We are choosing to put out thoughts and opinions that, whether we like it or not, influence other people's opinions. How many times have you felt your heart drop while reading the third or fourth negative review of a product you were initially excited about and planning to buy? And how many times do you choose to spend your money on something else instead, based on what you've read on blogs? Even if we don't individually influence the market enough to make a dent in a company's sales, as a collective force, we have a lot of power, and as individuals, we still bear a lot of responsibility-- responsibility for what we buy as well as what we choose not to buy, for what we blog about, and for what we don't blog about.

I'm not suggesting that before each blog post we sit and do some soul-searching, but I think it's important to just be aware of these things, and keep an open dialogue about these issues.  If you're a long-time reader of this blog, you'll notice that I review products across a range or prices, and that I do not purchase exclusively natural, sustainable, organic products. Nor do I boycott companies that practice animal testing. And believe me, it's not because I don't think about these issues. If there's a product that I need, and I could choose between a natural or synthetic version and they perform identically, I'll choose the natural version. Likewise, if I'm in the same situation choosing between a product that has potentially been tested on animals and one that has not, I'll choose the one that hasn't. However, we cannot know the history of every product that we use, and the simple truth is that companies lie. Many "organic", "natural" products are neither.  Lauren of Green Beauty Blog strives to use natural and green products, and gives a really great explanation of what it really means when a product claims to be organic or natural here.  Similarly, many cruelty-free brands are owned by companies that are not cruelty free, have been owned by these companies in the past, or have been acquired by these companies after developing their cruelty-free products. A lot of technologies employed by cruelty-free companies were developed using techniques that are not cruelty free, and are now being widely employed across the beauty industry. I am not a vegetarian; I am not living a vegan lifestyle. I will take prescription drugs when they are prescribed to me, and I know most of these drugs are developed using animal testing. I'm not saying that there's not a difference between testing a beauty product on an animal and testing a life-saving drug on an animal. There is a huge difference, and it's significant. What I am saying is that it's very difficult to know where to draw the line, and to know just how cruelty free any given product is. I would feel like a hypocrite if I urged you all to stop using brands that are not cruelty free when I go to In-n-Out and have a burger later in the day. What's more, I don't know how these products are manufactured; I don't know beyond a doubt that all the products I buy are being made by adults who are being paid a living wage in healthy working conditions. Who are the major stockholders of the companies that are publicly traded? Who are the individuals benefiting from these companies' success, and do we agree with their actions?

I know it sounds like a cop-out to say that it is too confusing to know when a product is ethical and when it is not, so I'm not going to bother. And that's not exactly what I'm getting at; my point is that these things are very complicated, and it is a very personal decision as to where to draw the line and decide that a company is ethical or unethical, and what that means to how you do business with them. Honestly, I don't think there is a way to declare a company to be ethical or unethical. I think most people think about these issues, even if we don't all go out and do the extensive research to know beyond a doubt if a product meets certain standards or not.

Another issue that isn't raised very often on blogs is how ethical it is to spend money on unnecessary cosmetics when some people cannot afford the basics of life. I think I've told you about the conversation I had with a customer who complimented me on my nail polish; it was a combination of two relatively inexpensive products that I was trying to get to look like a Chanel polish. She felt very strongly that it was unethical to spend the money on a Chanel nail polish and pay for the name. I don't; I just didn't have the money to do that. If someone does, who am I to tell them not to spend it the way they want? Sometimes I feel guilty about my more expensive beauty purchases, but I value quality, whether the product is inexpensive or extravagant. Makeup, for me, is a hobby that I take part in almost every day, and when I treat myself, it's not with expensive shoes or a night out on the town; it's with a lipstick I've been wanting, or a new eyeshadow. How and if we spend our money is a very personal choice.

What do you guys think? Are any of these issues things you've put any thought into? I'm not about to claim that I've reached some sort of decision about how I spend my beauty budget and what types of products I buy, but it's something I am trying to develop a stronger opinion on. I value ethics in beauty companies, but I also value quality, which is an aspect of ethics; I think that, in a way, it's unethical for a company to put out a really clearly, across the board, sub-par product that does not live up to clearly stated claims, and charge money for it. Do you guys even think that any of this is relevant to our interactions with the beauty and cosmetics industries? Or am I over thinking it? (I'm probably over thinking it.)

Living ethically can be defined in a ton of different ways. I don't claim to know which field of thought is best. At the end of the day, I think we can agree that a good ethical foundation involves knowing yourself, being good to yourself, and being kind to others. It's deciding what that means and how to do it that is the challenge. How do we involve our role as consumers and public bloggers in this? I think a good start is to just keep this conversation open and be aware of these issues, even if we haven't quite decided what to do about it. I'm looking forward to hearing some of your opinions!


