30 Most Unethical Makeup Companies in 2021
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Beauty brands worldwide have had several controversies surrounding the industry over the last few years, with most drama occurring on social media. And many makeup companies’ blunders inspired some very entertaining headlines. But when all the smoke and chat room-dust had settled, we had several brands left standing in the unethical spotlight.
The most unethical makeup companies include brands that still test on animals like Nars, Clinique, Victoria’s Secret, Maybelline, Benefit, Chanel, and more. Other makeup companies have unethical working conditions and practice private labeling, selling other brands’ products as originals.
We see a growing number of once-respected brands sell out on their commitments to ethical practices that kept us loyal for decades. We have also embraced several companies alongside our influencers on social media only to find that we were duped into a scheme that sold poor-quality makeup at luxury prices. We’re pledging to be more savvy consumers and it starts by avoiding these unethical brands.
26 Makeup Companies Still Conducting Animal Testing
According to PETA, the following popular makeup brands are still testing on animals, many of which were called out directly on PETA’s website. Many of these brands are considered cruelty-free; however, as you will see, this is not always the case. With all these brands, the issue is in the fine print, wherein a brand can legally claim to be cruelty-free “except when required by law.”
And if the brand is sold in China–where animal testing is required by law–then this means the brand is not actually cruelty-free. If you are curious about any particular brand, you can usually find this information provided on their website.
O.P.I. was once on PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies list. However, the brand (owned by Coty, Inc.) was removed from the list when PETA discovered the company had abandoned its anti-animal testing policy and sold products in the Chinese market. Now it is just one of many brands that have sold out its ethics and upstanding principles for the chance to make money in China.
NARS once served many as the staple brand for cruelty-free makeup. Unfortunately, in early 2020, the brand updated its animal testing policy, as it recently joined into the Chinese market. What does that exactly mean? Unfortunately this means that NARS now conducts animal tests where required by law. They are no longer a cruelty-free brand.
L’Oreal is no exception to the legal loophole that allows them to claim that they no longer test on animals. And while the company has made great progress in its commitment to eliminate animal testing, PETA still lists it as a “do test” brand. Like PETA, we hope to see L’Oreal commit to leaving the Chinese market so that it can be fully free from animal cruelty.
Maybelline & Lancôme
Maybelline is a popular drugstore brand that many adore, and Lancôme has been the staple mascara provider for many over the years. But both companies share their policies with their parent company, L’Oreal. And so long as the brands are sold in China, where foreign cosmetics must undergo mandatory animal testing, Maybelline and Lancôme cannot be considered cruelty-free brands.
Benefit has been hailed by many as cruelty-free, but this is not true. The brand’s policy is not to test unless required by law, and it sells its products in mainland China. Benefit currently sells out of Sephora in China with no indication of leaving any time soon.
Victoria’s Secret spent years upholding a policy that said the brand would never test on animals. Never say never, as it were, because the company ultimately chose profits over its principles, letting down many consumers when the brand expanded into China.
Apparently, the company that was once vowed against animal cruelty was only against it until the price was right. Victoria Secret now joins the others on this list to pay for the cruel and deadly testing required in exchange for the grand amounts of money companies stand to make off the large Chinese population.
Revlon, Almay, and Elizabeth Arden
Revlon is the parent company of both Almay and Elizabeth Arden, and all brands share Revlon’s policy that states animal testing is done “where required by law.” Almay may seem to be cruelty-free with its “clean” and “effortless” attitude, but it still is sold in China and is still subjected to required animal testing.
Elizabeth Arden even claims to be committed to eliminating animal testing; however, as long as the brands are sold in China, they will show themselves to be more committed to money.
Rimmel London carries the claim that it is against animal testing, but the brand, like so many others, is sold in China. When asked about this, the company turned the blame onto Chinese consumers, stating the people want Rimmel London products and that it wouldn’t be right to deprive them of what they want. The company shares its policy with its parent company Coty, Inc.
Chanel is not considered a cruelty-free brand. As is common with most of these companies, Chanel’s policy on animal testing is unavailable on the brand’s website. But we know its products are sold in China, and we know that they must test on animals in order to do so.
Estée Lauder & Its Subsidiaries
Estée Lauder claims to be committed to eliminating animal testing, but not committed enough to stop selling in the Chinese market. It is also the parent company of several popular subsidiaries which are also on PETA’s list, including:
- Bobbi Brown
- La Mer
These companies are all subject to the same animal-testing policy with the clause that requires it in China, keeping them all from being cruelty-free.
In addition, Estée Lauder has managed to upset many of its customers over the 2020 holiday, as many people placed orders but never had them fulfilled. The company took its time in responding to angry customers about the issue, only to offer a generic, insincere sounding, corporate response. Worse yet, many customers still have not received their product or a refund.
