What’s Ethylhexyl Isononanoate? Representation in the Natural Skincare/Makeup Revolution

By Ciana Alessi

( Source )

I’ve been feeling hella uninspired lately. As any self-proclaiming good person can tell you, all the chaos and injustice of the world can really make you feel burnt out and checked out of literally everything. Maybe blame my Taurus placements, but I also have a strong inclination toward the finer things in life, like luxury (as in, non-drugstore) skincare and makeup — but only when they’re natural, cruelty free, and don’t have scary long ingredients. And it’s not just me. Natural skincare has made a serious boom in the past two years (see: Sephora’s Clean Beauty section). So I find myself here, looking at face masks, cream blushes, and highlighters on my phone while I should be doing anything else and, alas, the last picture. 

If you’re a POC (shoutout), you know how it feels to scroll through a series of pictures of models wearing the same shade of some product only to be able to compare yourself to the last one, maybe two pictures. Oftentimes it goes a little something like this: pretty product picture, closeup texture shot, blonde girl, red haired girl, slightly tanned girl, brown girl, black girl. And if you’re like me, which I’m sure many of you are because the above scenario is far from helpful, you’re left guessing which color might be best for your skin tone. So let’s say you’re even more like me and you think to check the reviews for more assistance, what do you find? Lots of people giving their honest opinion (which is great!), maybe even posting pictures (love it), but 95% of the time … they’re white. 

Now, of course everyone is familiar with the glorious Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty line — aka the ultra-inclusive, holy grail of beauty brands — which has essentially paved the way for more inclusivity in both campaigns and shade ranges. And who doesn’t love Rihanna? But guys, the ingredients list is kind of scary. Take, for example, the Match Stix Shimmer Skinstick, the ingredients include: Mica, Ethylhexyl Isononanoate, Octyldodecanol, Polymethyl Methacrylate, Sucrose Acetate Isobutyrate, C20-40 Alcohols, Tribehenin, Paraffin, Polyethylene, Vp/Eicosene Copolymer, Vp/Hexadecene Copolymer, Diisostearyl Malate, Cera Microcristallina/Microcrystalline Wax/Cire Microcristalline, Caprylyl Glycol, Phenoxyethanol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Hexylene Glycol, Tocopherol, Isostearyl Alcohol, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Malic Acid, Calcium Sodium Borosilicate, Synthetic Fluorphlogopite, Calcium Aluminum Borosilicate, Polyethylene Terephthalate, Acrylates Copolymer, Silica, Tin Oxide, Iron Oxides (CI 77491), Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891). Not that I don’t love reading ingredients because I do, but that’s too many for me unfortunately. So if you’re looking for a more natural and holistic makeup option, you’re left looking toward independent brands. But hey, support small businesses right?

Well, yes, obviously. But the flip side of small businesses is that small business ownership has historically been dominated by white people. Luckily this sentiment is now being tested, with 2018 reports showing 45% minority ownership of small businesses compared to the previous 15% in 2015, but this still leaves the majority of business ownership in the hands of white people. And this brings us back to natural skincare and makeup. Even though many of these white people are making strides toward inclusivity in their brand representation, like skincare brand  Youth to the People, and the infamous makeup/skincare hybrids Glossier and Milk Makeup, the ultimate solution is more minority ownership in all sectors — especially beauty and wellness. 

Even though this discussion was a product of my admittedly problematic shopping addiction, the fact of the matter is representation is one of many micro-level battles for equality, and one of the few that is entirely within reach! So many young brown and black people are seeing these limited swatches and mainstream, mostly white campaign pictures of new products, however, they can’t fully bask in the glory of buying shades for their own skin tone because they can’t tell which shades those will be. Or they’re trying products that don’t work for them because all the white-written reviews tote the brightening power of a product without mentioning the alcohol present. Best case scenario, these young people ultimately decide to use brands with more inclusive representation (still a win!) but end up hurting their skin, and self esteem, by using products with scary long names and heapes of synthetic materials. 

Just like gender expressions and sexual preferences, everyone can do what they want to do. But, I would be remiss if I weren’t to say demand creates change! So if we want more brands like Golde, a fairly new, black-owned wellness/beauty hybrid brand that shows representation in Sephora and all over our Instagram feeds, we must start demanding some changes.