Last month, NARS shocked many of its customers by announcing that it was expanding into China, whose government requires animal testing on all imported beauty products. Like most successful smaller beauty brands, NARS is already owned by a larger, non-CF brand (Shiseido, in NARS’ case), but it has not allowed such testing on its own products since its founding in 1994. Now that’s about to change, and quite a few NARS loyalists are upset, including prominent cruelty-free bloggers and YouTubers like Killer Colours and JKissa. I’m far from a prominent blogger, but I thought I’d take this opportunity to discuss my views on NARS and the larger debate over cruelty-free beauty.
|NARS x Guy Bourdin, Holiday 2013 (source).|
First, a little about my current stance. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that while I strongly favor cruelty-free brands, I’m not exclusively cruelty-free. This accords with my views on meat-eating: I’m mostly vegetarian, and about half of my meals are vegan, but I eat meat or fish maybe twice a month. I also wear leather shoes, in part because I have fucked-up ballet feet that don’t do well with synthetic material. When it comes to makeup, my big purchases are almost exclusively cruelty-free; the only exception is the occasional MAC lipstick. If I’m going to spend $30 on a lipstick, though, I’ll patronize a brand that doesn’t test on animals. As a result, I never buy makeup from designer brands like Chanel or Dior. For drugstore makeup, though, I’m a bit more lax. When I need a specific cheap makeup item, I check out the CF drugstore brands first, but I simply don’t have access to many of those. I also feel less guilty spending $7 on a Maybelline lipstick than I would spending $37 on a Chanel lipstick. Irrational, I know.
|NARS x Sarah Moon, Holiday 2016 (source).|
My opinions on skincare are slightly more complicated. Again, all other things being equal, I favor CF brands. But skincare products either work or they don’t, and I don’t feel too guilty about favoring a non-CF product that plays well with my skin over a CF one that breaks me out (looking at you, Lush). Also, in my experience, cruelty-free skincare is a lot more expensive and elusive than cruelty-free makeup. I was recently in Sephora to look for an oil cleanser, and I couldn’t find one that was both cruelty-free and affordable for me. (For the record, I ended up with the Caudalie Make-Up Removing Cleansing Oil, which is working perfectly so far. More on that in a future post.)
There’s also the unfortunate reality that the deeper you look into any brand, within the beauty industry or outside it, the more ethical issues you’ll uncover. That’s just how capitalism works, and it’s up to every consumer to decide what she finds too problematic to support. Sitting here right now, scouring my brain and browser history, I can’t think of a single beauty brand that 1) lives up to all my ethical standards and 2) makes products I actually like. Many of the brands that advertise their CF status are problematic in other ways. Jeffree Star, Kat Von D, and Lime Crime are headed by deeply objectionable people. Marc Jacobs had that cringetastic dreadlocks scandal last year. Glossier…is Glossier. Some CF brands produce limited shade ranges that exclude many people of color. Indie makeup has its own universe of interpersonal drama. Personally, I choose not to support the first three brands I listed: I’d rather give my money to a non-CF brand than to Jeffree Star’s Chanel-boomerang fund. Other people make different calculations. Some of my favorite beauty bloggers love Kat Von D; some love designer brands; some love indies. I don’t judge them for those choices, and I hope they don’t judge me for mine.
|NARS x Steven Klein, Holiday 2015 (source).|
It should also be noted that many small brands are cruelty-free because they don’t innovate: they’re using formulas and ingredients developed by larger, non-CF brands. The phrase “cruelty-free” is an effective rhetorical tool, but follow any brand far enough back in the production timeline and you’ll uncover some form of cruelty to either animals or humans. Which is not to say that we should all throw up our hands and stop supporting CF brands: individual consumers can make a difference, as they did a few years ago when they forced Urban Decay not to expand into China. However, I think this issue is more complicated than “buy exclusively cruelty-free or you’re a HEARTLESS ANIMAL KILLER.” Like it or not, the real problem lies with the larger system, not with individual brands. Companies aren’t charities: they exist to make money, and if they can make more money, you bet they will.
|NARS x Andy Warhol, Holiday 2012 (source).|
But am I disappointed in NARS, you ask? Yes, I’m fucking disappointed. For as long as I’ve been passionate about makeup, NARS has been my favorite brand. It’s the only brand I’ve ever loved wholeheartedly as a brand, as an overarching aesthetic vision and not just a collection of products I happen to enjoy. But the products are pretty damned good, too. NARS makes several of my holy grails, such as undereye concealer (Radiant Creamy Concealer in Vanilla), matte red lipstick (Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Mysterious Red), and sheer nude lipstick (Sheer Lipstick in Dolce Vita). I love makeup because I love color, and in my opinion, NARS does color better than any other brand. Year after year, they release shades that are complex and offbeat but sophisticated and wearable. In particular, I have yet to find a brand that produces more beautifully balanced pinks and reds.
|Top to bottom: Vanilla, Mysterious Red, Dolce Vita.|
I haven’t decided whether I’ll repurchase my holy grails after I run out, but the good news is that inspiration is free. And NARS provides plenty of it, incorporating such eclectic influences as Pop Art, old Hollywood, science fiction, and bondage. So whether or not I give NARS any more of my money (and right now, I’m not inclined to), I can at least follow their releases and appreciate their experiments with color and texture.
What are your thoughts on the NARS controversy and cruelty-free beauty? I know that opinions vary widely within the beauty community, so I’d love to hear yours!