Washed: A Closer Look at Clean Beauty

By: Ryan Moon, Brandon Moore, Freida Raj, Camryn Thomson, Chloe Thorpe

Rinsing away the makeup to unveil the dirty secrets of the cosmetics industry and the clean beauty movement.

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In this special issue, we give a must-read, behind-the-scenes look at a $464.1 billion dollar enterprise—the cosmetics industry. This industry has established roots not only in our economy, but also in our daily lives. Skin care and makeup routines are commonplace, as are aisles stocked with pretty-looking personal care products at a store near you. However, the beauty industry’s…well…beauty is largely superficial. We go far more than skin-deep into the corrupt, toxic structures existing in and promoted by the cosmetics industry. Our theme: chemical exposures through personal care products (PCPs). PCPs contain a host of potentially harmful chemicals, yet this information is largely hidden from the public eye. Importantly, these chemical exposures are not experienced equally, with women of color using more product in an eternal effort to meet socially-imposed, white-washed beauty ideals. From regulatory shortcomings to the harmful promotion of impossible Eurocentric beauty standards rooted in colonialism, we uncover the ugly truths about the beauty industry.

These problems raise an important question—what can we do to enact real change in this industry, which plays such a large role in our economic and social systems, and daily routines? One proposed answer to address potentially harmful chemical exposures from cosmetics lies in the clean beauty movement, which champions “natural,” “nontoxic” products that are supposedly better for the skin and the environment. You may have seen this movement catching on in popular magazines from Vogue—“Clean beauty: everything you need to know”—to Harper’s Bazaar—“The case for a cleaner skin care routine.” Such articles present consumers with a “better beauty” option, but is clean beauty really a solution? Even further, is it actually possible? Read on for an exclusive look at the beauty industry as we remove the makeup shrouding its ugly realities.

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