Is the Skin Care Industry Taking Advantage of You?


Asian woman's face emerging from milk and flower batch

By Alex Quayle

K-beauty has finally made its leap across the great pond and is finding its place on the shelves of your local drugstores and Sephora. Cushion pacts, sheet masks, and a serum for almost any skin problem—let’s not forget about the adorable packaging. If you’re unfamiliar with Korean beauty, a distinct characteristic is the 10-step skincare regimen. Yes, I said TEN steps. Toners, serums, lotions, creams, and facial sprays are all a part of the typical K-beauty standard, and it’s becoming extremely popular within western countries as well— because of course it is.

Did we really think the multi-billion dollar beauty industry wouldn’t capitalize on an opportunity to sell women even more “necessary” products to help keep us looking young and beautiful?

While I will admit that I have been really enjoying the K-beauty lip tints and BB creams, I can’t help but think about the effect these expensive cosmetic products have on women financially and mentally.

I want to make myself clear: I fully support women spending their money on what they want, when they want, how they want. You earned it, you spend it. However, I believe that the skincare industry profits greatly from society’s apparent inability to allow women to look their age. According to a study reported in The Economist, “analysts at Goldman Sachs estimate that the global beauty industry—consisting of skin care worth $24 billion; make-up, $18 billion; $38 billion of hair-care products; and $15 billion of perfumes—is growing at up to 7% a year.” That’s a lot of money going into industries that rely on women feeling pressured to keep up with the unrealistic beauty and aging standards of their society.

These days, many young girls watch their favorite YouTube star’s “nighttime routine.” If you’ve watched a few of these videos, you’ll notice it often involves several steps to achieve the “healthiest” face to go to bed. A few of them even center around the K-beauty 10-step regimen. In these videos, “a healthy base” usually means slathering on layers of (expensive) moisturizers and creams that help fight off those pesky aging agents that sneak in at night and give you fine lines and wrinkles. Many of the YouTube stars are in their 20’s or 30’s, and their audience is typically even younger than them—and yet, they are using totally unnecessary anti-aging products.

For me, it’s strange to imagine a 14-year-old girl feeling like she needs to use anti-aging products. There is no definitive proof that the ingredients in these anti-aging products truly prevents or treats wrinkles. As experts at Healthy Way explain, “the truth about anti-aging products is pretty simple. They don’t work. But if the beauty industry can’t convince you that you don’t have to grow older, it will at least try to convince you [that you can] erase the signs of aging.” Why are women pushed to fear looking their actual age in the first place?

Because the cosmetic industry profits from these pressures placed on women.

Again, no one should make you feel bad about wanting to pamper yourself. If you like a product, use it! I know just how relaxing and enjoyable it can be to massage a warming mask onto my skin, glass of wine nearby. However, I think it’s important to consider a few things in regards to the industry that profits off of society’s unfair expectations towards women and how their looks.

Personally, I think it’s worth taking the time to assess these feelings—a sense of unworthiness, or fear of aging, or self-objectification—that tend to manifest when we see our favorite celebrity or influencer promoting and using high-end products that cost more than a car or mortgage payment. Does it make them happy? Perhaps as part of a self-care routine. Will it make you happy too? Again as part of a self-care routine, but it certainly isn’t the key to happiness. Does the costly investments in cosmetic products make it worth missing a road trip with your best friends? Passing on a dinner and drinks with co-workers? Is it worth constantly trying to fit unnecessary skincare into your budget? Well, recent research out of San Francisco State University indicates that “people who spent money on experiences rather than material items were happier and felt the money was better spent.”

The stress from feelings of unworthiness encouraged in women is seriously harmful and can be hard to escape, leading to some unhealthy conditions like depression, anxiety, shame, and more. Either you’re stressed about making room in your finances or you’re stressed because you can’t afford it. This is a dangerous cycle to get trapped in. According to Ohio University, “prolonged exposure to stressors can lead to a number of physical and mental health issues, and exacerbate already existing chronic conditions.” Too many women find themselves in a position where the pressures from society’s expectations can affect the way they view themselves, their job, and their success. With that being said, I can’t help but think that the cosmetic industry is literally banking on women feeling stressed and undervalued (and given their profits, I’m probably right).

I know how strong women are. So do you. The women before us, wrinkles and all, were powerful and brilliant. Fine lines do not define them nor us. These days I find myself weary of the skincare industry overwhelming the market each month with products that have exaggerated language, claims, and benefits (in addition to an exaggerated price tag). So, what do we do?

Honestly, I really enjoy relaxing in a hydrating sheet mask, jamming to my favorite GOT7 song, while writing a self-love manifesto. Am I a hypocrite? Should I feel guilty for indulging in this clearly biased industry? I don’t think so. Women definitely don’t need to feel guilty for enjoying things, but I think it is worth taking the time to be conscientious consumers and do the necessary research on favorite, popular brands for what you find might surprise you. We should also bring attention to the predatory behaviors found within the industry, and support the companies that refuse to use sexist and undercutting tactics to get women to feel insecure and buy their products.