In the factory, we make cosmetics. In the drugstore, we sell hope.
What a powerful quote by Charles Revson, who founded international makeup brand Revlon in 1932. Whilst Revson may instinctively have known this nearly a century ago, beauty brands today understand more than ever that they are in the business of selling dreams. Much more so than physical products, in fact.
I think you’re superhuman if you haven’t been suckered in by a ‘miracle’ elixir that seductively promises to solve all your problems in one prettily packaged little bottle.
Makeup in particular can be a positive vehicle for creativity and self-expression. But in a world saturated by porn, flawless reality stars, and a thirst for everlasting youth, beauty is a loaded topic which can threaten even the most confident person’s self-esteem.
So whilst you may not always be consciously aware of it, is it any wonder you’re so easily manipulated when it comes to the beauty industry’s bold claims?
This was yet another area in which I identified that I was mindlessly consuming. I was plastering products on my face every single day, with little thought as to what goes into them and what was being absorbed by my body.
It’s not just that these products don’t always live up to the marketing hype. If you’ve watched the documentary Toxic Beauty, then you’ll share my concern that they are often largely unregulated, and contain ingredients that you’d probably steer well clear of if you knew how harmful they were.
In this post, we’ll separate the fact from the fiction and strip things back to basics. Let’s take a look at why marketing claims are something to be wary of, and what is actually going to move the needle the most when it comes to looking and feeling good in your own skin.
Why You Should Be Wary of Makeup Marketing Claims
Radiant. Glowing. Flawless.
Marketing uses language in subtle yet persuasive ways that can’t help but influence your decision-making. The power of suggestion is far more effective when it comes to selling products than relying purely on facts. For example, the above adjectives are more about how products will make you feel rather than real, tangible benefits. You don’t have a halo, you aren’t luminous, and your skin will always be a rough, uneven surface pitted with pores, hairs, and skin mites (I know, pretty gross).
Just like fast fashion promises the world, the beauty industry is a short-term dopamine fix in disguise which only serves to create a vicious long-term cycle of underlying low self-esteem. When you buy into luxurious packaging or aspirational marketing claims, you may not realise that you’re also internalising messages about yourself that you’re not enough.
In psychology, ‘self-discrepancy theory’ proposes that you have an actual self and an ideal self. Sometimes, there’s a gap between the two and so a need arises within you to reduce this separation. The beauty industry has mastered the art of creating this insecurity, to then provide a ‘solution’ with the product they’re trying to sell you. This only serves to heighten your anxiety and make their magical claims feel more irresistible than ever.
Cosmetic brands also use trust indicators by backing up their products with top-line scientific claims:
This authoritative little phrase probably puts you in mind of scientists in a lab. And, whilst brands can’t technically say anything which is untrue, they can manipulate data so that it sounds better than it really is. For example, a 10% reduction in wrinkles might be unnoticeable to the naked eye and indeed require a magnifying glass to identify. But it’s commonplace for marketers to use this kind of evidence to back up their assertions.
Active ingredients, like active verbs, promisingly sound like they’re doing something. However, the reality is that tests usually take place ‘in vitro (i.e. in a test tube) rather than anywhere near a human being. Moreover, there are no set regulations when it comes to being allowed to make this claim.
It’s no surprise that your mind is instantly put at ease when you hear this, but what does it actually mean? Essentially, the product in question has been tested on someone’s skin. But what’s shocking is that, in theory, something can be classed as ‘dermatologically tested’ when it’s been tested on just one person. And, once these tests have been conducted, there are no set rules or regulations to determine whether it’s actually safe for your skin or not.
Discerning Fact From Fiction: 8 Overshadowed Beauty Truths
I’ve spoken at length about the dangers of external validation seeking. In particular, it can become harmful when you start to base your value on your perceived attractiveness. As such, it’s worth diving deep to seriously question your decision-making process when it comes to impulsive beauty purchases.
It’s also reassuring to keep in mind these 8 overlooked beauty truths, which are more within the locus of your control and are borne out of your daily habits and healthy regular routines, as opposed to external beauty products that you feel the irresistible urge to possess. They will do more for your beauty regime than any miracle marketing claims.
