Meet The Beauty Industry Watchdogs Calling Bulls**t On Brands And Retailers

Beauty industry watchdog Estee Laundry, an Instagram account made up of an anonymous collective, is calling BS on the beauty industry — and they’ve got the receipts.  

Estee Laundry has pulled back the glossy curtain on everything from copycat packaging and racial appropriation to bullying and mistreating employees, bringing transparency to a traditionally opaque industry.

“There wasn’t a specific event that triggered us to form the collective,” a representative from Estee Laundry who wished to maintain anonymity told HuffPost in an email. “Over time, we observed a trend of shady, unethical business practices occurring in the beauty industry, but we also noticed there wasn’t an independent and objective entity out there to hold these brands accountable.” 

Estee Laundry’s content is fueled by email and direct message submissions, around 100 a day, from their 172,000-plus Instagram followers. “Once we review all submissions, we collectively decide as a group which ones to post. We vet them as necessary through the proper channels and resources prior to publishing. We are careful to only post submissions that have merit,” the rep said. Estee Laundry does not accept ads or sponsorships, but it does have a Patreon page for followers wanting to support their cause.

When Estee Laundry started in May 2018, its audience was mostly made up of people who worked in the beauty industry. Then, in October of that year, the account posted a leaked email from a former employee of skin care brand Sunday Riley, saying that the company had asked employees to write fake product reviews on Sephora. The post went viral, and Estee Laundry’s audience rapidly expanded as the mainstream media began following its movements and citing the collective as a beauty industry watchdog. Sunday Riley’s fake review scandal resulted in an FTC investigation and settlement in 2019.  

“Their rise was meteoric because it was needed,” said Claire McCormack, an editor at Beauty Independent who has covered Estee Laundry in the past. “Certain brands treating their people terribly, coming out with four foundation shades and thinking they are being inclusive and so much other questionable behavior. It’s a very crowded market with a lot of brands putting out crap. It could use a thinning out.”

Estee Laundry said that its most satisfying posts invite constructive conversation and/or invoke change. “A prime example of this is Fenty Beauty’s ‘Geisha Chic’ highlighter. We posted about how consumers found the name offensive and Fenty Beauty was quick to reach out to us stating they heard us and agreed. They immediately pulled the highlighter off the shelves and planned to rename it.”

The collective acknowledges that there are two sides to every story and that it hasn’t always gotten it right. “While we always try to do the right thing, there have been a couple of times where we had to delete a post after hearing the other side’s perspective,” the group said to The Guardian last year.

Kelly Kovack, a beauty industry expert and founder of Beauty Matter, believes watchdogs like Estee Laundry are a good thing because they hold brands accountable. “Twenty, thirty years ago, the beauty industry had a moral compass. At some point that mentality shifted to the bottom line, profit at all cost. [Estee Laundry] is hopefully making brands think twice about bad behavior.”

If Estee Laundry wasn’t enough to make beauty executives shiver in their corner offices, beauty journalist Jessica DeFino urges readers to give up their entire beauty regimens on the pages of national magazines, and has started a newsletter called The Unpublishable, “a place for the investigations, op-eds, and critiques that mainstream beauty publications can’t, don’t or won’t cover.” So far, the headlines have read “Where Are All The Brown Hands?” and “You’re Not Wearing Makeup For You.” The newsletter is free, but DeFino does have a Patreon page.  

DeFino’s provocative articles like “Are Sheet Masks the New Plastic Straws?” and “The COVID-19 Pandemic Is Changing What I Consider ‘Essential’ in Beauty” as seen in Vogue and Allure, respectively, are the antithesis of magazines’ traditional “Buy! Buy! Buy!” messaging and basically gives the middle finger to the entire beauty industry. 

There has always been a sneaky symbiotic relationship between advertisers and print editorial. Brands spend big on ads and their newest products magically end up on “editor’s picks” pages. That’s why DeFino was surprised when Harper’s Bazaar accepted her pitch exposing hyaluronic acid, an ingredient touted as a miracle hydrator found in thousands of skin care products as a potential irritant.

