Ads to Toxins, 10 Times the Beauty Industry Let Us Down

Because, really, beauty comes at a cost I’m not willing to pay.

Women want to feel confident. Women want to feel healthy. Women want to be uplifted. And if all it takes is cosmetics and creams, then what is the problem? The beauty industry panders to these human needs, and keeps offering us products to make us ‘better’ ourselves. But when the need to ‘better’ oneself comes at the cost of one’s self-esteem, health or peace of mind, then the motives of these brands need to be examined. And these instances made us feel terribly let down by the companies we give so much business to.

  1. L’Oréal controversy: The beauty giant has been known to have the most beautiful women in the world as their brand ambassadors, and getting Aishwarya Rai, Sonam Kapoor and Katrina Kaif together to endorse their brand in India was a big deal. However, this recent campaign raised many eyebrows. Though the ad is about hair products, the body and skin tone of these actresses seem way off-proportion. Aishwarya seems to be Photoshopped to half her size, and Sonam is several shades fairer! Are customers so easily fooled?
  2. Eos lip balms: According to many studies, certain lip balms contain camphor, phenol and menthol, which when spread, quickly dry up your lips so you need to apply them repeatedly. Talk about a beautiful vicious cycle. Endorsed by celebs like Britney Spears and Kim Kardashian, EOS is a popular balm that attracts young girls with its cute, egg-shaped packaging. But it has now come under a major scandal. Recently, reports of blemishes, rashes, swellings and skin-related afflictions caused after its application have landed the brand in a soup. Can’t a girl trust her own lip balm anymore?
  3. The Body Shop and animal testing: The British beauty brand has been renowned for its ethical practices in using natural products, campaigning against the stereotyping of women and not testing their products on animals. However, after its takeover by giant L’Oréal for $1.1 billion in 2006, animal-welfare activists immediately cried foul, for Body Shop’s principles were in contradiction to those of L’Oréal’s, which many claim continues to test their products on animals.
  4. Dove’s ‘Choose Beautiful’ controversy: Many have applauded Dove for its 10-year-long ‘Real Beauty’ campaign, in which they feature real women, not celebrities, in their advertisements. However, their ‘Choose Beautiful’ campaign wasn’t so well received. It showed women in London, Sao Paolo, Shanghai and New Delhi choose between walking through a set of two doors labeled ‘Average’ and ‘Beautiful’. Though the company said the idea was to promote self-esteem, many criticized the choice of words. Who defines what is ‘average’ and what is ‘beautiful’?
  5. Fair & Lovely ad: Want a better job? Become fair. Want a husband? Become fair. Want to be heard over others in a queue at the grocery store? Get fairer! At least, that’s what the commercials of this brand will tell you. Over the years, petitions over responsible advertising have been enforced upon Indian brands, but this particular beauty brand still peddles the same old Indian social convention: Fairness is the key to everything in life. In one particular ad, a retired father complains that he didn’t have a son to help him out in his old age. His dark-skinned daughter decides she’ll “be a son” and uses this cream to land a job as a flight attendant. No cream can cover up this dark sexism.
  6. Shampoos with high risk: Sometimes, ignorance isn’t bliss. Brands refuse to divulge the information of possible side-effects of the chemicals used in their products. A new study by researchers of the University of California, Berkeley, says that parabens present in cosmetics may activate a hormone in women’s bodies that is linked to increased breast cancer and reproductive diseases. The study also raised concerns on how exposure to parabens may have an adverse effect during puberty and pregnancy.
  7. Neutrogena sunscreens: According to an independent study, the brand’s sunscreen contains harmful chemicals like oxybenzone and methylisothiazolinone, each with toxicity linked to skin cancer. Their claim to offer SPF 70 has been derided by the FDA, as the levels don’t have any effect over 50. Europe, Australia and Japan have already banned brands from advertising SPF levels over 50.
  8. Thai beauty ad: “Just being white, you will win”, says the tagline of this Thai beauty product ad. These skin whitening pills produced by Seoul Secret are shown by Cris Horwang, a popular Thai actress, as the secret to her fairness in the ad. She claims that without the advertised pill, “the whiteness I have invested in will just vanish,” she says. Her expression turns grim as her skin is digitally altered to turn black as soot. Horwang promises that the product, called Snowz, “will help you not to return to being dark.” “Eternally white, I am confident,” she adds.

Millions of women around the world use beauty products to enhance their looks and make them feel more confident about themselves, or even as an expression of their mood or personality. But once we realize the industry is playing with our insecurities to make profits, and may even be putting us in harm’s way, ‘beauty’ isn’t so beautiful any more. Do we really need someone else to say ‘you’re worth it’?