Those of us beauty lovers committed to adorning ourselves with cruelty-free and animal-free products mourn when one of our favorite companies changes its ethical status by deciding to test on animals or sell in mainland China where animal testing is required by law (no, Too Faced, why?!). As frustrating as these turns of events are, veteran vegans usually aren’t too surprised. It happens. There are plenty of other, truly cruelty-free brands we can support with our dollar.
My socks were completely blown off, however, when I read about a few newcomers to the beauty industry. Described as an “anti-vegan beauty backlash,” these products proudly feature various animal fats in their skincare products. Yep, how would you care for a moisturizing concoction of pork fat? (See my socks? Well across the room.)
To its credit, the omnivore beauty trend prioritizes toxin-free ingredients (no phthalates or synthetic fragrance there!), and it’s possible to imagine that the animal ingredients in these small-batch products are coming from animals who have lived a complete life and have died a peaceful, natural death (okay, probably a stretch, but it’s possible). I’ll also accept that animal fats do effectively moisturize the driest of dry skin and that some fats may be easily absorbed by human skin.
That said, omnivore beauty props itself up on a somewhat shaky argument—the notion that because something is natural or something that our ancestors did (like use lard to make soap or eat “paleo”), we’d be better off using that natural item or ancient method. This line of thinking is often called “the natural fallacy.” (And it’s easy to make. I’ve made “natural is best” claims only to be reminded by my professor-of-rhetoric husband that I’m overlooking individual context and romanticizing notions of natural.)
The context that’s important to keep in mind here is that the beauty industry is driven by constant consumption, and trends in product development indicate that the small-batch goodies that become cult favorites are ultimately imitated and mass-produced by the big brands. (See examples of greenwashing.)
Indeed, a major concern about small-batch omnivore beauty is that it will inspire large brands to follow suit, labeling their lotions with animal buzz words. Instead of the usual “argan oil-infused” BS, we’ll be seeing “nourishing lard” and “ultra-fatty moisturizing complex” (whatever that is!). But just like the “green” ingredients in a big-brand shampoo, the animal fats in mainstream products aren’t likely to come from the most wholesome of sources—namely, in the case of big-brand omnivore beauty, factory farms. Even if we set aside any animal rights issues associated with factory farming, the practice remains incredibly troublesome as it poses enormous implications for the environment and is arguably one of the biggest abuses of land.
Yes, so far this is only a hypothetical situation imagined by a beauty junkie, but I do think it’s important to be careful about what we allow to be trendy. It’s also important to take a moment to define our ethics or our reasons for supporting a company with a particular stance. Yes, sometimes natural (or ancient) is better—I think the tragic shortcomings of the Standard American Diet have proven that quite handily—but often, “natural” is just another choice to be weighed against other options.
And in the case of skincare, there are plenty of other “naturals” in the sea. So while I do applaud efforts to feature non-synthetic ingredients in skincare, I’ll pass on the lanolin. There’s a tub of shea butter with my name on it.
Have you heard of the omnivore beauty trend? What’s your take?
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