Cosmetic Counter Tips

April 26, 2001 -- The following is an excerpt from the book Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me by Paula Begoun.

Buy your copy of Paula Begoun's book here.

Beauty in Conflict

What I do is controversial. I've known it almost since the beginning, when at my first cosmetics job I told a customer that "astringents can't close pores, and if they could, why would anyone still have pores-wouldn't they all be closed by now?" I knew I was in a precarious position. No doubt there were going to be salespeople who wouldn't be thrilled by my comments, and without question throngs of cosmetics company executives would be disturbed by someone challenging their claims.

Yet what I say or write is not unknown to those in the industry (at least not those involved in serious skin-care and makeup research and formulation). I draw my conclusions from many well-known cosmetics industry sources, which I encourage all of you to check out for yourselves. My primary references for the conclusions drawn and assessments used throughout this book are from Drug and Cosmetics Industry magazine, Cosmetics & Toiletries magazine, and The Rose Sheet.

All of these are industry publications that report on or review ongoing cosmetics research, U.S. government's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, the creation and critique of formulations, and opinions from the people who make the products. I also constantly refer to medical journals such as Cosmetic Dermatology, The Journal of the American Medical Association, The New England Journal of Medicine, and The Lancet (a British medical research journal), as well as press releases from the American Academy of Dermatology, and published studies from the biochemistry world found in The Blue Sheet (a health and biomedical publication).

Published, peer-reviewed information is integral to my work, but I also spend a great deal of time interviewing cosmetics chemists, dermatologists, cosmetics ingredient manufacturers, biochemists, oncologists, and plastic surgeons. This accumulated research provides me with abundant sources of information that you may not get a chance to hear because the fashion magazines just leave out any information that their cosmetics advertisers don't agree with.

Despite the work I cite, I have been called everything from a charlatan to someone who has nothing more than a vendetta against the cosmetics industry, with no substantiation or proof backing up what I say (I guess ignoring credible sources is the only way to prove anyone wrong). Yet I truly feel that it only takes a quick perusal of this book's Appendix for someone to realize that I have extensive resources and data for my comments. The fundamental research I base my evaluations on is well documented and the specifics are detailed in my work.

I also receive complaints (particularly from cosmetics salespeople) saying I hate all cosmetics except my own products. Yet a quick flip through the pages of my book clearly reveals that I recommend hundreds and hundreds of products. Women who have written me often comment that they notice that people who sell cosmetics usually find my work both awful and wonderful. My book is considered insightful and helpful when I recommend the products they sell, but if I suggest that some of the products in their line are a waste of money or potentially damaging to skin, then their opinion is that I don't know what I'm talking about and that I should mind my own business.

While those in the cosmetics industry protest that I don't like anything, paradoxically I also get letters from readers objecting to my long lists of "best products." I am constantly asked to narrow the field to my absolute ten favorites in each category.

I've also received criticism for making my recommendations too complicated and convoluted. How ironic! The cosmetics industry has no problem with their hundreds of lines and thousands of products all claiming identical miracles of one sort or another. And I'm the one making it complicated? Sigh.

Do I hate the cosmetics industry? Hardly. I am in constant awe of the spectacular quality and performance in relation to a multitude of remarkable skin-care and makeup products. What I hate are the ludicrous claims, disproportionate prices, and the products that can hurt skin or mislead the consumer into taking poor care of the skin.

What is difficult for me to comprehend is why so many women give carte blanche belief to what the cosmetics industry tells them. It doesn't seem to cause any doubts or skepticism for women when cosmetics lines repeatedly have new miracle products every few months (but never tell us what was wrong with their previous products because they keep selling them). Lots of women can't wait to buy the products a celebrity claims to use or is selling, because it seems to be accepted as fact that being beautiful means you must know about product quality or what is best for skin care. After the incessant hype and marketing distortion that accompany all of this, and despite the inevitable disappointment (if we weren't disappointed, the same lines wouldn't keep creating new antiwrinkle, acne, or myriad other skin-care items), we still buy whatever the next impressive ad or celebrity is selling-and repeat this pattern season after season, year after year.

There is a part of me that struggles with what I do. Not that I don't find the work rewarding, because I do. The wonderful feedback I get from thousands of readers touches me deeply in ways I can't even begin to describe. In spite of that, it still isn't easy being the pariah of the cosmetics industry. I am truly dedicated to providing accurate and complete information about skin care and makeup to help you, the consumer, make educated, wise decisions about your purchases. You may not agree with me, but at least you will have someone else's voice in your ear saying, "Here is research or data showing this product won't work or is bad for skin" or "Consider that this other far less expensive product is better than the expensive one you're looking at" or "It isn't worth the money but at least the product is good for your skin"-and then you can make up your own mind about what works best for you. I believe this is far better than basing a decision on the thousands of never-ending, incessant claims that "our product cures or gets rid of (whatever you don't like about your skin)."

Knowledge Is Beautiful

Have you ever purchased an antiwrinkle cream that didn't get rid of your wrinkles?

Did you every buy a product to get rid of puffy eyes but it didn't work?

Have you ever bought an all-day lipstick that didn't last all day?

Have you used oil-control products that didn't control oil?

Have you purchased more than five different products that claimed they would make you "look younger"?

Have you ever applied a foundation claiming to reflect light in such a way that your wrinkles wouldn't be so noticeable only to find that they still were completely noticeable?

Do you watch infomercials selling cosmetics and skin-care products and believe what they're saying is true, especially if it's from a celebrity?

Have you tried a product claiming to be hypoallergenic only to find you did have an allergic reaction?

Have you ever purchased a product claiming to be noncomedogenic and oil-free and found that you had breakouts after using it?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you definitely need the information in this book. I'd like to share with you the following letter from a reader that rather nicely sums up how I feel about my book and the overall work I do.

Dear Paula,

I just finished reading your book Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me, and I have to admit that I'm a little depressed. You wouldn't believe what I (roughly) calculated that I have spent on ineffective, outrageously priced cosmetics purchased over the last two decades. (I guess you would believe it, given your experience, but it shocked the heck out of me!) The number of wasted dollars totals in the thousands (several of them), and makes my mild malaise more than understandable. I've regrouped only because I'm the kind of person who tends to look forward, not behind me, and now that I have you, I am bouncing back.

My quick recovery is due to the fact that I feel educated and armed to deal with the cosmetics companies in a manner that I did not think was possible. As a sales and marketing executive myself, in another industry, I always knew that I was being sold to by claims of questionable validity. However, cosmetics advertising is so damn slick and convincing that even I, seasoned professional that I am, just wasn't able to stop myself!

I have just ordered your book on hair-care products, and I am already beginning to brace myself for the ugly truth (though I know it will be beautiful and liberating in the long run). I know I'm going to start calculating the wasted money there, just like I did when I read your book on cosmetics, and, understandably, I'm getting a little nervous. Thank you, and keep up the great work. You are providing an invaluable consumer service. I only wish I had found you years ago!

This edition of Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me presents product-by-product reviews of cosmetics from almost 250 of the most popular lines, which is 75 more lines (and thousands more products) than I covered in the last edition of the book.

If you've ever felt uncertain about a product, or too short of time or energy to figure out for yourself which foundations are too pink or too orange, which eyeshadows are too shiny or too difficult to use, which powders went on too chalky, which cleansers are too greasy, which toners are too harsh, what makes one moisturizer different from another, or how wrinkle creams differ, look no further. As you read the reviews in this book, you will start to get a better understanding of how the cosmetics industry really works. I've also included a summary chapter of best finds and best buys, but don't jump to that one first. It is important to read the individual product reviews so you understand exactly what you are buying. I might recommend 20 good mascaras, but each one might be good for a different reason.

In the reviews, each product is described in terms of its reliability, value, texture, application, and effect. Within every category of product-foundations, mascaras, blushes, eyeshadows, concealers, pressed powders, lipsticks, and pencils-I have established specific criteria, and I evaluate products using those standards. For example, a foundation meant for someone with oily skin, according to my criteria, should be matte, contain minimal to no greasy or emollient ingredients, blend easily, leave a smooth, even finish, and have no blatant ingredients known to cause breakouts. All foundations must match skin tones exactly; they cannot be any noticeable shade of orange, peach, rose, pink, or ash, because people are not orange, peach, rose, pink, or ash. I made similar determinations for mascaras, blushes, eyeshadows, concealers, pressed powders, lipsticks, and pencils. I relied on my more than 20 years as a professional makeup artist to help establish guidelines for the quality of a product and its application.

Skin-care products were evaluated almost entirely by analyzing the ingredient list and comparing it to the claims made about the product. If a toner asserts that it is designed for sensitive skin, it shouldn't contain ingredients that irritate the skin. If a moisturizer claims it can hydrate the skin, it should contain ingredients that can do just that. In addition, I have made a point of challenging the inflated claims made about such ingredients as yeast, herbal extracts, botanicals, seaweed extracts, placenta extracts, alpha hydroxy acids, vitamins, DNA, RNA, hyaluronic acid, liposomes, and other much-hyped ingredients. I also explain why some of these and other seemingly impressive-sounding ingredients might indeed benefit the skin, but more complete explanations for product claims and miracle ingredients are found in my book The Beauty Bible.

Due Dilligence

I can't stress enough how much time and effort my staff and I put into gathering our information. We are diligent about making sure we incorporate accurate and precise information or research for all of the products we review. To accomplish this, the first order of business with every edition is to contact every cosmetics company I'm including to ask them for their data or facts regarding any of their products or claims. We called every company, asking them to please send whatever they could regarding their products. It is always shocking to me how few companies are even willing to send their product list, let alone any research or studies substantiating their claims. And then there are those companies that actually say they don't provide information to Paula Begoun (a dubious distinction) and many that just never return our calls. Often we simply receive a press release without any other piece of information. Unbelievable!

Let me state clearly that I am more than open to presenting any documented research that substantiates information contradicting something I've stated. I am more than willing to alter previously stated opinions and positions as new research comes to light showing that earlier information is no longer correct. For example, over the years I have changed my opinion on sunscreens with regard to the new research on UVA protection. I have modified my attitude toward antioxidants, too, given the growing body of literature establishing the positives of these ingredients for skin care (not that they are miracles or will erase wrinkles, but they do have strong benefits that make them worthwhile for skin). I have been more open to layering products when different active ingredients are needed. I could go on, but I want to be explicit about my desire to present the most up-to-date, currently published research that exists when it comes to skin-care formulations and makeup products.

--From Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me : A Unique Guide to over 30,000 Products, Plus the Latest Skin-Care Researchby Paula Begoun. © November 30, 2000, Beginning Pr; used by permission.

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