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The documentary exposing the beauty industry’s dark side

Beauty Laid Bare is the new documentary revealing the ugly truth about the cosmetics industry, making us all seriously rethink our makeup habits.

They may be young, but Gen Z is changing the world with their activism. Once again leading the call for transformative and urgent change, Zers have turned their attention to the beauty industry which, like fashion, is rife with issues of environmental damage, unethical practises, and negative self-image.

Exploring the impacts of makeup across the globe, Beauty Laid Bare is the new BBC documentary that follows a group of young influencers as they delve beneath the glossy surface of the lucrative cosmetics industry to reveal its dark side. And what a dark side it has. The three-part series, filmed primarily in the US, is chock-a-block with alarming revelations about an industry that so often trades on glamour when, in reality, it’s not quite as perfect as it might seem.

The group of Brits featured in the doc is comprised of three dedicated beauty fanatics: Casey Gore, a 23-year-old whose identity as a gay man is tied to his relationship with makeup, Chloe Morton, a 21-year-old makeup-artist influencer, and 21-year old Resham Khan, for whom makeup became a source of support after an acid attack (‘makeup to me, is a defence,’ she says). They’re also joined by a bewildered 21-year old Queenie who doesn’t engage with beauty because she’s sceptical about the industry’s aims and the effect it has on our confidence.

Through the lens of these Zers, Beauty Laid Bare offers an unrelenting investigation into the challenges facing the ever-expanding cosmetics industry today and quells some of the myths we’ve all convinced ourselves to be true. To begin with, while you might think you’ve done your bit for the planet by throwing your empty mascara tubes and moisturiser bottles into the recycling once they’re finished, truth is, the majority of what we think we’re successfully recycling doesn’t actually end up that way at all.

‘The global rate for recycling is only 9%,’ says Shilpi Chotray, campaigner at Break Free From Plastic. ‘From pumps being impossible to recycle to black plastic rarely getting a second life, it’s a serious issue.’ With many brands still promoting throwaway culture as well as greenwashing with confusing symbols on their packaging, it’s a problem that we shouldn’t just be addressing now, especially when you consider the extremely sobering statistic that there’ll be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.

Alongside a look into the dangers associated with counterfeit products, whether Botox is driving body dysmorphia, and the realities of influencer culture, Beauty Laid Bare also inspects the human cost of our harmful obsession with beauty, taking us behind the scenes at ColourPop Cosmetics – a brand renowned for its speedy turnover from trend to product.

Yes, the company may make over one thousand lipsticks within an hour, but what you don’t know is that it’s all thanks to the tiresome, physical work of employees that are paid only minimum wage. ‘I feel like ColourPop sugar-coats everything,’ explains Morton after several of her questions are shut down. ‘They encouraged us to ask anything and then they were weird about it.’

What appears to have resounded with viewers the most however, is that Beauty Laid Bare shows how candelilla – although marketed as a vegan and ‘ethical’ alternative to beeswax – is produced in totally unethical circumstances, with workers handling sulphuric acid without any form of protection or safety equipment. ‘They’re using sulphuric acid to create candelilla wax which is then going into beauty products that I am using on my sulphuric acid burns to cover it up,’ says Khan. ‘I think that’s really ironic.’

It’s moments like this that really make you think, particularly when presented by those who don’t have the same self-consciousness or detachment of a professional reporter. The earnest and enthusiastic Zers have no qualms about saying exactly what’s on their mind, and it certainly gets the message across that young consumers are at the forefront of change. Essentially: don’t underestimate Gen Z or their passionate commitment to the issues our world is currently facing because they’re wholeheartedly prepared to stand up for what they believe in and their voices are being heard.

‘Brands really need to talk to the consumers, if you don’t, you’re gone,’ says Jane Larkworthy, beauty editor of The Cut. ‘Rome was not built in a day and the rumblings of the revolution are getting louder. The industry is now more inclusive than ever, and Gen Z should be commended for asking for utter transparency from brands.’

Beauty Laid Bare is one of those documentaries you simply can’t unsee, so trust me when I say I’ll be sticking with non-plastic packaging, ethical ingredients, and refills from now on because we’re rather a long way off from an industry that operates in a fair way for both people and the planet.