How Clean Is Your Makeup?

Analyzing social media activism against beauty products tested on animals

‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever’ — except when it comes to makeup.

We all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it turns out makeup is too. The thriving US cosmetics industry, which raked in $62 billion in revenues last year, is proof. Consumers all have unique relationships with cosmetics and wildly differing opinions about what makes great makeup.

Indeed, today’s consumers care not just about a particular shade of lipstick that suits them, but also about how that lipstick made, especially in America where many businesses do little to regulate the products they sell.

No animals were harmed in the making of this product…

Shoppers flock to social media to discuss products they like and dislike as well as share tips about makeup purchases and use. Social media conversations about makeup or beauty products have been rising for the past six years— totalling nearly 6.6 million consumer conversations about cosmetics, makeup routines, purchasing behavior, and much more. But some trends are more noteworthy than others, like the rapid shift towards natural products.

The use of eco-friendly products has captivated makeup users so much that the discussion tripled in volume from 2014 to 2015 (from 10K to 30K posts), and continued to more than double the following year in 2015.

But is this propelled by a larger concern among consumers? It appears so. As we dove deeper into the data, we found that there are very specific topics driving this overall trend —  the most prominent being the discussion of cruelty-free products.

Rising from just 20% share of voice in 2010 to 50% in 2016, the cruelty-free discussion made up well over half of all conversation of natural ingredients/eco-friendly makeup ingredients. It is by far the most discussed topic in social.

Not cruelty-free? Consumers say no thanks

As people rabidly discuss animal cruelty on social media, it is clear that animal testing influences purchasing decisions. Consumers don’t shy away from supporting some brands and calling out others that don’t meet their ethical standards. MAC Cosmetics, for instance attracts social media anger from consumers for not being cruelty-free.

In 2015, PETA filed a petition against the cosmetics maker, slamming the company for animal-testing and urging it to switch to sophisticated alternatives like testing on human cells and tissues and incorporating advanced computer-modeling techniques.

MAC’s former brand ambassador, Pamela Anderson, subsequently followed up by penning a letter to the parent company, Estee Lauder, to resume cruelty-free practices and stop paying for animal testing.

MAC, though, is not the only global brand that is criticized for its unethical practices. L’Oreal has also earned consumer wrath for not being cruelty-free, or worse, being deceptive about the claims of being one.

Where does the law stand?

The best way to stop a practice is to make it illegal and enforceable. In 2014, a federal bill to end cosmetics testing on animals was introduced in Congress that would make it unlawful to conduct animal testing and also prohibit selling and transporting products that were manufactured using such a practice. Three years later, it’s still a proposal without a resolution.

But today’s consumers are not waiting for a law to change things—these activism-minded buyers do not think twice about boycotting a product that does not sit well with their conscience. But first, they will talk about it on social media. This is why it’s crucial for today’s businesses in the cosmetic industry to follow and learn from these conversations, staying in the know and aware of consumers’ latest frustrations.

This is a part of a larger series on consumer packaged goods. Download the larger report on consumer opinions of beverages in the consumer packaged goods industry.

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