sat 08/08/2020

Beauty Laid Bare, BBC One review - a facial peel for the cosmetics business | reviews, news & interviews

Beauty Laid Bare, BBC One review - a facial peel for the cosmetics business

Beauty Laid Bare, BBC One review - a facial peel for the cosmetics business

Inquisitive young Brits dig under the skin of a $45bn industry

Chloe undergoes a transformation

In this aptly-titled series (BBC One), four British 20-somethings visit the USA to investigate the inner workings of the beauty industry. Perhaps not surprisingly, they discover that it’s a hotbed of greed and exploitation.

Their first stop was the Beautycon exhibition in Los Angeles, a must-see gathering of 30,000 “beauty fans” and (ghastly neologism alert) online “influencers”. The latter included the glittering Kenneth Senegal, who can earn $14,000 by mentioning a cosmetic product in one of his videos. Chloe (a Belfast-based beauty blogger) and Casey (a fastidiously made-up gay man from Cheltenham, pictured below) were thrilled to be invited to Kenneth’s home to chat about his astonishing success. More interestingly, he made some shrewd observations about how the industry is happy to exploit both his gayness and his blackness, now that these have become acceptably marketable characteristics. Nonetheless he noted how he might get called “bitchy” or “ghetto”, where his white counterparts would be merely “sassy”.

Next up was a visit to the Colourpop cosmetics HQ in LA, where Erin the senior product manager gave our travellers a euphoric survey of the company’s all-round wonderfulness. It’s said to be the internet’s favourite beauty brand, and the Colourpop speciality seems to be – apart from their Super Shock eyeshadow in 1000 shades – their ability to spot a niche in the market and create a product to fill it at lightning speed. However, doubts were raised when their PR person shut down questions about how much their employees are paid and the sustainability of their products. Resh, one of the British visitors, was suspicious because everything they’d heard “seemed kind of scripted”.

Even more damning was the revelation that the beauty industry creates vast quantities of unrecyclable plastic waste (as Chloe saw when she was winched down into a putrid sewer in San Francisco), despite protesting its green credentials. The final straw was a meeting with a Mexican candelilla farmer, paid a pittance for his candelilla wax product which is sold for big bucks by the likes of Chanel and L’Oreal.

Superficially, this looked like a frothy youth-TV travelogue at the licence payer's expense. Unexpectedly, it proved to have some investigative teeth.

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters