A History of Cosmetic Aesthetics
Cosmetics have been used for thousands of years. Some of the first cultures to develop cosmetics were ancient China and ancient Egypt, and the use of a black power called "kohl" was prevalent throughout the Persian Empire. In both feudal Japan and medieval Europe, dark skin was associated with the peasant classes, and cosmetics in these cultures were designed to make skin as white as possible to reflect the life of leisure enjoyed by the nobility.
Methods of manufacturing and distributing cosmetics remained basically the same up until the first few decades of the 20th century. In most cases in the old world, makeup and other skin care products were made at home or purchased from local merchants. Cosmetics remained relatively unpopular in the West until around 1910 when the popularity of ballerinas and theater stars like Sarah Bernhardt and Mathilde Kschessinksa led women to emulate the dramatic look that is lent by makeup.
With the advent of the cinema in the 1920s came a new mass veneration of movie "idols." Men and women in all walks of life began to mimic the looks and lifestyles that were displayed in the movies, and a new sector of business opened up for aspiring entrepreneurs to exploit. During this period, cosmetics pioneers like Max Factor, Elizabeth Arden, and a wide variety of current-day makeup companies opened up shop in the United States and Europe, and they began selling their wares to common women in all walks of life.
The rise of industrial makeup manufacturing was aided greatly by two significant factors; the women's equality movement and the advent of public relations. In conjunction with women securing the right to vote in America, an entire reshaping of the role of women in society began to take form. Traditionally, women were encouraged to be demure and restrained in their sexuality. Makeup was generally frowned upon, and traditionally masculine activities like drinking and smoking were seen to be outside of a woman's purview.
Everything changed when an infamous nephew of Sigmund Freud's began his work in the United States. Edward Bernays, who is known as the father of public relations, became the progenitor of a form of marketing and mind control that he called "engineered consent." Bernays helped manufacturers in the West reach wider audiences by encouraging women to buy more clothing, use more makeup, and engage in masculine activities.
For instance, Bernays rebranded cigarettes as "torches of freedom" as part of a propaganda campaign on behalf of cigarette companies. Women were encouraged to smoke cigarettes to display their liberty from patriarchal dominance. Not only were these women exploited for economic gain, but it's more than likely that many of them contracted diseases like emphysema and lung cancer due to Bernays' successful attempt at social engineering.
The Big vs Small DivideThings have only gone downhill from there. Contemporary women (and men) find themselves enmeshed within a consumer landscape in which the ideological progeny of Bernays have flourished and the traditional principles of an engaged and informed free market have withered. Products are no longer sold based on their utilitarian value but on how they make you feel, raise your social standing, or make you appear to the opposite sex. A century of engineered consent has left modern consumers bewildered within a predatory corporate environment that has abandoned all pretenses in a full-on assault on the ability to make rational or responsible purchasing decisions.
For a time, it appeared that the corporate ethos of emotional advertising might reach such a level of dominance that all vestiges of the old order would be swept away. However, the true entrepreneurial spirit is still alive in the West, and many merchants and manufacturers still have the honor to seek fair and clear deals with their customers. The American economy has always been built on the backs of small businesses, and these independent organizations still work to provide goods of actual value to customers who have been abandoned within an exploitative system that seemingly has no regard for human dignity.
The Dangers of Corporate Products
If skin care products that are produced by large corporations only infringed on the capacity of consumers to make good purchasing decisions, that would be reason enough alone to avoid these products whenever possible. However, some big skin care manufacturers have also pursued the expedience of using ingredients that are harmful to human health.
With the age of mass production came the recognition that mass-produced products sit on a shelf or in transit for a significant period of time before they are used by the end customer. This factor led to the rise of synthetic preservatives that keep products viable for an extended period but that research has shown to be significantly dangerous to your health. In other cases, toxic ingredients are included in skin care products due to their emulsifying, smoothing, or thickening properties, and it seems to be the rule that these substances have been included in mass-produced skin care solutions before adequate research has been done into their potentially harmful qualities.
Some of the toxic ingredients that may be included in corporate skin care products include:
1. ParabensParabens are artificial preservatives that are commonly used in skin care and food products. These substances are lauded for their ability to keep cosmetics fresh and usable for months or even years, but this benefit comes with a severe cost.