The story “Hyaluronic Acid Might Actually Be Dehydrating Your Skin,” ran March 4 online and was taken down without explanation within a day. DeFino can’t comment on why the story was pulled, and Hearst, the parent company of Harper’s Bazaar, did not respond to HuffPost’s multiple requests for comment. 

So how does DeFino find her information? “I start with expert sources and I try to use a variety: dermatologists, aestheticians, product formulators, cosmetic chemists, functional medicine doctors, naturopaths,” she said. “I always request studies to back up what they’re telling me, and then I dive into those studies myself. A lot of times that is what gives me the angle or break in the story.”

Through all this, DeFino consistently questions the idea that you can buy hope in a jar.

“The message we have been fed for 100 years is that we have to be better, thinner, prettier,” she said. “Now, that message has been reframed as empowerment. ‘I’m putting on makeup for me. I’m getting Botox for me.’ But we have to go deeper and ask, why does that make me feel good? I personally feel absolutely crushed by the beauty standards forced on me. I don’t feel confident without makeup. I don’t feel good about my wrinkles coming in. But for some reason, I’m not compelled to change those things. I’m more compelled to change society’s thoughts about those things.”

Since the nationwide protests began following George Floyd’s death, both Estee Laundry and DeFino have dedicated their social media feeds to amplifying “Pull Up for Change.” The initiative demands that companies share the number of Black people they employ on a corporate level, exposes “Karens” in the beauty industry and acts as a resource for readers to find Black-owned beauty brands.

DeFino and Estee Laundry are clear allies in yanking consumers out of the matrix made by the beauty industry, hoping they will ask questions and make their buying decisions based on facts.

We’re just gaining steam, and have more work to do, but we are excited and optimistic about the future of the beauty industry,” the representative from Estee Laundry concluded.  “We need to continue to challenge the status quo and change the narrative. Our goal is to get the beauty industry to a place where inclusivity, transparency and sustainability are no longer an afterthought but are mandatory and the norm.”

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First Aid Beauty Skin Rescue Oil-Free Mattifying Gel Moisturizer

Lortscher recommends this moisturizer for combination skin. &ldquo;This moisturizer hydrates and replenishes the skin with antioxidant-rich botanical extracts. It can also help to reduce the appearance of pores, which gives the skin a more matte appearance." <br><br>The gel moisturizer is lightweight on your skin while utilizing ingredients like FMLT SeboCure, &ldquo;a proprietary blend to help absorb sebum, reduce greasy skin and discourage future blemishes from forming.&rdquo; <br><br><strong><a href="https://www.sephora.com/product/skin-rescue-oil-free-mattifying-gel-moisturizer-P394502" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:$30 from Sephora" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">$30 from Sephora</a></strong>
Lortscher recommends this moisturizer for combination skin. “This moisturizer hydrates and replenishes the skin with antioxidant-rich botanical extracts. It can also help to reduce the appearance of pores, which gives the skin a more matte appearance.”

The gel moisturizer is lightweight on your skin while utilizing ingredients like FMLT SeboCure, “a proprietary blend to help absorb sebum, reduce greasy skin and discourage future blemishes from forming.”

$30 from Sephora

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Cream

Gel-based formulas tend to be lighter on the skin, which can be easier for acne-prone skin to handle. That&rsquo;s why the Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Cream is recommended by both Hayag and Jaber. <br><br>&ldquo;[It&rsquo;s] great for oily and dry skin. It contains a great trio of moisturizing ingredients: hyaluronic acid, glycerin and dimethicone,&rdquo; Hayag said. It has great moisturizing properties for something so lightweight, Jaber said. It&rsquo;s oil, dye and fragrance free, too. <br><br><strong><a href="https://www.target.com/p/unscented-neutrogena-hydro-boost-hyaluronic-acid-gel-face-moisturizer-to-hydrate-and-smooth-extra-dry-skin-1-7oz/-/A-16600134" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:$16.99 from Target" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">$16.99 from Target</a></strong>
Gel-based formulas tend to be lighter on the skin, which can be easier for acne-prone skin to handle. That’s why the Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Cream is recommended by both Hayag and Jaber.

