Jessica DeFino used to be just like us. She adored the beauty industry, so much so that one of her earliest writing jobs was as an assistant editor for the Kardashian-Jenner apps. There, she was exposed to the disgusting underbelly of the beauty industry.
“I saw exactly how unattainable beauty standards were inspiring this never-ending cycle of really unfulfilling consumerism, promoting products that would just never really deliver on the promised result,” she said.
After an “existential crisis” about her role in the cycle, DeFino transitioned into harder beauty journalism, often focusing on exposing the lesser-known truths. She shared some of these truths with Ramapo students on Monday during her Beauty, Cosmetics and Climate Change talk, highlighting the detrimental impact the beauty industry has on the environment.
How the Beauty Industry Works
DeFino explained that the beauty industry functions by causing consumers to buy more products in the hope that the newest trend will transform their lives.
Beauty editors have a part in this because brands send them an excessive number of expensive products, to woo them into giving a good review. While this model benefits the editor and the brand, it exploits an audience that places their trust in beauty publications.
“I had been such a loyal customer of the beauty industry, and it was like my eyes were opened. I realized that everything I thought I knew from years of learning about beauty from magazines… was essentially a lie,” she said. “It was essentially industry propaganda, and I was seeing how that propaganda was created.”
Money mainly comes from two avenues in the beauty industry: advertisers and affiliate links. The entire industry relies on product sales, which DeFino emphasized is why brand marketing spreads so much disinformation.
All of this makes it difficult for anyone to expose the truth. In DeFino’s experience, whether she was writing for beauty publications or not, her work was always softened through editing or completely cut, because editors feared losing advertisers.
The Realities of Fast Beauty
One myth that DeFino dispelled immediately? Clean beauty is not more sustainable. Even if the packaging or ingredients differ, it still requires the same processes and promotes as much excess as regular beauty.
“Sustainability is not about a material. It’s about a mindset,” she said.
DeFino believes that fast beauty has a worse impact than fast fashion, despite the latter receiving more media attention in recent years. She explained that beauty products require about 15 to 50 ingredients, each of which has its own mini-industry. Then, there’s the packaging, distribution and consumer usage. On top of that, consumers generally use between 12 and 20 personal care items per day, way more than the usual number of clothing items and accessories people wear.
The beauty industry is also intertwined with the oil industry, from plastic packaging to fossil-fuel-derived ingredients, called petrochemicals. DeFino called out beauty companies for creating excuses for their actions– a popular one being that it’s more sustainable to use products made from fossil fuel byproducts because oil companies would be making them anyway.
Not only is this incorrect, but petrochemical use is actually increasing the demand for oil, according to the International Energy Agency. DeFino said that petrochemicals are making up for oil companies’ losses in other sectors.
“[Petrochemicals] will be the primary drivers of climate change as we’re seeing other industries ramp down on fuel demand,” she said.
While DeFino cited government intervention and the self-regulation of beauty brands as major solutions, especially the phasing out of petrochemicals and plastic packaging, there are some ways that individuals can take action, too.
Contacting beauty companies to express discontent, spreading awareness and shopping from local beauty brands are helpful steps.
Above all, though, DeFino urges consumers to use their buying power to divest from large beauty companies and purchase fewer products. She emphasized that people don’t need as many beauty products as they think. Much of skin damage stems from capitalism and climate change, whether its pollution, stronger sun rays, harmful food ingredients or beauty products themselves.
“As I like to say, there’s no such thing as good skin on a scorched earth,” DeFino said.
Featured photo by Rebecca Gathercole