Cruelty-Free: a misnomer.

As many of you who read this blog are aware (especially if you’ve seen the sub-header on this blog) that I also double as a graduate student in Public Health. One of the biggest issues in Public Health (and one of the goals of Healthy People 2020, a public health initiative created by experts in the field) is reducing and eliminating disparities which contribute to inequities, one of which can be access to care (in terms of who has it and who does not.)

While makeup is not critical such as having access to resources like healthy foods, mental health care providers, and the ability to afford care in general, makeup is something that can be considered a means of self-care for many, or if nothing else, a means to increase earnings in the workplace if you are a woman. So, yes, makeup isn’t on the radar for the Health and Human Services (and rightfully so!–they have enough on their plate.) But for many women (men and other non-binary genders too!), it is something to help appear “more polished,” or as a means to help reduce anxiety, or even just give a nice moment of zen for a few minutes out of the day. Though it is not the same, it is still a brief moment of importance to that person.

I know what you’re asking: what does this have to do with cruelty-free? We’ll get there. Sit tight.

There’s a lot of terms in makeup and beauty, and many of them are either ill-defined or not at all. For example, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the regulatory body in the United States for cosmetics (obviously, among other things like food and drugs), does not even have a specific definition for “organic.”

Cruelty-free is another one of those definitions that I, personally, find to be ill-defined. The general idea behind it is to reduce, or preferably, eliminate all non-human animal-based cosmetics testing which to many (this writer included) is considered “cruel.” From an ethical standpoint, I can understand the desire behind this 110%.

However, I am also a stickler for details (pedantic powers, activate!) Cruelty-free does not have a legal definition per the FDA. Cruelty-free, in general, is a really difficult thing to pin down depending on who you ask and it is reliant upon the company to disclose their status on non-human animal testing. Some may say they may not actively test, but they may have a third-party demonstrate safety on certain ingredients or products by doing the testing for the company, “absolving” them of any responsibility and, on a technicality, making that a true statement (because it isn’t truly Cosmetics Company A doing the work–it’s their ingredients supplier or manufacturer on their behalf.) Not to mention, all cosmetics have benefited from previous animal testing, regardless of whether or not they currently and actively test.

Obviously, we can’t go back in time and change things. I don’t like the argument that just because we did it once, it should be continued. The idea of “Well, this is how things have always been done and should just continue!” is a line of thought I loathe because it impedes progress.

There are also situations wherein the parent company may not be against or actively performs non-human animal based cosmetics testing, but after being acquired, smaller brands under the parent label may not perform the testing and consider themselves “cruelty-free.” (An example of this is Urban Decay under the L’Oreal umbrella; Urban Decay offers cruelty-free products, some of which are vegan, which the parent company, L’Oreal, is not.) Some individuals will not purchase from these brands under these circumstances, others might–it is an individual person’s prerogative to determine how ethically permissible it may be for him/her/hir.

To be clear: I am not saying it is a bad thing to want to end non-human animal testing. People are absolutely capable of caring about more than one thing at a time! It is still good to want to reduce this! I am, however, saying that is a misnomer and it is important to recognize that. Cruelty-free is a terrible name because cruelty-free is often not free of overall cruelty.

Paying the Puppy Tax to make up for how long this article will be.

There are two examples of this I would like to point out. Get your tea, cookies, and a blanket, because this is going to be a long one:

Lack of Foundation Shades as a Form of Systemic Racism

Let me make one thing clear before going forward: just because the KKK, a racist stereotype, or slur is not used or involved does not mean something cannot be racist. As a white person, I do not necessarily get to make the call whether or not something is racist and offensive. I do, however, try and amplify people who are affected and what/why their thoughts may find it that way on a certain subject. I also recognize that just because one person of a certain identity does/does not find something racist that they are a representative of everyone else in that ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Individuals are not monoliths.

Having said this, there is a strong history of brands alleging that sales were not there to support production. Black consumers, according to Nielsen, are projected to have approximately $1.3 trillion (USD) in buying power alone, not including other ethnicities with darker skintones. The idea that the demand is not there is laughable when looking those numbers in the face, especially when there is a history of supply not being present. Or, worse, a history of products implying that darker skin tones were less desirable and to be desirable, one could use a lightening cream.

As many of these articles point out on the subject; representation matters when it comes to the marketing. If people don’t know a product exists, how likely are they to go searching and finding it? Especially when the people pushing the images of beauty are white and only using white individuals to sell the products? It creates the idea a product isn’t intended for them and are not likely to seek it out.

If you look at multiple brands, there are often barely any shades representative of darker skintones. I’ve culled a few examples to give you an idea:







You get the point.

There are some that might say, “Well, don’t you think it’s a bit much to call this cruel? The brands are just harming themselves, not really anyone else.”

This is a point I’m going to have to disagree on. Lisa Jean Francois explains that when there are only limited options available for covering up hyperpigmentation or acne scars, [people of color] are accused of attempting to lighten their skin in some cases (when, really, they’re using what options are available without going into “ashy” territory.)

When these brand formulate options intended largely for light-medium skintones, they are alienating a huge base of consumers. It supports the idea, according to Davis (2013), that the only ideal of beauty is to look as close to white as possible, but when there are few options, this may unintentionally happen. Skin tones are constantly changing and as the population becomes more diverse, so too will the need for a variation in skin tones in cosmetics beyond light to medium shades.

