Whether you believe that beauty exists as a Pythagorean equation or as an eternal and immutable concept as defined by Plato, beauty in all its varied definitions is central to the lives of most women.
And this is not a recent trend. According to edwardianpromenade. com, for example, women in the Victorian era used to drip highly toxic belladonna drops in their eyes to dilate the pupils, which apparently made men at the time all racy. It was a rather dangerous pursuit and it appears that not much has changed.
Today, if the advertisements are to be believed, a woman cannot be thin enough, rich enough or beautiful enough. So intense is the drive for physical beauty that extreme measures are taken. Between 1997 and 2011, for example, there was a 340% increase in tummy tucks and a 540% increase in breast-lift surgery in the United States alone.2 Furthermore, a total of 101 176 breast augmentation surgeries were performed in 1997 in that country, compared to 316 848 in 2011.
While this form of beautification may seem extreme, using cosmetics may actually be more so, though in a far more worrying manner. And the industry is only getting bigger. In fact, in the United Kingdom, sales of cosmetics even showed an increase during the tailend of the recession. Experts say that if women cannot afford their fashion fix, then cosmetics are the next best thing. So much so, that global sales of cosmetics reached R340.8 billion in 2009, up 3% from 2008. Research performed by Dr Maryanne Fischer, an associate professor at St Mary’s University in Canada, indicates that women spend thousands on cosmetics, anti-ageing treatments, gym memberships, teeth bleaching and hair styling in order to compete with other women for the “good man”.
So, clearly vanity is commonplace and it has become easy to be vain and achieve “beauty” with the range of products available to women (and men). Ironically, men prefer women who wear less make-up and so it appears that all this colouring is actually war paint for a battle against the same sex. Although this has not been scientifically proven in peer-reviewed experiments, informal surveys by various writers and websites confirm this. One survey in the US, for example, said that up to 75% of American men prefer women with less make-up or a fresh-faced natural look, while a British poll of 10 000 men had similar results, at 68%. So why do we apply products containing animal ingredients and toxic chemicals to our faces?
The answer seems to be clever marketing – the kind of ads that make you think that if you do not have rosy cheeks or lashes that curl into forever, then you are incomplete and a personal failure. A little absurd isn’t it? And yet it happens… even in South Africa. Euromonitor’s research indicates that women in South Africa look for value in their products. For example, lipsticks that offers both colour and moisturizing are more popular than colour-only options. Revlon is the most popular brand of cosmetics in South Africa and secured 37% of the market in 2010. It is followed in terms of company share by L’Oréal with its L’Oréal Paris and Maybelline brands, and by Coty Inc., with its Rimmel brand, which both have a 14% share.
Unsurprisingly, placating our vanity comes at a cost, which starts with the ingredients inside cosmetics, most of which contain a range of toxic chemicals, heavy metals and animal ingredients – many of which are absorbed into the body. In fact, the average make-upwearing woman could absorb more than 2kg of this stuff each year. This is because the skin is the body’s largest organ and absorbs, often straight into the bloodstream, a lot of what we put onto it.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) in the United States reports that it is a myth that if a product is on a retailer’s shelf, it must be safe because it has been through a system of checks and balances. In fact, the EWG reports that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no authority to require companies to test products for safety and does not review or approve the vast majority of products or ingredients before they go on to the market. The agency reviews only certain colour additives and active ingredients in cosmetics classified as “over-the-counter drugs”. The idea that self-regulation works is also untrue. In the States, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (the cosmetic industry’s own regulation body in the US), in its 30-year history, has assessed less than 20% of cosmetic ingredients and found only 11 ingredients to be unsafe. The CIR’s recommendations are also not binding on a company.
We seem to trust the United States and turn to the country for guidance, regulations and frameworks. But did you know that more than 500 products sold in that country contain ingredients banned in cosmetics in Japan, Canada and/or the European Union? Nearly 100 products contain ingredients considered unsafe by the International Fragrance Association and 61% of lipstick brands tested by the EWG contained residues of lead.
In South Africa, we have our own self regulatory system of cosmetics control, the Cosmetics Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA). According to its website, the CFTA is “the industry’s voice committed to maintaining the high quality and safety of cosmetic products. By guiding members on the self-regulatory codes of practice and standards, the CTFA provides an environment that allows the South African cosmetic industry to flourish.” The key here is that the code is one of self-regulation. According to the association, this is a very powerful form of regulation as the industry itself becomes the watchdog. The association believes that competition between brands will cause this regulation. In terms of labelling, the Advertising Standards Authority has an extensive list of regulations on its website (www.asasa.org), but no reference for make-up was found.
On the CTFA website, however, Sally Gnodde, the head of the association, wrote on June 5, 2012, that “by virtue of the shape and size of some product packaging, labelling is precluded. The consumer is advised to check for the ingredients list and further information about the product on a tag attached to the product or a notice which is usually in immediate proximity to the point where the product is displayed for sale.” No tag or notice was found in any store Ethical Living visited and the CTFA did not respond to our questions regarding this matter.
To read more of this article get the latest copy of Ethical Living, or subscribe here
. In the meantime, Life in Balance readers can read the digital edition of Ethical Living’s April issue free, here
Content courtesy of our content partner ethical living