These synthetic preservatives are endocrine disruptors, which means that they alter the balance of hormones in the human body. The hormonal system is delicately balanced, and any shift to this balance can wreak havoc in the form of disease. Specifically, parabens have been linked to breast cancer, the early onset of puberty, and decreased sperm levels.
2. PhthalatesIt's always cause for concern when a skin care ingredient has another job as an industrial substance. In addition to their roles as solvents in cosmetics, phthalates are also used to soften PVC plastic. It should come as no surprise that these synthetic ingredients can cause severe damage to your liver, kidneys, reproductive system, and lungs.
3. OxybenzoneOxybenzone is one of the most common ingredients in sunscreens. This ingredient is promoted as a UV light absorber, but it isn't all that effective in this role. In most sunscreens, oxybenzone is combined with other UV-blocking ingredients since it helps stabilize lotion formulas.
Ironically, using products that contain oxybenzone may actually increase your sensitivity to sunlight. This dangerous substance can add to the number of free radicals in your skin, and it even might attack your DNA and cause cancer. It's believed that oxybenzone is behind the increased rate of skin cancer that's been noted in sunscreen users, but that hasn't stopped corporate giants from including this substance in their products.
4. RetinoidsRetinoids are a class of compounds that mimic the structure and effects of retinol, which is also known as vitamin A. Retinol is commonly used in anti-aging products from corporate giants like Neutrogena and Olay, and most types of retinoids are derived from animal ingredients. Vitamin A is a popular antioxidant, and these types of compounds protect your skin health by fighting free radicals.
Unlike safe types of antioxidants like vitamin C, however, retinol may cause birth defects. You definitely shouldn't use vitamin A if you're pregnant, and scientific research has also suggested that using retinol may cause a whole host of other issues.
A Renewed Focus on Quality
Much to the dismay of followers of Bernays, consumers have continued to become more and more educated as the flow of information has been facilitated by inventions such as the television and the Internet. While some people might choose to remain content with their illusions even after losing the truth, almost all of us have had a moment where, late at night, we've stumbled across a study or blog post on the Internet that has forever changed the way that we perceive the products that we've been using on or in our bodies.
With this rise in consumer information access, the skin care industry has been forced to swing back toward producing ethical products that appeal to rationality. However, in the struggle for power that takes place between the boardroom and the PR department of every major corporate skin care manufacturer, the bottom line tends to win out, and dangerous ingredients continue to be present in mainstream skin care products despite the public outcry of concerned consumers and research scientists.
The Rise of Independent Skin Care
To fill the void that has been made by this blatant disregard for the health and well-being of consumers of corporate products, small businesses have risen to the fore as the premier purveyors of cosmetics that won't harm your body. Unlike major corporations, small businesses aren't held back by the whims of the higher-ups, and they are free to innovate and incorporate all of the best research that has been made public in the Internet age.
In a way, this trend makes sense; entrenched power systems have always suffered when the peons under their heels gain knowledge and personal agency, and rebellious innovators have always been waiting to pick up the slack as soon as the overlords go too far and the public reacts. In recent years, the public has reacted to the dangerous ingredients and unethical marketing practices inherent to corporate skin care products by taking their business elsewhere, and this trend has disempowered corporate giants while simultaneously funneling more wealth into the hands of those who truly deserve it.
Why Independent Skin Care Is SuperiorUnlike corporate behemoths who fight tooth and nail with each other over vast swaths of the market share, small businesses have to struggle just to survive. This beneficial pressure forces skin care entrepreneurs to up their ingenuity and produce products that contain ingredients that consumers want to use. While there are certainly exceptions to this rule, most small businesses reward the intelligence of their customers by representing their products in a rational way that garners interest based on the free exchange of information. On the other hand, hiding in the dark and tricking their customers has always been the hallmark of corporate skin care companies.
While success in business has a habit of universally corrupting even the best intentions, those that haven't yet made it big have a bigger stake in creating products that are actually worthwhile. Always do as much research as possible before trying a new skin care product, and if an independent company seems to have their act together better than your favorite corporate mainstay, don't be afraid to switch over.