Whether you're a beauty lover or not, being bombarded with makeup, hair and skincare adverts is now part and parcel of using the internet. A new dewy foundation here, a skin-transforming serum there...
While these ads may pop up all over the place during a browsing session, it's arguably social media which creates the biggest buzz when it comes to new products. Instagram in particular is used by brands to market the latest launches, which range from a lipstick or palette to entire new collections, like brow products and skincare. A single post, story or promoted ad teasing each drop can cause mass hype, racking up countless likes, comments and reposts – and eventually leading to a sellout.
It isn't just brands that are fuelling our beauty addiction, though; accounts dedicated solely to uncovering shiny new product drops are cropping up, too. Take @Trendmood1, for example, which has a staggering 1.4 million beauty-minded followers and often leaks launches before the actual brands themselves even have a chance.
While we're more than happy to spend our money on beauty products, with Cosmetics Business estimating that UK shoppers are set to drop £27 billion on beauty by 2022, the way in which products are marketed to us could have a potentially negative impact on our emotional wellbeing. A recent trend alert pulled together by Voxburner found that Gen Z especially has become more aware of the marketing strategies which beauty brands use to publicise their products. Interestingly, it seems they are concerned about the effect that excessive beauty advertising has on their mental health.
Of course, for many women the pattern and structure of a skin, hair or makeup routine is known to ease feelings of anxiety and depression, and there is a vast amount of legitimate research to back this up. But there is no denying that the culture of having to have the latest beauty products is overwhelming. Team this with brand new products being released and advertised almost every day, and it's plain to see just how emotionally exhausting it can be to keep up.
According to Jess Lowe, founder of @FYI_Beauty on Instagram and editor of ukmakeupnews.co.uk, most of the pressure comes from being an active part of the online beauty community. "It's very easy to get caught up in the hype on social media," she told Refinery29. "Some may feel the need to have the latest releases to fit in and not want to miss out. Some may feel overwhelmed, while others may disengage altogether from something they have found joy in previously."
According to Karen Kwong, psychologist and founder of RenOC, the pressure of having to own the latest launches can potentially lead to feelings of inadequacy. "Marketing is smart," she told R29. "If you don't have the latest products and beauty technologies, there is an assumption that you aren't cool enough. Eventually, we may think we aren't good enough if we don't have them."
Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and cofounder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic in London seconds this, and explains further: "Those who already suffer from low self-esteem are especially vulnerable. No matter how up-to-date you are, there’s always a new product on the horizon that offers something even more magical. Thoughts such as I have to have x to feel good about myself lay the foundation for anxiety. Failing to keep up (which is next to impossible for most of us) can easily lead to low mood and even depression."
This intense overwhelming feeling is something Hannah*, 22, knows all too well. "I would get so sucked in to seeing influencers advertising makeup items on Instagram and YouTube, whether it was made clear that it was an ad or not," she told R29. "I followed accounts such as @trendmood1 as well as influencers and the makeup companies who regularly showed new releases on their platforms. Having previously been diagnosed with general anxiety disorder, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, this definitely affected my mental health. As ridiculous as it sounds, I wouldn’t be able to sleep until I was sure that I’d seen every product available from every brand I was interested in on beauty shopping websites."
Hannah says she became particularly interested in shipping makeup from America that wasn’t readily available on UK sites at the time, such as Colourpop, Kylie Cosmetics, Too Faced, Tarte and Anastasia Beverly Hills. "I'd spend a fortune on shipping the products over as well as the duties when the products arrived in the UK because I truly felt having the latest releases would make me feel happier. I’d get really anxious about missing launches of new products and not being able to get them until the next restock, which had a negative effect as I was struggling with anxiety as a result of other situations in addition to this. I started having panic attacks much more frequently due to the accumulation of anxiousness from all areas."
Then there are financial worries, as beauty doesn't come cheap. Hannah admits amassing £3.5k on credit cards as a result of what she refers to as a 'makeup addiction', and she isn't alone. FYI's Jess mentioned she is conscious that a percentage of people may be going into debt to feed their beauty habits and the reality is that it's widespread. Self-confessed beauty obsessive Samira*, 25, told R29: "After a bad breakup which left me feeling like I wasn't good enough, I started buying beauty products and treatments as a fix. Now, I constantly feel anxiety about the amount of money I spend on them."
"It's overwhelming," Samira continued. "Products are advertised as revolutionary, life-changing must-haves and make you feel like you need them. A lot of the time, you believe the message and you think, This is it, this is what I’ve been waiting for." What Samira also thinks is damaging is the sheer amount of new launches that claim to work miracles. "They might not even do anything at all and this causes such disappointment, not to mention more searching and longing for the perfect product or treatment."
The introduction of buy now, pay later schemes such as ClearPay makes it easier for beauty fans to get their fix there and then, but relying on them could result in debt, leading to stress and anxiety. Richard Lane, Director of External Affairs at StepChange Debt Charity says that while these options can be tempting, they are risky. "They are sources of quick and easy-to-obtain credit, but with options to 'pay later' or 'slice it', it can be all too easy to overestimate what you can afford. This is particularly true for young people, who are more likely to have insecure or irregular income, which can put them at greater risk of problem debt."
Richard continues: "Young people need to be aware that there will be hard credit checks which will remain on your credit score for a year. Repeated credit checks or missing payments can affect your credit score, and a poor credit score could make applying for the best deals on products (like mobile phone contracts and credit cards) difficult in the future. Anyone using these services should treat credit as an active choice, rather than an incidental one, and bear in mind the potential repercussions."
While it is evident that excessive beauty marketing could negatively impact the mental health of individuals, Voxburner reports that beauty lovers are now pledging to buy fewer products (low-buy) or rather none at all (no-buy). Alongside emotional wellbeing, reasons such as environmental effects are also being considered.
According to Alexia Inge, cofounder of website Cult Beauty, this shift is a positive one. "We've hit peak consumption," she told R29. "As with anything that makes us feel good, such as food, alcohol and exercise, humans have the propensity to want to recreate that to excess. That said, we are now experiencing a societal gear change which is taking us away from 'fast fashion' principles to that of sustainability and therefore, the upsides of fewer, better quality investment purchases when it comes to beauty."
While it's unrealistic to tell young women to stop buying beauty products altogether, there are savvy ways to navigate beauty advertising. "Permanent products will be constantly restocked, leaving plenty of time to try them out," says Jess. "Also, beauty lovers need to hear that it's okay not to buy everything, because it really is! Trends and products will always come and go."
Hannah adds: "Eventually, I simply had to unfollow many influencers and makeup brands on Instagram to avoid temptation. As a result, I will be able to clear my credit card this payday. I truly thought the new makeup would make me happier and I desperately wanted to feel this way, but like beauty trends, it was temporary. I soon realised I hated this anxious feeling more than the potential missing out of newly launched makeup. That's what kickstarted me to make a change."
As well as unfollowing accounts and channels, Karen suggests creating a monthly beauty budget of what you can afford, sticking mainly to essentials. You can also hide or limit online ads based on your interests. The uBlock origin extension plugs ads on Google Chrome. On Instagram, you can head into your settings and customise what you want to see.
If you are struggling with your mental health, please contact your GP or reach out to mental health charity Mind via email, their helpline 0300 123 3393 (Mon-Fri 9-6) or text 86463.
*Names have been changed.