Beauty Truth #1: Suncream should be your top priority
As with most things in life, we’re very good at treating the symptoms rather than the cause. Many moisturisers and serums will claim to be ‘anti-aging’, but when it comes to minimising fine lines and wrinkles, prevention is the best cure.
What you should be aware of – and what we should be teaching our children – is the somewhat unsexy truth that you can keep your skin looking youthful for longer by simply minimising sun exposure.
Like me, you may have naturally assumed that sunscreen is only a real requirement when going on holiday to a hot country or sunbathing in your garden for that one freakishly warm English summer’s day. In a twisted irony, you’ll point-blank refuse to leave the house without a full face of makeup on, but you’ll happily go outside with no protective barrier between your skin and the sun’s harmful rays.
Sun exposure is responsible for wrinkles, age spots, and pigmentation, and is the leading cause of skin cancer. In fact, UVA rays are responsible for a staggering 75% of the clinical skin features associated with aging skin. This is because they cause damage to fibrillin, an essential glycoprotein near the surface of your skin, which acts like tent pegs to keep the elasticity pulled taut. Like a tent without pegs, it makes sense that without fibrillin, your skin can’t help but sag and wrinkle.
Make sure to automate sun protection in your daily routine, taking care to apply it even in the middle of winter. The SPF should be 30+ with a UVA and UVB rating of at least 4 stars. Oh, and be mindful of assuming you’re covered just because your foundation supposedly contains SPF. You’re better off liberally applying a dedicated sunscreen before makeup.
Beauty Truth #2: Getting enough sleep is good for your skin
‘Needing your beauty sleep’ may turn out to be a more significant saying than you ever realised.
If you’ve read Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep, then you’ll know that there’s still a lot we don’t know when it comes to the fascinating and mysterious world of sleep. But, according to scientific research, it certainly plays an important role when it comes to your health.
Sleep is the time when your body rests, restores, and recharges. Some benefits of a restful night include boosted cognitive function, improved memory, better weight maintenance, and even a stronger immune system.
Part of the invisible repair process that happens whilst you sleep is focused on the skin making new collagen, which prevents sagging. It’s amazing really, when you think about it. You might just want to take a moment to thank your miraculous body for all it does for you!
More collagen means that skin is plumper and less likely to wrinkle. And according to dermatologist Patricia Wexler:
Only getting 5 hours a night can lead to twice as many fine lines as sleeping 7 would.
So whilst sleep is probably the last thing on your mind when you’re thinking about your beauty regime, don’t skimp on it! For a better complexion and fewer dark, puffy circles beneath your eyes, you should aim to get a consistent 7-8 hour’s sleep every night.
Beauty Truth #3: Your diet plays a part in your skin health
You are what you eat. And as the largest organ in your body, your skin is no exception.
You may be umming and arring over the best coverage foundation, but what if your base skin was naturally healthier in the first place?
A diet high in sugar and overly processed foods can lead to inflammation, breakouts, and signs of premature aging. Balanced diets that are rich in plant-based whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and legumes, on the other hand, may be beneficial for your skin – improving elasticity, hydration, and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
It’s satisfying when a whole life philosophy starts to come together. When plant-based diets prove to not only be beneficial for the planet and animals but also for your personal health, it makes sense to seriously consider transitioning to a vegan diet.
Beauty Truth #4: Learn how to relax for fewer breakouts
Much has been surmised about the mind-body connection (try Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life for a thought-provoking read). But even within clinical observations, the relationship between stress and skin conditions hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Psychological stress has been linked to the onset or aggravation of multiple skin issues. For example, the brain-skin connection has been identified in inflammatory conditions like eczema, psoriasis, or rosacea.
I don’t know about you, but in my own experience, I tend to have terrible breakouts during times of anxiety and stress. In other words, if all isn’t well in my life, the evidence is plain to see staring me straight in the mirror (even if I’m not necessarily 100% conscious of the problem just yet).
You can’t eliminate stress from your life completely, but you can certainly reframe your perspective and become better at dealing with it. Try meditation, yoga, and mindful breathing techniques. Not only is it good for the spirit, but it may also be just what your skin is crying out for, too.
Beauty Truth #5: You should avoid makeup wipes
Hands up if at the end of a big night out, you smear a lazy makeup wipe across your face before stumbling into bed and passing out? Scrap that, hands up if you use wipes the majority of the time when it comes to taking off your makeup at the end of the day?
