After being introduced to the world of beauty, I completely immersed myself in the industry. I got a job at Sephora. Not too long after that, I got a job at LUSH. I started freelancing, got my esthetician license and spent more time watching YouTube tutorials than any normal human being should.
While it’s great to see all the beautiful products, photoshoots, advertisements and commercials that are in our faces 24/7, it’s also great to know about what’s going on behind-the-scenes. How is this stuff made? Whose job is it to test new lipsticks (and where can I apply)? Is everything I’m using really safe for my health?
When I brew up these questions in my mind, I’m the kind of person that needs to find the answers. This is why I turned to “Color Stories” by Mary Lisa Gavenas. She walks you through—month by month—of what’s going on in the industry, how your favorite MAC lipstick came to be and so, so much more.
First off, there are actually people out there that have the job to decide what the trends for the coming seasons will be—and it can take more than a year for these trends to come about. Most of the product designers get their ideas at Premiére Vision, a biannual textile show in France that gives insiders a look at what they’ll be selling to their audience (us) in the coming year—from fashion to food to beauty products. Many of the top designers attend trade shows like this because it will let them know what will be trending in the next seasons—plus, they’ll also get to see everything their competitors are seeing, so you know it’s game on.
Speaking of fashion, fashion actually has a lot to do with the beauty industry. Obviously, we all know that the two go together when it comes to runway shows and magazine advertisements, but the two also connect when it comes to trends. Since both beauty and fashion designers are heading to the same trade shows and seeing the different textures and colors, beauty will usually also translate to the fabrics. Gavenas gives the examples that when designers see a lot of satin that means beauty products will feature a lot of shine. When you see a lot of mohair or cashmere, beauty products will come through as soft and a little matted for instance a very moisturizing lipstick.
There really is a lot that goes into a beauty product. Aside from finding the perfect packaging, color and textures, advertising is also a crucial focus for beauty brands. Take a step back and think about it: Essentially every beauty product is recycled in some way whether the color has been sold in previous collections or the packaging was almost the same five years ago during the holiday collection. Chances are when you walk into a beauty retailer looking for one thing, you walk out with that item plus five more things you didn’t know you needed.
In “Color Stories”, Gavenas takes us into a department store where two soccer moms are running errands until they come across the “Go Tropical”, a setup at the beauty counter decked out with colorful, exotic mascaras, lipsticks and eyeshadows. Now, of course these soccer moms probably only dream of actually going tropical. While they probably don’t plan on booking a trip to the Bahamas anytime soon, this lipstick can essentially take them there for under $30. In the beauty industry, it’s not necessarily about the lipstick because chances are you probably already own almost the same color, it’s the idea that this could help you “escape” reality.
It’s kind of harsh to think that beauty companies essentially trick you into purchasing their products with their flossy claims, fancy packaging and intriguing advertisements, but what’s even worse it the pricing of all of it. Throughout Gavenas’ investigation into the behind-the-scenes world of the beauty industry, she learned that many beauty companies use the same suppliers and factories. What does this mean for you? Well, that Urban Decay eye liner is made by the same person—and could essentially be almost the same product—as the drugstore one that can be purchased at half the price.
Many of the bigger brands like Avon, Esteé Lauder, Mary Kay and so on own their own factories, but the rest of the beauty brands out there may be using the same factories and suppliers. There are even suppliers that hold mini-monopolies, which means that “you’ll probably be buying your mascara brushes from the same Vermont factory that rolls them out for Cover Girl, Esteé Lauder, Revlon and everybody else.”
But wait, it gets worse. Gavenas even goes on to explain about “fillers” which are factories that put one company’s product in another company’s container without adding anything themselves. If those products aren’t sent somewhere else to finish off their “secret recipe” then there are essentially two products on the market that are exactly the same and may be two completely different prices.
If that didn’t fill your insides with rage then just wait. This is what really got me fuming. Because of these lovely things called “trade secrets” companies don’t need to reveal exactly what is in their products. Nope, we’re not joking.
It wasn’t until 1934 that the FDA even had the authority to seize a mislabeled or injurious cosmetic after it had been sold to the masses. One of the first products that the FDA went after was a product called Lash-Lure that actually blinded women among other disgusting things. When the FDA brought the Lash-Lure manufacturer to court, “she pleaded no contest and got off with a $250 fine.” Whoop-de-do. Next, the FDA went after Guerlain who sold lipsticks containing cadmium and selenium (which are actually poisonous). Guerlain took them out of the American market and sold them in Paris. Problem solved.
In terms of “trade secrets”, this is when you see something labeled “parfum”, “fragrance” and so on. Companies are required to put “fragrance” on their ingredients list, but they are not required to tell you what is in their fragrances since this gives away the secrets to their “magical” products. How scary is it that there could be anywhere from 1-1000 (or more) chemicals that are actually terrible for your skin and body and you’d never know it nor are you required to be told?
That alone makes me want to stop wearing cosmetics all together and I’m sure many of you feel the same, but the real question is could you ever do it? Stop wearing makeup and using skincare products and washing and conditioning your hair with shampoo (etc) all together? Probably not and it would take a lot of the fun out of your day and confidence away from you.
While there are some seriously terrifying things about beauty products, there are also some really great things about the industry. It empowers women, lets them escape from real life and has the ability to turn anyone into a more confident being. No matter how many secretive things the industry is doing, it’s one that we—unfortunately—could probably never quit.