As such, this is why I choose to support brands that have a history of supporting darker skintones such as Cover FX, MAC Cosmetics, Make Up For Ever, and now Fenty Beauty, regardless of whether or not they test on non-human animals. The idea of being able to support brands that are inclusive and offer shades for a variety of skin tones and skin types is as important to reduce cruelty for other people. It incl


Mica Mining in India

For those who may not be aware; mica is a very common (and cheap) ingredient in makeup (and skincare, for that matter.) It is also used in pottery, paint, some medical applications (Ayurvedic medicine, specifically), electronic insulators, toothpaste, and other means. As such, given the wide variety of products it can be used for, it is a highly sought out mineral. It is most commonly found in India, with 25% of the world’s production coming from Jharkand and Bihar. Both of these regions have around a little over a third of their population living in poverty. In these same conditions, many mica mines that have been shut down, have people (including some as young as five years old) illegally mining mica in order to obtain a source of income, selling the illegally sourced materials to third-parties who often ship to China and forward onto companies in the USA and Europe.

The risks are dangerous in these mines; as they are illegal operations, there is no oversight which means they can be potentially prone to collapsing (death or severe injury), and for many, there is also the risk of other health complications. According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), prolonged exposure (meaning, anything over 20 million particles of mica per cubic foot of air averaged over an 8-hour shift–so, not your Bare Minerals or other powder cosmetics on your face all day) can lead to complications such as scarring of the lungs, coughing, weakness, weight loss, asthma, silicosis, and potentially even tuberculosis.

Much like how companies skirt non-human animal cosmetic testing claims by having third-parties do it on their behalf, manufacturers and suppliers will do the same thing by having other companies source the ingredients from these illegal mining activities, meaning the cosmetics companies are technically in the clear and can remain ignorant. Although some companies claim they source only from legal mines, there is no true way to indicate if mica was obtained from a legal or illegal mine. Especially when 70% of India’s mica output is estimated to account to come from illegal mines.

Some companies have responded to inquiries about how they source their mica. For example, L’Oreal (parent company of Lancome, Giorgio Armani, Urban Decay, IT Cosmetics, etc.) even published their mica sourcing policy on their website:

In spite of these challenges, L’Oréal has committed itself to remain in India and ensure the traceability and transparency of its supply chain. We believe that discontinuing the use of Indian mica would further weaken the situation in the region. In addition, local NGOs and expert organisations are supportive of efforts made to secure the mica supply chain and thus improve the living and working conditions in the region.

We have therefore decided to implement a sustainable procurement policy in India based on a limited number of suppliers who have committed to sourcing from legal gated mines only, where working conditions can be closely monitored and human rights respected. They also have to conduct independent audits to ensure such commitments are respected and invest in community-building activities in the areas where they operate to address underlying causes.

In addition, L’Oréal has engaged in collaborative action with stakeholders across industries and along the value chain (from end users to communities), which is essential in order to gain more leverage and achieve long-term solutions. We therefore actively contributed to the Responsible Mica Sourcing Summit, a first of its kind initiative, organised by The Natural Resources Stewardship Circle (NRSC) and Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) in February 2016 in Delhi.

Thanks to this strategy, 99.2% of our mica comes from secured sources today.

Estee Lauder (parent company of MAC Cosmetics, Tom Ford Beauty, Clinique, Bobbi Brown, Smashbox, Too Faced, and its namesake), on the other hand, states that only 10% of their mica is sourced from India and was assisting to help fund schools in villages around mica mining areas. Despite that only 10% is sourced from India, Estee Lauder makes no mention as to the legality of the source (and/or if routine audits are performed) or who their supplier may be.

Lush has stated that they are working to replace the mica in their products with synthetic mica, but there has been no hard date issued to when this can be expected to be done. As of writing this in 2017 (three years after the initial announcement), Lush still has products with non-synthetic mica present.

Mica is in almost every product, so it is difficult to avoid and even more difficult to have suppliers chase down where each batch comes from. When coupled with the fact that most brands are not transparent about which suppliers they use, as a consumer, it can be exceptionally difficult to navigate the ethics of purchasing makeup overall when you can’t be sure that you’ve purchased products with fruit from illegal child labor or if its coming from a place with more stringent labor laws (with safer standards for employees.)

I’ll be honest: I don’t have a good answer for this one. The only thing I can think of to help this issue is to bring it to the spotlight (such as posts like this) and to help put pressure on brands and their suppliers to make their sourcing more transparent. Much like it exists already with non-human animal testing, we are unlikely to determine which supplier a brand may use, but we can at least encourage brands to use non-synthetic mica when possible, to make clear whenever possible where the mica is sourced, or perform routine audits.

I don’t think not using makeup is really going to fix this issue and boycotting brands that do use mica from these regions is not going to be helpful for the same reason L’Oreal points out, which is it would continue the instability and make it worse. Additionally, as mica is so widespread, even if it was removed from makeup, it is still used in enough other products that while it may make a small dent, it is not going to resolve the overall issue.

This was a heavy post and I know there’s enough to be concerned about that it sucks to have to question one of the few escapes from the real world, but it’s important to be considerate of everything. I hope this post provided some food for thought, even if you may disagree with my perspective.

Yours ’til Niagara Falls,

Jupiter Gimlet

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