The 10 Worst Reasons To Buy Cosmetics

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Just when you thought you have enough cosmetics stashed to last you till the shoulder pad’s second coming, there will come a New Truly Amazing Wunderkïnd of a Cosmetic Miracle that will send you rushing to the checkout counter faster than Apple can come out with the next generation iPhone.

DON’T. Just not yet.

As someone who worked in the global beauty industry developing these products with “irresistibly compelling arguments,” I would like to give you an insider’s guide on what the claims really mean to help you thresh out the real cosmetic gems from the run-of-the-mill rubble.

Here, without further ado, the 10 worst reasons to buy cosmetics:

10. Because “some proceeds go to charity.”

Cosmetic companies identify with charities that they know their customers will like (children, animals, nature, aids, woman related issues), donate a minuscule amount to the charity’s high visibility PR programs and write off their expenses against taxes.

Want to really help charity? Skip the mediocre lipgloss, let the cosmetic company pay their due in taxes that help propel the nation’s growth and donate straight to the charity of your choice without commercial intermediaries.

Try and be instantly gratified for empowering micro entrepreneurs who try to make a difference.

9. Because it “contains the ingredient proven/ known to cure…”

Whenever you see this claim and feel swayed by it, walk away. It is a common play on words used by marketeers to mislead. Product contains the ingredient but in proportions too small to deliver the benefit, yet enough to get away with claiming that ingredient is there all right.

So that means, ingredient, present; benefit, absent.

8. Because it has a (pseudo-) medical practitioner’s “seal of approval.”

Here’s the deal: All commercially-marketed products have to comply to one regulating body that sets the rules of what is safe for consumption. That regulating body (can be FDA/EC/JP - depending on the country) has standard regulations, procedure and government-set fees.

When a “seal of approval” is given by other medical and pseudo-medical associations, it does not mean that a product complied with additional standards. It means that the brand outbid other brands to pay a large sum to get the exclusive seal of approval. This large amount goes to the association’s coffers controlled by the association’s officers.

7. Because it is “dermatologically-tested.”

A corollary of the medical practitioner’s seal of approval, of all the claims a product can have, this is the most meaningless. Just ask this question: Dermatologically tested for what?

6. Because it is “kind to animals.”

All products are subject to the same rules and are in the same boat. They all use ingredients that have been previously tested on animals, otherwise, they would not get approval to trade.

But the good news for animal lovers is that companies are not required to do additional testing for ingredients that have been previously tested nor are they allowed to test some more for cosmetic purposes.

So to claim no animal testing, cruelty-free –– whatevs –– is just academic. And to insist and brag that a company is really vigilant on this one, is just one big income-generating PR hype.

5. Because it has “patented innovation.”

This is how it works: If you tweak the percentage of an ingredient in a formula, or change three dimensions of your packaging –– you can already file for a patent. That doesn’t mean it will be approved though –– the process can take months to years and most times, the patent will be disapproved or just dropped. But the beauty is that the company can claim to have a patent pending innovation –– and rake in sales.

Patented? Just say no.

4. Because it is “natural.”

Foregoing the obvious argument that everything surrounding us comes from nature and is thus natural, there is no one guideline or regulation about where to draw the line and what can be claimed natural.

Though I acknowledge every woman's desire for natural cosmetics even as we regularly stuff our face with bacon and alcohol –– natural is simply logistically undeliverable without a dose of BS and self-denial.

3. Because it is “hypoallergenic.”

If you are not particularly allergic to a certain ingredient, why go for a hypoallergenic brand that rids itself of fragrances, all active ingredients then pay dearly for it? It is a manic preoccupation with needless sanitation that is costing you dearly. And get this: the term hypoallergenic is “self-controlled” –– FDA/EC has no predefined/accepted definition for it.

2. Because “ X% of women agree that…”

Ah, lying with statistics! All it takes to get a favorable statistical result is a well-chosen panel size and ambiguous questions. And if that test can be done in-house (which it almost always is), even better. And besides, your beauty is unique. No matter if 100 percent of women agree, they are not you, are they?

1. Because it is expensive.

A product is expensive because it chooses to be so. It has a higher profit margin because it has to pay for seals of approval, advertising, endorsers and its exclusive distribution channel. A higher percentage of the product cost goes to packaging, not the formula. Expensive is not an assurance that a product is good. Most times you can find exact replicas of expensive products in a mass market brand in less flashy packaging. (However, if you are buying expensive so you can brag to your friends, that is another issue altogether.)

So far, I have discouraged you from swiping that almighty plastic.

But then, when Mr. MasterCard is burning a hole in your handbag, you ask, “Okay, ex-beauty insider, what, in Santa Madonna’s name, are the right reasons to buy cosmetics?”

Well, unlike purchasing electro-gadgets that require a fair amount of Google-fu and comparative reasoning, in cosmetics, what you should trust most are your five senses and the omni-sapient feminine instinct.

Try the product first without buying. Let that overly zealous beauty rep demonstrate and make her day. Take your time to smell the faint aroma on your bare skin, feel how the texture easily subsides as you apply it, marvel at how weightless it feels, how easily it blends or how the color looks on you in different lights. Enjoy the moment and let your senses be seduced by the product.

Happy? Good. Do not purchase it yet. Walk away. (Tell the rep that you need to wear it a few hours to judge how long it lasts.)

Go through the rest of your day, continue with your “lèche vitrine” (the fancy French term for window shopping — literally translated, “lick the window“), see the latest chick flick, share a bottle of New World Merlot with your bestie or a cappuccino à la viennoise for the sage –– then sleep on it.

If, after this exercise, you do not have a sentimental recollection of the product and do not care much about it –– then forget it.

If, however, it is something you fell in love with, enjoyed wearing and gave you that je ne sais quoi glow that your friends cannot put a finger on –– and remembered the morning after –– then you got yourself a winner.

Go for it. Get that product and include it in your vast beauty armament.

For in cosmetics, there is only one good reason to buy –– and that is because it makes you look and feel pretty.


Rowena is a travel gear innovator who used to work for the global beauty industry.

She was responsible for discontinuing your favourite lipstick, finding faults in supermodels and putting a marketing spin on the most mundane of beauty products of which she made more than 400.

She is an introvert who can own the public, speaking (she imagines y'all naked), can say "a bottle of the second to the cheapest wine please" in 32 languages (but only conversant in 5) and swears like a sailor though can behave in proper company.


Article originally appeared in Beauty and The Bullshit