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Gary Clement for The National
Gary Clement for The National

On the Money: Blemishes on the face of the beauty industry

We spend, and often waste, thousands of dirhams on beauty products that promise the world but rarely deliver.

If I had a dirham for every broken promise made by a skincare or hair care company, I would be an extremely wealthy woman today.

Then again, if I didn't believe the hype of said skincare and hair care companies, I'd have a lot more money in the bank than I do today.

As Albert Einstein once said: "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe."

I'm not so sure about the universe, either, but at least I can take cold comfort in the fact that I'm not alone in being infinitely stupid. Or is that ignorant?

Like millions of other women around the world, I have persisted in what has become a blind quest to find that ultimate anti-ageing cream that lives up to its promise, or a shampoo and conditioner that actually eliminates tangles (rather than making my hair knottier). Why? Because I want to believe that there's something out there that can actually help me.

And the companies that produce these products know that. And, boy, do they play on it. They have created for themselves a multibillion-dollar industry that is based more on airbrushed fantasy than fact.

But their biggest success lies in the fact that they take advantage of our insecurities and make us believe that we need them and their miracle creams to fix our so-called imperfections.

The result? Bathroom cabinets the world over are full of half-used tubes and jars of anti-ageing creams worth thousands of dirhams because we are constantly tempted to try the next-best thing in anti-ageing.

We waste a lot of our hard-earned money every year in the hope that we'll all wake up looking like a million dollars. One day. Just not tomorrow, because, remember, it doesn't happen overnight.

The global beauty industry is worth about US$340 billion (Dh1.2 trillion) a year - and that's thanks to us, the women (and, increasingly, men) who are on what seems like an eternal journey to find their eternal, wrinkle-free beauty.

From night serums to day creams to eye gels, lip scrubs, body moisturisers, skin polishers, hand creams, firming lotions, cleansers and cellulite busters; you name it, there's (supposedly) a fix for it.

And they don't come cheap thanks to the fantastical - and often obscure - ingredients they are now using. To be honest, it's a rare woman who is immune to the hype of the next-best thing in the world of beauty, which is why we have so many discarded creams in our bathrooms.

From apple stem cells (what?) to protein enzymes to the simple (but ineffective, at least for me) vitamin C, octinoxate, gold, caviar, sea kelp, aloe vera, collagen, Dead Sea mud, Q10, Marula, London rocket and Centella asiatica (don't ask), the list is endless. They've experimented with them all, not to mention using the obscurity - and our ignorance - of the ingredients to push up the prices of their products.

Which brings to mind an interesting investigation by London's Daily Mail in February 2010, in which it hired a cosmetic chemist to analyse the ingredients (and how much they cost) of one of the world's most expensive anti-ageing creams: Crème de la Mer. Made by Estée Lauder, a 250ml jar costs about £530 (Dh3,072). Or it did when the Daily Mail conducted its investigation.

What the chemist found was surprising. "What would they say if they knew that the ingredients in their £530 pot of cream cost - as the Daily Mail discovered - no more than £25?" the tabloid said of the results.

Ouch. That's got to hurt the hip pocket, not to mention some pride.

Then there's the recent headlines about L'Oréal, the world's fourth-largest beauty company, which was found by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to have "digitally enhanced" a picture of the actress Rachel Weisz in an ad for its Revitalift Repair 10 product.

According to Reuters, the ASA banned L'Oréal's two-page magazine advertisement for "misleadingly exaggerating its performance".

"We told L'Oréal Paris to ensure that they did not use post-production techniques in a way that misrepresented what was achievable using the advertised product," Reuters reported the ASA as saying.

Which makes you wonder: how many other beauty companies digitally enhance photos of models to boost sales? And how many women are swayed by these "flawless" ads to part with their hard-earned money?

If their products really do what their makers claim they do, then why do they need to airbrush a photo of an already beautiful woman?

The bottom line is that it's all about profits and how they can camaflouge the true effectiveness of their products in pursuit of that.

Which is why I've decided to be infinitely smart and stick to the basics when it comes to the skincare products I buy. Not only will my bank balance be healthier, but my stress levels will come down and I'll finally lose that furrowed brow - a feat that the beauty companies and their products have failed - for an eternity, it seems - to achieve.


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