  1. Great post! I did read Robyn's post earlier today. She brought up a great issue and you did well on expanding on it. You are so right that it is hard to decided where to draw the line. How do we know where the ingredients for a specific product come from? In my lipgloss series I found out that Versagel is produced by a large company (I believe they were an oil company or a refiner of some sort). And Versagel is a common ingredient used in indie lipglosses. So I posed the thought that by supporting indie we are still supporting big businesses.

    I personally don't have any biases about how a product is made, who the shareholers are, and if it is vegan, organic, etc. I work for a large internation company in a very controversal industry. Therefore, my mind is very open when it comes to different practices. Enless we have done a lot of research and are fully educated as to how the cosmetics are made, I don't think we fully understand how they are produced and why they are produced that way.

    And I couldn't agree more that makeup as our hobbies/passion can be and interesting topic on its own. How many hundreded or thousands of dollars do we spend annually on cosmetics when there are people struggling to pay for their basic needs.

    Thanks for your thoughts and making us think!

  2. I'm really glad you decided to write this post! I think it's nice to have a open dialogue when it comes to these things.

    Obviously you know by reading my blog that it does focus around cruelty-free products. I know not everyone will be concerned by animal testing, and I don't expect them to be.

    In fact although my blog focuses on cruelty-free products there is absolutely no way to know for certain with any company. The best I can do is contact them, and do a little research if I'm unsure, but even then, who knows?

    There are so many different kinds of ethics concerning makeup too though, not only the testing. Ingredients, manufacturing, excess packaging, and of course how they treat their customers AND employees.

    Something I also try to keep in focus is what ingredients the products I'm using contain. There are so many horrible ingredients in cosmetics that it's actually really disturbing!

    As far as price is concerned, I've never been one to buy high end makeup often. Not because I don't want to, but because I've always though "Why buy one lipsticks for that price when I can buy 5 elsewhere?" Price doesn't always equal quality.. in fact some of the worst ingredients can be found in a $50.00 lipstick which can also be found in a $1.00 lipstick. Most base ingredients are very similar.

    Don't you wish we could all just make our own makeup? We would know how it was tested, what went into it etc

    Just my thoughts. :)

  3. I'm not sure what is happening with Lime Crime exactly but I know it has created so much controversy in the blogosphere!

    I personally decided to go cruelty-free after becoming vegetarian because I thought I was stupid to preach people to not eat meat and then go to the drugstore and buy a Maybelline mascara that have killed animals. I don't think it makes everyone an hypocrite, but I personally really want to make as much efforts as I can to help animals. However, I'm not vegan, even though that's my absolute goal. Because of that I could be considered hypocrite because I choose not to eat animals but then I go buy a yogurt for which a baby cow was separated from her mother at birth before being sent to the slaughterhouse. Going vegetarian for me was very easy because I have always hated meat, but I LOVE yogurt and cheese and there's almost no vegan alternatives out there where I live.

    The question is and will always be: where to draw the line?

  4. Thanks for your thoughtful and intelligent responses, guys! I am still thinking about all of these issues, and you have given me some new perspectives to consider and throw into the mix. I still don't know exactly where I stand in relation to a lot of these considerations, but it's a problem I'm actively mulling over and working on, and it means a lot to me that you all care enough to take a break from fun makeup posts to give me your 2 cents!

  5. Thank you for your thought-provoking post and mention! I've spent the last hour typing up a more detailed comment but still haven't finished. So either I will finalize and post it tomorrow or this train of though may find its own blog post! Thanks again for the inspiration.

  6. Hey Lauren, I'd love to see a blog post on this topic with your thoughts! Make sure to give us a heads up if you continue the dialogue over on Green Beauty!

  7. I love this post - it articulates many thoughts I have had myself. I wrestle with many of these issues myself, and it really is difficult to make ethical choices.

    As for negative feedback specifically, I tend to avoid companies that are surrounded by drama. I'm sure there are times when the hive mind has gotten carried away and smeared someone's name all over the internet after a minor slight, but generally speaking if there are a number of negative comments about a company from a number of different people, I find there's usually a valid reason. And in the beauty world, people tend to be quite forgiving, so an honest mistake or an apology from a company is likely to be seen in a favourable light - the first time at least. When companies continually flout good business ethics and different complaints come up about them time and time again, it's a sign to me that they're not a company I want to have any dealings with.


Thank you for commenting, I love hearing what you have to say and interacting with you guys! That being said, please don't leave irrelevant links in your comments, I will not approve them. We can still click on your name to visit your blog :)