With an average of 31% of American women wearing makeup every single day, it is no wonder why the beauty industry is predicted to reach a market value of approximately 805 billion dollars by 2023. While the numbers are confounding, the rapid growth is largely attributed to the rise of Youtube and social media as the platforms perpetuate beauty standards and enable companies to target younger consumers. With the industry in the international spotlight, the curtain is finally being lifted on the unethical practices that produce the items that we use every day.
The Mica Issue
In recent years, highlighter has become a staple product in any beauty routine as much as lipstick or mascara. Highlighter is a shiny powder or creme product that can be applied to the cheekbones and high points of the face to emphasize one’s best features. That being said, all that glitters is most definitely not gold. An extremely common ingredient in anything from highlighter formulas to basic toothpaste is a flaky, lustrous mineral called mica. With mica deposits located in rural areas in third world and developing countries, excavation and trade of the mineral have greatly affected the surrounding communities. A recent investigation conducted by Refinery29 exposed the living conditions for those working in the mica-dense area of Jharkhand, India. With the country outlawing mica mining, a lucrative business for decades, yet neglecting to close down the mines, the surrounding community was left to work in unsafe and unregulated conditions. Impoverished and unable to support themselves on their own, families often rely on their children to help make ends meet. Every day, an estimated 22,000 children, some as young as five, clamber into tiny mines equipped with heavy hammers and pickaxes, returning with baskets of mica, which they will later sift by hand. The whole process poses many hazards such as falling debris and excessive dust inhalation, which can cause diseases and permanent damage to the lungs. Unfortunately, many adults and children regularly fall victim to these dangers and an average of 10-20 people pass away from mining-related incidents per month. In return for their raw materials, the children receive a meager daily wage ranging anywhere from the equivalent of 29 to 43 cents from the so-called “mica mafia.”
While it may seem like boycotting brands who use child labor or supporting brands that do not is a simple solution, the issue proves to be much more complex. For one, having companies pull out of the area only lessens the demand for that community’s only source of income. Additionally, since the raw material is passed on “by a broker who sells it to an exporter, who then delivers it to a manufacturer,” it is very difficult for the companies who ultimately sell to the consumer to know much about the sourcing of the raw material. Therefore, there is not much the consumer can do for now to prevent this except supporting anti-child labor initiatives such as Terre Des Hommes and the Bachpan Bachao Andolan Organization, which seek to negotiate with the government and large companies to secure better conditions for the communities.
Another glaring problem in the industry is the use of ingredients that contribute to the deterioration of the environment. Palm oil, a common ingredient in cosmetics and skincare, is responsible for the deforestation of international rainforests leading to the extinction of many species, most notably, the orangutan. Other chemicals like silicones and phthalates often find their way into oceans and poison aquatic life. The simple act of checking the ingredients in the products that you buy can help combat this pressing issue.
While we often tend to believe that ethical beauty dilemmas only have to do with the product itself, like many things in life, what is on the inside matters too. With makeup and personal care items primarily made from plastic, the items only contribute to the disastrous effects of plastic packaging on our environment. With plastic packaging accounting for approximately 40% of global plastic usage and only 15% able to be recycled, the plastic builds up in landfills and pollutes our land and oceans. While humans continue to produce 300 tons of plastic per year, it is imperative that we all do our part to combat this problem. Luckily, there are many brands that provide biodegradable and zero-waste packaging alternatives to reduce the guilt of supporting such a wasteful industry.
Chances are, you have a soft spot for animals like cats, rabbits, dogs, monkeys and little mice. Little do you know that right now, millions of these animals are confined in small, barren cages around the world waiting for the next, painful treatment to be performed on them. Drugged and frightened, it is not uncommon for the animals to run around in circles, pull out their fur and even bite themselves. Unfortunately, more than 100 million animals die in the U.S. alone every day under these circumstances. In an age where many alternatives to animal testing exist, there is no excuse for companies to continue to perpetuate the injustice. In order to ensure that the companies that you support do not test on animals, check the packaging of your products for the leaping bunny emblem, a certification of cruelty-free practice.
Lack of Inclusivity
The issue of inclusivity and the lack of diversity in the cosmetics industry, in particular, is one that has only recently been brought to light. For decades, especially during and before America’s Civil Rights movement, the large cosmetic companies lacked the representation of women of color in their media campaigns and shade ranges for face products. In the decades that followed, as society slowly became more integrated and realized their faults, the brands began to annex a few darker shades in addition to introducing a few more diverse faces into their advertisements with much room for improvement. With the rise of beauty influencers creating makeup tutorials and reviews on Youtube, the creators have been able to inspire a massive shift in the industry. Youtubers like Alissa Ashley, and Jackie Aina, have been outspoken on their views about the lack of shade representation and have even collaborated with brands to extend their shade ranges or motivated them to do so themselves. Perhaps the most notable change in this space is the launch of Rihanna’s line, Fenty Beauty. Releasing a shocking 40 foundation shades from the get-go, the company grossed 100 million dollars in its first forty days of business, becoming the gold standard for makeup inclusivity. Today, the brand has further expanded its range with 50 shades of concealer and eight shades of bronzer and pressed powder. While such issues may seem trivial and frivolous in the eyes of some, the implicit messages that the brands convey, represent the state of diversity and acceptance in our country. Beauty labels that show concern for diversity and inclusivity encourage the realization of a society that appreciates beauty in all of its different colors and likenesses.
The beauty industry is only one example of systematic unethical practice. In an age full of contrived advertising and obsessive consumerism, it is easy to become ignorant to the immense impact of our purchases. Ultimately, as consumers, we have the power to create change and shape our world simply by educating ourselves and selectively supporting companies that share our moral values.