Rethinking Hair Color and Makeup

Part of my path toward a simpler lifestyle has been gradually to forego hair color and makeup.  I’m mildly surprised that most women, as busy as we all are, still spend so much time and money on these products when it is so freeing to go without.  I wore makeup for about twenty years, and colored my hair to cover gray from my late 30’s until late 40’s (I grayed prematurely).  Women want to look younger and, in society’s terms, more beautiful, but have we really considered whether those standards of age and beauty are what we want to support?  Are we more likely to attract the love or status we want by using these products?  Furthermore, have we looked at their impact on our health, the environment, and the treatment of animals?  Let’s take a closer look.

Media Images:
Crucial to the decision to use hair color and makeup is the belief that the way we look naturally is not acceptable.  How have we come to this viewpoint?  Presumably, from advertising images of models wearing makeup and hair color, and due to the deeply ingrained belief in our culture that aging is ugly.  Both of these influences are relatively recent.  In 1950 only 7% of American women artificially colored their hair; today Clairol estimates that at least 65% do.  Obviously until modern media, no one was constantly barraged with images of young models, and most cultures around the world greatly value their elders, rather than marginalizing them.  In these societies, when people lie about their age, they say they are older, because to be older is to be respected.  Speaking of media images, I’m glad to see that the world’s newest fashion icon, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, new wife of Prince William, doesn’t bleach or wear streaks or highlights in her gorgeous dark hair.  I hope this example is imitated.

Impact on Partners:
We may think we must use these “beauty” products to attract the love of our life, but that is not necessarily true.  My husband, to whom I’ve been married for 22 years, told me that when we first met he was more attracted to me because I didn’t wear makeup–he preferred the natural look.  Some years later, when I gave up hair color, he admired my newly gray hair, and said that each time I’d colored my hair, he’d noticed and disliked the unpleasant smell of my head next to his on the pillow at night.
An article entitled “Women Who Go Gray and Stay Sexy”  affirms that “women who keep their hair gray often find themselves more in demand than women who use hair dyes.”  It cites a study in which a woman’s profile was put up on a major online dating site in two different versions; each entry had the same description and same photo, except in one photo her hair was dyed, and the other showed her natural gray hair. The woman sought dates in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.  Three times as many men in each of those cities responded to the profile with the gray hair!  Good Morning America got wind of this and was skeptical.  They duplicated the experiment with another woman and got the same results.  Potential partners looking for older women preferred those with gray hair.

Money, Time and Stress:
To keep up these appearances, we must spend money–which means we must work more to earn that money.  I was floored not long ago when a friend revealed how much she spent to get a professional highlighting job.  If we don’t have the money for salons, and apply hair color ourselves, it is messy and time-consuming.  I remember all that–ugh!  The same money and time considerations apply to the use of makeup as well, and both can be stressful: in the case of hair color, we worry that our roots will show or that it will look artificial; in the case of makeup, we worry that being caught in the rain, crying at a movie, exercising, or touching our face accidentally will mess it up.   If we wear makeup, we must get up earlier in the morning to apply it and must touch it up during the day, requiring us to carry around a heavier purse.  We must also  keep up with fashion, to be sure we are not–heaven forbid–caught wearing “last year’s look.”

“Hue How-To”  reminds readers that “most commercially available permanent hair colors come with a laundry list of unpronounceable carcinogenic chemicals.”  The article goes on to encourage use of less-toxic alternatives, but these are harder to find and often more expensive.  With some brands, only the semi-permanent color choices are free of obnoxious chemicals; which presumably means the customer will need to color more often.  The most natural choice is henna, but it is described as sticky, stinky and taking even more time to apply than other color options.  Hair that is continually colored and/or permed can become dry and brittle.  Why not go with our natural hair and skin, kept clean and appropriately moisturized?  If our faces are coated in makeup, wouldn’t this logically decrease the vitamin D we can absorb from sunshine?  Vitamin D is essential for good health.  In the winter in many U.S. cities, our face is the only part of the body exposed when we go out.  I still remember my joy when I first started feeling the sunshine and breeze on my un-madeup face.  One site advertising makeup urges consumers not to keep their makeup more than 12-18 months, as it can become a breeding ground for germs and bacteria.

Environmental and animal concerns:
It can’t be beneficial to the environment for the residues of all these chemical-laden dyes to be washed down drains during manufacture and end use.  Furthermore, it is not only the products themselves that use resources and pollute, but the plastic and paper packaging they come in that ends up in landfills.  And since makeup is packaged in very small containers–think eye shadow, or a single lipstick–more packaging is used than with items we buy in larger sizes.  Why would we want to increase our carbon footprint or add more pollution to the planet just for the sake of vanity?
Then there’s the impact on animals.  Historically, animals have suffered horribly in the testing of cosmetic products.  Now there are alternatives, but to avoid animal exploitation completely, it is necessary to research different brands to be sure our makeup and hair color is cruelty-free.  If we are not mindful about this, we may be contributing to the suffering.

The Feminist Argument (very briefly):
I noticed years before I was old enough to wear makeup that women wear it, and men don’t.  Men’s looks are considered fully acceptable without being covered or colored.  Let’s encourage women to claim the same for themselves.  Last year, Chicago writer Rachel Rabbit White started a No Makeup Week .  She concluded an interview by saying, “not wearing make-up is a form of self-care. I am doing something nice for my face by not slathering it with chemicals. And with that knowledge I can look at my naked face in the mirror and think, self-love, self-care, this is good. Rather than ‘argh I look awful.’ ”

Free yourselves, women of America!  Show your natural face; let it be a statement that you don’t think beauty comes out of jars and tubes.  Your example will encourage other women to do likewise.  Spare the planet a lot of garbage. Think of how you can spend the time and money saved on things you really want to do, and let’s relegate makeup and hair color to actors and television personalities.

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