My beauty process looks something like this: I buy a product, I use a product, I decide this product is my holy grail, I tell everyone who will listen that I would die for this product, I look on the internet, I see need a new product that claims to do exactly what the old product did but maybe better, I buy the new product, and I put the barely-used old product in a drawer never to seen from again. This is the devastating but true fate of many of my beauty products, and I am not proud to admit that…but I’m also not alone.
It’s no secret that we are in a golden age of beauty. In fact, Forbes Magazine reported as of September 2019 that “the global beauty industry is a $532 billion business…[and] most agree it will continue to advance at a 5%-to-7% compound-annual-growth-rate to reach or exceed $800 billion by 2025.” This kind of growth begs lots of questions, and one that makes my stomach drop is, how many of those products purchased were actually used until the package was empty? The bleak reality is probably very few. In fact, finishing a product is so rare that IntoTheGloss has a whole section on “Things We Finish” and there is an Instagram hashtag #hitthepan that has over 5000 posts – this excitement surrounding a finished product reveals just how seldom it really happens.
So, why do we buy products when the ones we’re using work fine? One reason is, of course, marketing. Beauty marketing is a complicated thing – it has yielded much criticism due to its playing on insecurities and insisting that no human should have a single wrinkle on their face. However, we are currently in a moment when there are massive steps to shift the beauty narrative to become more empowering and inclusive, such restricting use of the word “anti-aging” and brands like Fenty launching large shade ranges. Further, another big part of the rise in allure of new products is the packaging – Instagram “shelfies” are just one of the many ways people show off the stunning packaging and the aesthetics they curate with their many products in their mini beauty refrigerators. This growth in sales no doubt has to do with the shift in marketing tactics.
This beauty obsession, however, also could also point to a larger issue: this commitment to build the perfect skincare routine, master a banging makeup look, AND have all the products look good on our shelves suggests a kind of asymptotic or Sisyphus-like drive to achieve perfection. We don’t just want small pores, we want invisible pores; we don’t just want an acne free face, we want skin that literally looks like there’s a flashlight shining from within (“glow”). And thus, we buy more and more products searching for better and better results. Not to mention the fact that sometimes we just like new things. However, this obsession with newness in the beauty world has immense repercussions for the environment (the number of brands with truly sustainable packaging, vegan ingredients, or cruelty-free practices is far from where it could be), standards of perfection, and also…it’s just expensive. Whatever the reason for the sudden growth in beauty industry, this excess doesn’t sit super well with me. Don’t get me wrong I want to have invisible pores and glowing skin more than anything: I love beauty products and I am that person, but this year I want to hit pan on my products before blindly accepting that “new” means “better.
Words by Natalie Thurman
Cover Photograph by Hannah Dains