“[It’s] great for oily and dry skin. It contains a great trio of moisturizing ingredients: hyaluronic acid, glycerin and dimethicone,” Hayag said. It has great moisturizing properties for something so lightweight, Jaber said. It’s oil, dye and fragrance free, too.

$16.99 from Target

Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion

Another affordable drugstore option is Cetaphil&rsquo;s Moisturizing Lotion. &ldquo;This is a classic dermatologist favorite. It&rsquo;s lightweight, gentle on the skin. It&rsquo;s formulated with B5 and Vitamin E, and is oil-free and non-comedogenic,&rdquo; Jaber said. It comes in a huge 8-ounce bottle and can be used on the body, too. <br><br><strong><a href="https://www.target.com/p/cetaphil-moisturizing-body-and-face-lotion-8-fl-oz/-/A-79295835" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:$7.99 from Target" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">$7.99 from Target</a></strong>
Another affordable drugstore option is Cetaphil’s Moisturizing Lotion. “This is a classic dermatologist favorite. It’s lightweight, gentle on the skin. It’s formulated with B5 and Vitamin E, and is oil-free and non-comedogenic,” Jaber said. It comes in a huge 8-ounce bottle and can be used on the body, too.

$7.99 from Target

CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion

This drugstore favorite is another moisturizer recommended by multiple dermatologists. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s super lightweight, formulated with ceramides, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid and is oil-free and non-comedogenic,&rdquo; Jaber explained. <br><br>Aimee Paik, medical director at <a href="https://www.apostrophe.com" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Apostrophe," class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Apostrophe, </a> also likes it&mdash; especially its budget-friendly price. It&rsquo;s fragrance-free and hypoallergenic, too. <br><br><strong><a href="https://www.target.com/p/cerave-pm-facial-moisturizing-lotion-3-fl-oz/-/A-13977966" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:$12.39 from Target" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">$12.39 from Target</a></strong>
This drugstore favorite is another moisturizer recommended by multiple dermatologists. “It’s super lightweight, formulated with ceramides, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid and is oil-free and non-comedogenic,” Jaber explained.

Aimee Paik, medical director at Apostrophe, also likes it— especially its budget-friendly price. It’s fragrance-free and hypoallergenic, too.

$12.39 from Target

Aveeno Clear Complexion Daily Moisturizer

For those with relatively normal skin, Lortscher recommends this Aveeno moisturizer that contains salicylic acid to help clear and prevent blemishes. The Total Soy Complex works to even skin tone and texture, a common pesky partner to breakouts. It&rsquo;s non-comedogenic, oil-free and hypoallergenic, so it won&rsquo;t cause more problems. <br><br><strong><a href="https://www.ulta.com/daily-moisturizer?productId=xlsImpprod640006" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:$18.99 from Ulta" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">$18.99 from Ulta</a></strong>
For those with relatively normal skin, Lortscher recommends this Aveeno moisturizer that contains salicylic acid to help clear and prevent blemishes. The Total Soy Complex works to even skin tone and texture, a common pesky partner to breakouts. It’s non-comedogenic, oil-free and hypoallergenic, so it won’t cause more problems.

$18.99 from Ulta

Vanicream Moisturizing Cream

Extra-sensitive skin can benefit from this brand that keeps things basic. &ldquo;Vanicream&rsquo;s moisturizer helps soothe red, irritated, cracking or itchy skin,&rdquo; Lortscher said. <br><br>Jaber recommends the brand for acne-prone skin, too. &ldquo;Their products are free of fragrance, dyes, lanolin, parabens and formaldehyde, which are all common skin allergens.&rdquo; <br><br>For a lighter product, Jaber recommends the brand's <a href="https://www.target.com/p/vanicream-lite-lotion-16oz/-/A-14333075" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Moisturizing Lotion" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Moisturizing Lotion</a>. &ldquo;It is non-comedogenic and a great lightweight moisturizer for sensitive skin,&rdquo; he said. <br><br><strong><a href="https://www.target.com/p/unscented-vanicream-moisturizing-skin-cream-16oz/-/A-13967260" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:$13.49 from Target" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">$13.49 from Target</a></strong>
Extra-sensitive skin can benefit from this brand that keeps things basic. “Vanicream’s moisturizer helps soothe red, irritated, cracking or itchy skin,” Lortscher said.

