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Ethical issues in the cosmetics sector
Heather Webb looks at the ethical claims of cosmetics manufacturers and asks whether it is time to leave your make-up in the cupboard?
Make-up forms one part of the UK’s Cosmetic Personal Care market along with fragrances, skincare, haircare and toiletries. In 2015, the UK’s make-up market sales were estimated to be around £1.7 billion, with just four companies – L’Oréal, Boots, Estée Lauder and Coty – accounting for a 60% share of the market.
This guide covers make-up brands which produce products for the face (e.g. foundation), eyes (e.g. mascara), and the lips (e.g. lipstick) and identifies which brands consumers might want to ditch and which they might want to support.
No one likes the idea of putting harmful chemicals onto their face but that is the reality when applying many cosmetic products. The US Campaign for Safe Cosmetics pressures the cosmetics industry to make safer products. It lists 30 chemicals of concern which are commonly found in make-up including carcinogenic chemicals and lead.
At Ethical Consumer, we have rated all the make-up brands for their toxic chemicals policies. Those companies which received a best rating had a policy which has banned the use of parabens, phthalates and triclosan. These three toxic chemicals are discussed in more detail in our wider report into the Cosmetics Industry.
As you can see from the table below, the majority of the brands viewed did not have a policy to ban any of the toxic chemicals.
Given the lengthy list of unpleasant chemicals involved in creating your favourite foundation, it is no wonder that some companies have resorted to ‘greenwashing’ tactics to trick consumers into believing their products are natural.
There are several standards which can help guarantee that the products bought actually use natural and/or organic ingredients.
Soil Association – Make-up made by Odylique, Green People and Neal’s Yard are all certified organic by the Soil Association.
For cosmetic products to be certified organic by the UK’s Soil Association, 95% of all ingredients must be organic.
BDIH – Products made by Dr Hauschka, Logona and Sante have been certified by BDIH.
BDIH is a German non-profit organisation which certifies natural cosmetics. BDIH certifies products which contain “Raw materials of plant origin originating from certified organic raw material”. It also bans the following substances from being used: organic-synthetic dyes; synthetic fragrances; ethoxylated raw materials; silicones; and paraffin and other petroleum derived products.
NATRUE – Products certified under this label are: Dr Hauschka, Logona, Sante and Lavera.
NATRUE is a Brussels-based international non-profit association committed to promoting and protecting Natural and Organic Cosmetics worldwide. The NATRUE label was launched in 2008 to help promote and protect products using natural ingredients.
We discuss organic certifications in more detail in our wider report into the Cosmetics Industry.
Although the testing of cosmetics on animals has been banned in the EU, this is not the case everywhere else in the world. But the REACH legislation has complicated the issue.
Ethical Consumer rates all companies selling cosmetics on their animal testing policy. Companies will score a best rating if they have a policy not to test on animals, have a fixed cut-off date (a date after which none of their products or ingredients will have been tested on animals), and are not selling to markets where animal testing of products is required by law.
In this guide, Neal’s Yard, The Body Shop and Urban Decay are the only make-up companies certified under the Leaping Bunny scheme to not be testing on animals. Disappointingly, both Body Shop and Urban Decay are owned by cosmetics giant L’Oréal, a company which has not taken this stance itself. Only Neal’s Yard receives a Company Ethos mark due to the fact its whole company group is certified under the Leaping Bunny scheme.
Smashbox and NYX have been certified by PETA USA’s Beauty without Bunnies. This certification also includes a fixed cut-off date for ingredients.
Ethical Consumer itself provides independent certification of Lush’s non-animal testing commitment (see also Ethical Consumer and Lush below)
Cruelty Free International explains how test bans are spreading around the world. This article is part of our wider report into the Cosmetics Industry.
Some products certified by the Vegan Society are: Lush and Lavera.
Some products marketed as suitable for vegans are: Odylique, Green People, Neal’s Yard, Dr Hauschka, Urban Decay and Superdrug.
All products by Pacifica are suitable for vegans.
All products by Lush, Neal’s Yard, Green People and Odylique are suitable for vegetarians.
Governments around the world have been demanding increased safety testing of chemicals generally. This means that, for chemicals which appear not just in cosmetics, ongoing animal testing is still occurring.
Ethical Consumer has been working with Lush since 2012 on a joint project trying to address this problem. The annual Lush Prize rewards excellence in the fields of developing alternative safety tests, training scientists, and campaigning and lobbying for their use. Our work with Lush on this project, and our work on providing assurance of their own supply chains, mean we should formally declare an interest in this research.
Lush has also provided funding for our campaigning work against the badger cull, most recently manifested in our 2017 report on the National Farmers Union.
Lush is also a company certified by the Fair Tax Mark – an independent project with formal links to Ethical Consumer.
Palm oil and palm oil derivatives have become an important component in many make-up products. In particular, it is used for its viscosity and as a skin conditioning agent.
Odylique is the only make-up brand in this report which is palm oil-free, while Dr Hauschka and Lush are the only other brands which score best for its palm oil policy.
