Looking through my vanity, I find two or three lipsticks in similar shades, and two almost identical nude eyeshadow palettes – all barely used. Why do I have all this makeup?
By now, we’re all too familiar with fast fashion. Multiple trends, new collections driving exploitation in the industry. We read about underpaid, overworked garment workers to polluting chemicals, high carbon emissions. Echoing the business models of fast fashion, beauty brands are creating the equivalent – fast beauty. They have increased their product offerings and decreased their production time, creating a market that is oversaturated, wasteful and unethical.
Take mica, a popular ingredient in many cosmetic products. Because of its natural lustre – from highlighters to glowy foundations – mica’s presence in your vanity is pervasive. However, the opalescent mineral has an ugly backstory.
Primarily sourced in India, Madagascar, China and Brazil mica is mined illegally using child labour to carry out the dangerous and laborious work of sorting through and digging for mica . The Responsible Mica Initiative has been working towards the establishment of a fair, responsible and sustainable mica supply chain where child labor and poor working conditions are eradicated. The initiative has launched Tilkal, a platform that enables sharing and analysis of traceability data. But there’s no guarantee that what you own or buy in your local beauty store has been ethically sourced. It’s not only mica, many ingredients including palm oil, cocoa, and shea butter are either unethically sourced or have a plethora of environmental issues attached to them, from deforestation to microplastics – the list is endless.
A peer-reviewed study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, found “high” levels of organic fluorine, an indicator of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), in over half of 231 makeup and personal care samples, according to the Guardian.These chemicals are linked at certain levels to cancer, birth defects, liver disease, thyroid disease, decreased immunity, hormone disruption, and a range of other serious health problems. PFAS have been detected in lipstick, eyeliner, mascara, foundation, concealer, lip balm, blush, nail polish and more.
As with fashion, the beauty market is oversaturated. New brands and new products are constantly being released and consumers are overwhelmed by this rapid cycle. This also means that competition is high as brands need to differentiate themselves, stay on-trend, and appeal to their consumers’ needs and wants. Where collections used to take two years to hit the stores, they now take as little as eighteen weeks. With products going in and out of style, we find ourselves in the same situation as fast fashion – a vanity cupboard full of products that we don’t have any use for.
“We know that constant newness, theatre, and animation is really the engine that drives traffic to our stores, and brands that don’t participate in the conversation across specific categories have a tendency to fade in the consumer mindset,” says Elizabeth Otero, senior vice president of global marketing at Mac Cosmetics , in a Business of Fashion article.
Social media has been a big driver of overconsumption in the beauty industry. Content creators and celebrities have a huge influence on the market, getting consumers to trust their recommendations rush off to purchase these products.
Over the course of last year, I noticed a sudden gravitation towards cream or liquid blushes. When Madison Bear used the Charlotte Tilbury Orgasm Blush in her Vogue Beauty Secrets, it suddenly appeared everywhere on social media. I found several influencers giving reviews or claiming to have found the perfect ‘dupe’ that promises to achieve the same look at a lower cost. Many brands followed suit, releasing their own liquid or cream blush – flooding my Instagram feed with household names and indie brands fighting to win the likes of consumers.
This is just one example of the many trends that occurred over the last year alone. In 2020, the global cosmetics market was valued at $341.1 billion and is expected to be worth $480.4 billion by 2030. With Instagram’s shopping feature, this is only expected to grow, because in-app purchases make buying easier and faster.
The fast beauty industry is growing at a rapid pace and threatening our environment, and our well-being. The lack of transparency and accountability from cosmetics brands allows the industry to continue using unethical and irresponsible practices.
“Sustainability is so much more than just the packaging and what’s in the product. It’s all the behaviours that we have created for the consumer that has ended up in a lot more waste,” says Pure Culture CEO and co-founder Joy Chen , in a recent Vogue Business article.
We need to urge a movement towards ethical and responsible beauty. Brands need to consider their packaging, use ethical sourcing and management that is beneficial to society and does not harm our environment.
When brands continually release products, like fast fashion, they encourage unnecessary and excessive purchasing behaviours. Overconsumption has been a huge factor in creating fashion waste, and the same is happening in the beauty industry.
It’s easy to fall prey to marketing tactics, but let’s all use this information as a reminder that you don’t need seven different eyeshadow palettes or a ten-step skincare routine. In the end, sticking to what you need, and making the most of what you already have, is better for the planet and your wallet.