In the March issue of Vogue, Scarlett Johansson explained that the launch of her skin care brand, the Outset, was a result of wanting to “create and represent a brand that was true” to her. The lineup consists of six “essentials” built around Johansson’s “own beauty rituals” and “the success she has had managing breakouts [and] dryness.”
“I wanted it to feel like something that was always there,” Johansson said.
In a way, the Outset, which markets itself as a “minimalist” and “clean” approach to beauty, has always been there — because it’s certainly not the first of its kind.
“We have reached peak celebrity beauty brand,” beauty reporter Jessica DeFino told In The Know. “With each launch, we’re seeing more and more people are rolling their eyes and saying, ‘We don’t need this, we don’t want this, nobody asked for this.'”
In the last year alone, Jennifer Lopez, Jennifer Aniston, Jada Pinkett Smith, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Halsey, Harry Styles, Machine Gun Kelly, Ariana Grande, Naomi Osaka, Toni Braxton and Ellen DeGeneres announced they were entering the beauty space. In addition to those launches, celebrities like Kylie Jenner, Kim Kardashian, Selena Gomez and Rihanna added more products to their already existing lineups.
“I think it really does all come down to money and control,” DeFino added. “I think celebrities noticed that being the face of an already established brand wasn’t maybe as satisfying financially as it could be.”
Johansson, for example, was previously the face of L’Oréal Paris and Dolce & Gabbana’s collection of the One fragrances.
Today, launching a celebrity beauty brand is almost always going to be greenlit. The global cosmetics market was valued at $300 billion in 2020. Since then, the skin care category has grown the fastest and is worth $145 billion globally. The ugly side of this growth is that it annually produces more than 120 billion units of plastic packaging — most of which is not truly recyclable.
“Clean beauty” also has a problem with misinformation. More and more people are searching for products that use “clean” in the description, but what that actually means isn’t always clear. The messaging around what makes a beauty product “clean” isn’t regulated.
DeFino argued that it would be more sustainable and ethical for Johansson to use the money she’s putting into the Outset to fund research and improvement for already established brands instead of just adding to the overly saturated market.
“I think that a lot of celebrity brands do have really great intentions behind them,” DeFino said. “There are already existing cosmetic companies that are addressing a lot of the issues [celebrities] are aiming to address. … And you can support those brands or be a part of those brands and not necessarily have to introduce a new product.”
Two examples DeFino gave were Pharrell Williams’s line, Humanrace, which uses Braille on its packaging, and Machine Gun Kelly’s foray into nail polish.
“How incredible would it be if [Williams] took all of his influence, all of his power, all of his money that he put behind this brand, and he found a way to make accessible packaging easier to use within the industry and spread that technology throughout?” she asked.
“To launch something and be like, ‘This is for men’ or enforce the binary — you could partner with any brand that exists that primarily targets women and widen their existing audience to also target men,” DeFino said. “That would be a more effective way to be gender-inclusive.”
Despite the good intentions some celebrities may have, their beauty lines still contribute to major issues that exist within the beauty space — especially sustainability.
The problem isn’t just beauty packaging but also the ingredients. Palm oil, one of the most used ingredients in beauty products, is in such high demand that it’s led to extensive cultivation resulting in deforestation, wildlife extinction and climate change.
Nonrenewable resources like fossil fuels and metals are also involved in the making of beauty products. Single-use items, such as sheet masks and blotting papers, contribute to unsustainable waste.
“The most sustainable thing you could do is not start another brand,” DeFino explained. “It just baffles me that people are launching these brand-new brands, introducing brand-new plastic bottles into the environment and formulas that boast 20 to 50 ingredients each.”
For DeFino to argue against celebrity beauty brands does not mean she’s anti-beauty. For consumers who find themselves wrapped up in the emotional side of beauty — because beauty is inherently emotional — DeFino argues that there is certainly a middle ground where you can take care of yourself without going overboard on buying products.
“Beauty can be self-expression. It can be a tool of empowerment, but I think we lean on those arguments a little too much to allow ourselves to sort of buy into beauty standards,” she said. “More often than not, today, beauty products are used as tools of consumerism, conformity and complacency [rather] than self-expression or empowerment. So just be gentle with yourself about it.”
Jessica DeFino’s recommendations for further reading on beauty and the environment:
Clean: The New Science of Skin by James Hamblin
Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom
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