Jaber recommends the brand for acne-prone skin, too. “Their products are free of fragrance, dyes, lanolin, parabens and formaldehyde, which are all common skin allergens.”

For a lighter product, Jaber recommends the brand’s Moisturizing Lotion. “It is non-comedogenic and a great lightweight moisturizer for sensitive skin,” he said.

$13.49 from Target

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Ultra Soothing Repair Moisturizer

Multiple dermatologists suggested moisturizers from La Roche-Posay, including Paik. &ldquo;La Roche-Posay&rsquo;s Toleriane Ultra is a great option for acne-prone skin. It has a light feel but is quite moisturizing and does not clog pores,&rdquo; she said. It uses key ingredients shea butter, thermal spring water and neurosensine to moisturize and support sensitive skin, relieving irritation and promoting healing. <br><br>If your skin is oilier, try the <a href="https://www.dermstore.com/product_Effaclar+Mat+Daily+Moisturizer+for+Oily+Skin_27334.htm" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Effaclar Mat Daily Moisturizer" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Effaclar Mat Daily Moisturizer</a> from the same brand. Hayag likes it because it reduces shine and smoothes skin texture, and even helps makeup apply more easily. <br><br><strong><a href="https://www.dermstore.com/product_Toleriane+Ultra+Soothing+Repair+Moisturizer_31711.htm?gclid=CjwKCAjwguzzBRBiEiwAgU0FT1oO2J6Ll8OqHAUY1IGJtMzuGuTPwnxFpZmYBTJDbWLdvgbMDsaLoBoCKxEQAvD_BwE&amp;scid=scplp31711&amp;sc_intid=31711&amp;iv_=__iv_p_1_g_103497357750_c_427721435475_w_aud-312053213250%3Apla-917786072124_n_g_d_c_v__l__t__r__x_pla_y_6790012_f_online_o_31711_z_US_i_en_j_917786072124_s__e__h_9073467_ii__vi__&amp;utm_source=fro&amp;utm_medium=paid_search&amp;utm_term=skin+care&amp;utm_campaign=100090" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:$29.99 from Dermstore" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">$29.99 from Dermstore</a></strong>
Multiple dermatologists suggested moisturizers from La Roche-Posay, including Paik. “La Roche-Posay’s Toleriane Ultra is a great option for acne-prone skin. It has a light feel but is quite moisturizing and does not clog pores,” she said. It uses key ingredients shea butter, thermal spring water and neurosensine to moisturize and support sensitive skin, relieving irritation and promoting healing.

If your skin is oilier, try the Effaclar Mat Daily Moisturizer from the same brand. Hayag likes it because it reduces shine and smoothes skin texture, and even helps makeup apply more easily.

$29.99 from Dermstore

Biologique Recherche Crème Dermapurifiante

The moisturizer from the French brand may be the priciest on the list, but it comes highly recommended. &ldquo;This rebalancing cream helps regulate oil production, decreases inflammation, unclogs pores and hydrates your skin at the same time,&rdquo; Hayag said. If you can get past the smell (it&rsquo;s unfragranced and smells like yeast), your skin will appreciate the dose of ingredients, like centella asiatica and vitamin C. <br><br><strong><a href="https://www.shoprescuespa.com/creme-dermopurifiante.html" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:$96 from Rescue Spa" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">$96 from Rescue Spa</a></strong>
The moisturizer from the French brand may be the priciest on the list, but it comes highly recommended. “This rebalancing cream helps regulate oil production, decreases inflammation, unclogs pores and hydrates your skin at the same time,” Hayag said. If you can get past the smell (it’s unfragranced and smells like yeast), your skin will appreciate the dose of ingredients, like centella asiatica and vitamin C.

$96 from Rescue Spa

This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.

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