The new column on our table shows how all the companies rank on their palm oil policy and practice. We explain the problem of palm oil in our wider report into the Cosmetics Industry.
In 2016, women can do whatever they like. It’s all about choice – including the choice of whether to wear make-up or not. However, given the pressure of marketing and society’s expectations of women to look ‘good’, it’s interesting to examine women’s relationship with make-up.
Does make-up feel like a necessity or a fun optional extra?
We asked three young women about their relationship with make-up.
Emily Jackson, 18:
"I don’t think wearing make-up is necessary but to my age group it is almost a vital necessity to ‘fit in’. I barely know any teenage girls who don’t regularly apply a layer foundation and mascara for school – some more liberally than others.
I do tend to wear make-up every day except for rest days as I do suffer with ‘teenage skin’. It makes me feel a little more confident and does hide dark circles and blemishes fairly successfully! I tend to avoid ‘cheap’ products as often the quality of the products themselves isn’t so good. Because of my pale skin they can make me go a little orange!
Marketing does try to capture the next ‘best thing’ so I do tend to try new, ‘better’ products each time as opposed to sticking to a regular brand. It is the desire to look the best and feel good about yourself that drives it, and often it feels like the cost is just something attached and that the ‘quality’ of the make-up technology is what counts – not whether it is natural or organic."
Anne Laure, 26:
"I tend to wear make-up everyday at work to give me confidence. When you work surrounded by men you realize the best way to be listened to (and then heard if you are lucky) is to first make sure people acknowledge the way you look, and in a good way. Wearing make-up permits me to achieve this kind of feeling by hiding what I don’t want to be shown and focussing on what you want people to see. Basically, I want people to look me in the eye, so I will make my eyes more noticeable. I wouldn’t say it is totally necessary but it helps my confidence. It wouldn’t shock me if others didn’t wear it.
My make-up habits change at the weekend for something more visual, with drawing and black line, and then it is more part of the clothes you are wearing, like an accessory.
There seem to be two kinds of consumers: Those sensitive to special offers (e.g. ‘buy one get one free’) and those sensitive to health issues (e.g. ‘supplemented with vitamin E’). I would be more in the second category, ready to pay extra to gain something. Nowadays marketing is more and more clever, with marketing everywhere even where we least expect it."
Marnie Adamson, 16:
"I recognise that wearing make-up isn’t necessary and I have the utmost admiration for my friend’s little sister who wears no make-up – but at the same time, I feel more attractive when I wear make-up and that gives me confidence, which most of the time, I severely lack. I’d almost argue that lack of confidence can have much worse effects than wearing make-up every day.
I probably don’t worry about the ethics of my make-up as much as I should. I avoid products that have been tested on animals and my lip colours are from a collection that helps to fund AIDS and HIV treatment and research. My face wash, moisturiser and cleansing products are organic and from a company that seems like they would treat their workers well. I don’t knowingly buy fair-trade cosmetics but it would be nice to find out that they were.
It isn’t so much advertising that sells the product for me, but the reputation of the company. If a company has a reputation of making good quality make-up and cosmetics, then I tend to buy their products as I trust that what I’m putting on my skin isn’t harmful or loaded with unnatural chemicals.
I would agree with many others that there is a lot of pressure, from advertising and also from the sheer weight of numbers of women and girls who do use make-up in order to have ‘flawless skin’. For most, make-up is the way to achieve this.
On the other hand, I find putting make-up on fun. I guess it is still the little girl inside me. When my friends and I go to parties or to clubs, I enjoy going to their houses and getting dressed and doing make-up together. At that point, it’s not about making myself prettier or feeling pressure but simply having a good time with my friends. Would it still be a fun activity with my friends if we didn’t all feel the need to put make-up on in the first place?"
Read our 'Beauty Myth' blog for more on the targetted marketing of young girls by cosmetics brands.
L’Oréal (whose brands include Garnier, Elvive, The Body Shop, Maybelline and Ambre Solaire) is the world’s largest cosmetics company. It is part owned by Nestlé and part owned by Liliane Bettencourt, the daughter of the company’s founder and the 11th richest person on earth.
Over the past few years, L’Oréal has been at the centre of a high-level French political scandal over tax avoidance and alleged illegal donations to French conservative politicians who, it is claimed, were given envelopes stuffed with cash at the Bettencourt’s mansion.
Journalists reporting on the case said that they were intimidated, and that they suffered mysterious burglaries, with computers containing details of the case being stolen.
The police investigation is still ongoing. The affair has also brought up L’Oréal’s historical roots in French pro-Nazi groups.
In addition to its alleged donations to right wing politicians, L’Oréal is itself involved in right-wing political lobbying. In 2012, Jean-Paul Agon, the head of the company, was widely publicised as speaking vitriolically against François Hollande’s plan to introduce a 75% tax rate on earnings over €1 million (L’Oréal’s own CEO is currently paid €2,200,000 plus bonuses). The company is also a member of several free trade lobby groups and, in 2014, it spent $80,000 lobbying US politicians.
See our company profile on L'Oreal.
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