M.A.C. is also owned by Estée Lauder, though many are unaware of the connection. We call the brand out separately from its sister companies above because it is easily one of the most well-known and most popular makeup brands ever. And for a long time, M.A.C. was a cruelty-free brand.
However, being a subsidiary of Estée Lauder, M.A.C. is also subjected to the animal testing policy since its products are sold in China.
Mary Kay representatives are oftentimes unknowing peddlers of misinformation when it comes to the brand’s policy on animal testing. They all echo the brand’s claim about not testing on animals, but Mary Kay has the same “where required by law” rule as all the rest listed here.
In 1989, the company announced the halt of all animal testing on its products. Unfortunately, in 2012, Mary Kay decided to start selling its products in China, and they began testing on animals once again and continues to do so today.
Avon is another brand that benefits from misleading their representatives, who then fool the customers unwittingly for them. The company holds claim as the first major makeup company to end animal testing on its products back in the ’90s, as they have “a deep respect for animal welfare.”
But it was discovered that Avon authorizes and pays local Chinese officials to conduct animal testing for them. This way, the brand can still sell its products in China without bothering it with that pesky legality clause like all these other brands on this list. Although, it would seem like its “deep respect” claim is just a carefully worded distraction from the fact that Avon is not a cruelty-free brand.
Bourjois is a trendy French makeup brand previously owned by Chanel, which was likely involved with animal testing. Coty Inc. acquired the brand in 2015, but we know that this was a mere sidestep as far as ethical practices are concerned. Bourjois products are tested on animals, and the brand is not considered cruelty-free.
Make Up for Ever
Make Up For Ever is a theatrical-quality brand beloved by makeup artists for its bright, long-lasting appearance. Owned by LVMH (Louis Vuitton/Moët Hennessy), Make Up For Ever is sold at Sephora, and, yes, it is also sold in China. For this reason, this brand was also called out by PETA for animal testing.
Dior & Guerlain
Dior and Guerlain are both LVMH owned also, and, like all luxury brands that sell in mainland China, they test on animals. Guerlain says they “are strongly opposed to animal testing and have developed recognized expertise in alternatives to animal testing.” But this just sounds like another clever way of saying someone else does testing on the brand’s behalf.
Burberry has managed to convince some that they are more ethical than they are, leading to some misbelief that the company remains cruelty-free. This is due, in part, to its PETA campaign, and while the company has made some improvements, it still has a long way to go. Unfortunately, Burberry is still testing on animals since its products are sold in China.
4 Makeup Companies That Don’t Seem To Care About You
You may remember the hype in 2017 on social media surrounding something called the Z Potter. This is a special device created by Z Palette that, at the time, the company called “game-changing.”
The device’s purpose was to save you time, makeup, and money by removing makeup from its original packaging. The heat helps to release the makeup from its packaging, essentially melting lipsticks and concealers, which you can then use to create your own palettes. This was an exciting prospect for many, who ultimately chose to buy into the idea and purchase the device, which came with a pretty hefty $85 price tag.
However, many were taken aback when they received their order to discover that they essentially had purchased nothing more than a hotplate. Many hurt customers voiced their negative feedback on Z Palette’s social media accounts, questioning both the price and practicality. But the replies from the brand’s Public Relations personnel in charge of social media shocked and insulted customers.
Z Palette’s social media responses to several customer critiques were considered by many as bullying from the company. Many responses called customers names, while some clearly expressed the brand was uninterested in retaining customers that they didn’t deem worthy. Z Palette also insulted its customers’ intelligence, mocking that there was a difference between hotplates and induction, yet offered no education on the matter.
The company comments were so bad that some speculated they had been hacked and someone was trying to make them look bad. Alas, they had not been hacked.
At the time, many boycotted the company; subsequently, many retailers dropped the brand. Now, years later, Z Palette has dropped the price on its Z Potter to $59. However, there has been no attempt to “re-brand” or atone for the ugliness of its past, which leaves many still bitter and boycotting the bullies they have established themselves to be.
While many customers rave about this brand and its low prices, Morphe has a hard time convincing others that they care about anything other than manipulating them out of their money. It took some time for those who follow beauty influencers and makeup brands on social media to figure it out because they seem to be a good company that’s all about working with influencers. Though, that ought to have been the first clue.
With all the drama surrounding the brand, customers have started accusing Morphe of not caring about quality, which no longer lives up to the hype, claiming the brand is only focused on exploiting influencers to make money, abusing the trust and loyalty that influencers have with their followers.
But perhaps the brand’s biggest scandal was in 2020 when the Jaclyn Hill original palette formula was changed without warning. The change had caused the pallets to no longer be vegan–a feature that was very important to many of its customers. When originally confronted, the company lied about the change it had attempted to keep hidden.