Well, I hate to break it to you, but not only are makeup wipes terrible for the environment (yep, horrifyingly, it can take up to a hundred years for a single makeup wipe to decompose), they’re also not that effective at removing the dirt and impurity from your pores. They strip your skin of its natural oils and remove its protective layer, as well as disturbing the sensitive pH balance.
What makeup companies don’t tell you when they’re touting their new miracle products, is that removing your makeup is just as important – if not more important – than putting it on in the first place.
To keep your skin clear and healthy, make sure you have a good minimal skincare routine that involves cleansing, toning, and moisturising.
Beauty Truth #6: Cleaning your makeup brushes is crucial
Are your makeup brushes dirtier than a toilet seat?
You may be washing your bedding once a week, but can you honestly remember the last time you cleaned your makeup brushes? The latest research points to the fact that your trusted implements of beauty are a breeding ground for bacteria. And when 72% of us have never even washed our makeup brushes, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that this is doing your skin no favours.
Dirty brushes can cause irritation and blocked pores that encourage breakouts, but they can even harbour bacteria and fungus, which could result in E. coli or a staph infection.
If this doesn’t get you rushing to cleanse your sponges and brushes right this second, then I don’t know what will. To protect your skin and kill off harmful festering bacteria, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of washing your makeup brushes at least every 7-10 days.
Beauty Truth #7: Checking ingredients is a must
Like getting into the habit of checking the ingredients list on the back of supermarket packets, you may be surprised to find out that your cosmetics contain plenty of nasty chemicals you weren’t even aware of.
We tend to trust everything that is sold on the high street. However, in a society that values instant results over long-term health, it’s unwise to blindly put your well-being in the hands of profit-seeking corporations. You should always look beyond the top-line marketing claims and hero ingredients, and dig down to avoid skin irritation, respiratory issues, and in some cases, even the development of cancer.
Some problematic ingredients to keep an eye out for include:
Heavy metals (e.g. lead, mercury, zinc)
You can rest easier when you take personal accountability for what products you choose to use on your face and body. Opt for clean skincare alternatives where possible, and use only the minimal products necessary in your skincare and makeup routine.
I personally like the Think Dirty app, which helps you to make more informed purchasing decisions.
Beauty Truth #8: Your personality makes you beautiful
Okay, before you cringe at the cliché of it… Hear me out!
In the beauty documentary The Truth About Looking Good, Cherry Healey visits Anglia Ruskin university where a specialist in body image conducts a fascinating social experiment. It proves that we judge ourselves a lot more harshly than other people do.
A group of men and women meet and are then individually shown digitally manipulated images of their own and others’ faces in the group. The images have been photoshopped to make people look varying degrees more or less attractive than they actually are.
Tellingly, people tended to select the less attractive versions of themselves when asked to pick the closest resemblance. However, when it came to judging others, they generally opted for the more attractive images. When questioned, they would often say positive things about the person’s appearance based on their character. For example, ‘their eyes were very expressive when they spoke.’
I think it’s hugely encouraging that this is the case. You can be your own worst critic, but when your charisma and unique personality light up a room, your beauty becomes a part of something much bigger than your objective facial features.
Looking After Your Long-Term Health Boosts Self-Esteem More Than Makeup
In the looks-obsessed society that we live in, is it any wonder that we are all trying to live up to an impossible ‘beauty standard’, and simultaneously feeling terrible about ourselves when we don’t meet it?
The sad truth of the matter is that you can be the most stereotypically beautiful person in the world and still not feel beautiful. Try to remember that your imperfections make you unique, and there is more to life than looking like a carbon copy of everyone else.
From high street to high end, I’ve tried it all when it comes to beauty brands. And, if you’ve somehow ended up with a makeup bag full of products you don’t even use 80% of, or that tots up to £500+ with all those pricey, hyped-up potions, then you may decide that a minimalist makeup routine is the right way to go.
When you do purchase skincare and makeup products, make sure they are well-considered, you check the ingredients, and you’re supporting ethical, sustainable, and transparent companies that are working towards positive change.
This is the first part in a mini-series on demystifying the beauty industry and being more intentional when it comes to looking after your body (skincare, makeup, and haircare included). So stay tuned for more over the coming weeks!