Once the public called it out, Jaclyn apologized, claiming she was unaware of such details. The company also admitted it withheld such information from her. Of course, this is more proof for many customers that the brand merely exploits influencers to pawn its cheap makeup off on their followers.
Another controversy surrounding the brand for years now is that Crowne and Morphe are the same company. The BeautyGuruChatter community on Reddit believed Morphe to be a private labeling company. If true, this means the brand does not make its own products; rather, it purchases products from other companies and places its own name and logo on them. And if that’s the case, then Morphe’s claims that it develops its own formulas are bogus.
And that means you could be buying the same stuff with a Crowne label at a lower price.
ColourPop is a brand that is generally well-loved by its customers for great products and affordable prices. But a few stumbles with some launches have had customers scratching their heads.
One such stumble was a few years ago at the release of its contour Sculpting Stix. Names like “Typo” and “Yikes” were used to name darker shades, which some felt was disrespectful to the company’s customers of color. The company was quick to apologize and change the names, but the damage had been done for many. ColourPop has been very selective about how it names its shades ever since.
The brand also was accused of selling contaminated lipsticks in reviews that surfaced after several customers had issues with their products from the Disney collection. Claims of hair, white fuzz, and black dots on the exterior of the products were reported. Accusations of poor-quality products continue to fill review boards online.
But the thing everyone is talking about these days is the speculation that ColourPop is reselling its products repackaged as Kylie Cosmetics. Both companies originally denied this to be true, yet many remained skeptical.
It was later discovered the two brands merged under a parent company of their own creation, Seed Beauty, to better control all aspects of their business. It’s not a horrible business decision by any stretch, but this doesn’t sit well for many consumers, as many feel the association was a downgrade for the company. And it certainly didn’t squelch the theory that they repackage their products.
Kylie, Kylie, Kylie. She certainly has had her fair share of issues with her beauty launches. And she has been accused of nearly every unethical and poor business practice there is, leading many to the conclusion that her makeup brand is worth less than the hype it rode in on.
First, the brand was called out for its terrible lipstick applicators. Kylie addressed this issue. But then the accusation surfaced that her lipsticks were just ColourPop’s old products repackaged. And we already know how that turned out.
The brand was also called out for overpriced and late shipping, and Kylie was even sued for intellectual property theft.
Then there was the scandal, which did not pass the smell test for many of Kylie’s customers. Her Royal Peach Palette had several complaining the smell gave them headaches, with at least 15 customers filing complaints with the Better Business Bureau saying they smelled chemicals and glue when they opened the container.
Overall, many feel that the buzz behind the brand was hyped to inflate the company’s perceived value by its customers–an exaggeration that is required in the entertainment business and pays off in spades. And many have noticed Kylie’s sudden absence from the makeup scene, accusing her of not caring now that her company isn’t in the ideal lime-light she prefers.
And to the dismay of many, the brand is not completely vegan, adding insult to the many, many injuries. (Though the brand does have some vegan products.) It is also not Leaping Bunny certified. However, to its credit, the brand is considered cruelty free. But it should be noted that Kylie Cosmetics is 51% owned by Coty Inc., which does participate in animal testing in some places (mostly in China).
Last but certainly not least, reports have surfaced that call out unethical working conditions in the brand’s laboratories. It is said that employees have not been provided sufficient protective equipment and make minimum wage without benefits. Some workers have also claimed to get headaches from chemical smells.
The Mica Issue in the Makeup Industry
If you haven’t yet heard about the mica controversy, it’s time you did. This information has been spreading around the globe for years now, with many in America only now becoming aware of the issue. And unfortunately, the news is grim, as there is virtually no escaping unethical beauty.
Believed to have etymological influence from the Latin micare, meaning to flash, shine, or glitter, mica refers to a collection of several crystalline minerals. Mica is used as an ingredient for dozens of industries to add shimmer to anything from paint to toothpaste to lotion and, yes, cosmetics. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a piece of makeup you own that doesn’t have mica in it.
Refinery29 helped expose mica’s issue in an investigative documentary and an accompanying article called Mica: The Makeup Industry’s Darkest Secret. We suggest you take half an hour to check out. It does a nice job of compacting an overview of this incredibly complex topic that has exposed the world to yet another instance of child labor.
India has a big monopoly on the mica mining industry, accounting for roughly 60% of the world’s mica, with 25% coming from regions where child labor is prevalent. And those who live in these villages that are abundant with this resource often find themselves at the mercy of its demand. Corruption has infiltrated the industry throughout the supply chain, and many families are forced to put their children to work because they are so dependent upon the income.
Unfortunately, it has been discovered that there is absolutely no transparency in many of these mines, so there is no way of knowing if the mica used in your makeup was sourced with child labor or not.
Some makeup brands have embraced synthetic mica as an ethical alternative to this association with child labor. And while this is a great option, the complexity of the issue wherein so many of these families rely on the industry to survive, the answer is not in boycotting the natural ingredient altogether.
While you can choose to address this matter however you see fit, we suggest that you help put the pressure on makeup companies to do their part by supporting brands that are actively involved in taking action and avoiding brands that aren’t. Many brands have come together to form the Responsible Mica Initiative (R.M.I.), which is committed to eliminating child labor from the Mica supply chain in the states of Bihar and Jharkhand in India by 2022.
But it should be noted that the sourcing of natural ingredients for cosmetics has environmental, social, and governance risks (referred to as E.S.G. risks), which range across the entire supply chain and threatens the reputation of the beauty industry as a whole. Indeed, unsustainable and unethical practices are so deeply instilled within the industry, and the problem is worse than many originally thought it to be.
Avoid Brands Using Unethical Advertising
Studies in neuroscience have revealed that a mere 5% of cognitive activities, including emotions, actions, and decisions, are conscious. The other 95% are non-conscious. This can explain why so many of us tend to gravitate “naturally” toward more eco-friendly and ethical brands.
But research also shows that consumers are driven by emotions when it comes to beauty products.
It was also determined that consumers get higher satisfaction and greater validation in brands that strengthen and feed the perception that using a product is “caring for oneself.” And oftentimes, companies are promoting themselves as “natural” or “organic” or “safe” (even when they aren’t) to play into your unconscious decisions to buy green.
And unfortunately, the F.D.A. doesn’t even regulate most of these claims in cosmetics products, and companies can get away with making these claims.
But what’s worse is many brands have resorted to literal fear-mongering in some of their advertisements to convince you they are the superior brand. Such tactics are highly unethical, and you should be cautious to avoid falling for them. Oftentimes, anyone trying to focus on something or someone else is usually trying to hide their own crimes, failures, or shortcomings.
Unfortunately, unethical practices have become somewhat commonplace for makeup companies. Indeed, the entire beauty industry is inadvertently associated with child labor due to its use of mica. And fast-makeup brands have proven to be just as unsustainable as fast-fashion brands. Many companies are trying hard to avoid these ethical pitfalls, but we consumers must do our due diligence to ensure we support brands that are genuine in such efforts.
- PETA: These Beauty Brands Are Still Tested on Animals
- Coty Brand
- PETA: L’Oréal is included on PETA’s “do test” list. What does that mean?
- Cruelty-Free Collections: Is Elizabeth Arden Cruelty-Free in 2020?
- Sunday Times: Complaints grow Lauder as global cosmetics brand lets down customers
- PETA: Is Guerlain Cruelty-Free?
- PETA: Category: Burberry
- The List: Why Z Palette Isn’t Worth The Money
- Seventeen: People Are Boycotting Z Palette for “Bullying” Customers On Instagram
- Centennial Beauty: Morphe Confirms Hidden Formula Change, Vegan to Not-Vegan
- Paper: Jaclyn Hill Apologizes For Morphe Palette Formula Changes
- Reddit: BeautyGuruChatter
- Yahoo: ColourPop Apologizes for the Names of Its Contour Sticks for Dark Skin Tones
- Justine Figueroa: Here’s the Real Story Behind the Kylie Cosmetics and ColourPop Controversy
- The List: Why Kylie Cosmetics Isn’t Worth The Money
- Revelist: Kylie Jenner is being sued by the makeup artist she’s allegedly stealing from
- Allure: The Kylie Cosmetics Royal Peach Palette Smell Has Everyone Talking
- CheatSheet: Fans Think Kylie Jenner Does Not Care About Kylie Cosmetics Anymore
- Leaping Bunny HomePage
- Vegan Foundry: Is Kylie Cosmetics, Vegan And Cruelty-Free?
- The Things: 14 Things Kylie Jenner’s Employees Have Said About Working For Her
- The Age: India’s mica mines: The shameful truth behind mineral makeup’s shimmer
- The Startup: Unethical Beauty is Hard to Escape
- Refinery29: The Makeup Industry’s Darkest Secret Is Hiding In Your Makeup Bag
- The Guardian: Beauty companies and the struggle to source child-labor-free mica
- My Green Closet: Is your Makeup Actually Cruelty-Free? Beauty Brands who use Ethical Mica
- Responsible Mica Initiative
- Maplecroft: The supply chain risks that could blemish cosmetic reputations
- Simplifying Interfaces: 95 percent of brain activity is beyond our conscious awareness
- HubSpot: Emotional Advertising: How Brands Use Feelings to Get People to Buy
- F.D.A. Fact Sheet: #Can I label my cosmetics “organic” or “natural.”
- Skincare By Alana: The Beauty Industry Doesn’t Want You to Read This