The Moral Alignment of Beauty Trends, From Needles to YouTube Feuds

Moral Alignment of Beauty Graphic Chart

There is no one true beauty pope anymore. That authority formerly held by renaissance idols, supermodels, and magazines has long since diluted and democratized as digital media has taken over, offering visibility to individuals with unique and interesting aesthetics, spawning self-informing beauty trends and cultures therein. Beauty is increasingly in the eye of the beholder, the today, the eye has way more ground to cover. With so much more to see and so many complex interpretations of what beauty and vanity can be, I’m loathe to judge beauty by any moral standard. But considering its rapid industrial-age levels of expansion in the past five or six years, the proliferating beauty trends can most definitely be aligned, if not realigned.

Beauty chart

Lawful Good: 40 Shades of Foundation

Wild how all it takes is the right person to release a makeup line with 40 shades of foundation to upend the entire industry’s approach to complexion makeup. It took Rihanna to shed light on the fact that people of color darker than “mocha” have cash to splash on makeup and gladly will once the shades are available to them. Of course, studio brands like Make Up For Ever and M.A.C. have had a similar range of shades for ages, but for all their serviceable selection, neither of those brands caused the Rih-pple effect (heh) that set the industry bar for inclusive shade ranges. Anything less is simply unacceptable now, especially by well-established brands—who are now happy to boast their 40+ shade ranges, some going to far as to launch with 100 shades. We may be spoiled for choice now, but at least we’re all covered.

Neutral Good: Bespoke Beauty Products

You’ve probably been introduced to most of these via targeted ads or Instagram spon-con. It’s not necessarily a new idea, but the branding has greatly improved, I think, and overall it seems to be a natural response to fast beauty’s quickly flooding market, offering sustainable options for you to feel good about consuming. Most of them require taking a cute little online quiz, which, as anyone who came of age in the early 2000s can attest, we love. I very much enjoy my Native custom deodorant (it has my name on it! I love when my name is on my things!) and my custom-blended Skin Inc serum. I smugly finished my entire Saltine cracker-looking ream of Care/Of supplements (six pills a day is a lot). And I cherish my custom-blended Ex Nihilo fragrance. These self-indulging purchasing experiences aren’t exactly inexpensive…but you do get to take a quiz.

Chaotic Good: Anything with needles

As someone who has microbladed brows, a few brushes with lip filler and Botox in her past, and more than a couple tools to puncture and slice my way to glowing skin, I am no stranger to sharp implements in the name of beauty. I would, however, advise against microneedling, because esteemed esthetician Renee Rouleau once told me there’s basically no suitable research ensuring its long-term effects, but there is a fair amount of research on physical trauma to the skin causing latent hyperpigmentation years down the line. And what is physical trauma to the skin if not rolling hundreds of tiny needles over your face like some sort of sadistic garden aerator?

Lawful Neutral: Double-Cleansing

Yeah, I know—washing your face is not a beauty trend. Nor is double-cleansing a new concept; it’s been a k-beauty staple for years. But so many people are still not aware of it and insist on removing their makeup with rough cotton rounds (that tug on your delicate eye area, yanking out eyelashes in the process) and micellar water or those bi-phase salad dressing-like eye makeup removers. Maybe that was fine 20 years ago, but we have longwear foundation now. We have primer now. We have three layers of contour now. Double-cleansing is, in my humble and professional opinion, the easiest and gentlest way to remove all your makeup and grime—which also makes your whole skincare routine more effective, by providing you with a totally clean canvas.

True Neutral: Water

It’s true, haha. Pure water’s pH is a neutral 7, right in the middle of the acid vs. alkaline tug-o-war on the pH scale. Water is also, according to countless supermodel soundbites, the key to clear and glowing skin. And also, according to Derek Zoolander, the essence of wetness, which is the essence of moisture. And there’s a dude who knows his humectants. Water: the source of life. Drink it. Bathe in it. It’s not a “trend” (you will literally die without it) but several trendy water bottle brands are on a vaguely successful mission of making water-drinking—or at least the vessel you choose to be seen watering yourself from—a chic and fashionable statement. Is an $80 glass water bottle with a giant rose quartz inside it really necessary? If it stops people from buying plastic water bottles, I mean…sure.

Chaotic Neutral: Astrology-themed beauty products

All the proof we need that astrology is having a moment is the number of beauty brands pumping out astrological merch. Brands, big and small (ColourPop, BH Cosmetics, Milk Makeup, Bite Beauty, Fresh, Wet N Wild, to name some off the top of my head), are releasing a product or a collection for every zodiac (including the Chinese zodiac, in M.A.C.’s case) this year, most of which have sold out. It makes sense—astrology is at a perfectly relatable intersection of mysticism and narcissism (my Capricorn-rising would argue).

Lawful Evil: Multi-Level Marketing

Multi-level marketing has been a successful business model for some beauty brands for awhile now, but instead of going door-to-door like the Avon ladies of yore, these cosmetic cults now can reach prospective customers via DM. I’m sure for some, MLM is a fun way to make money and moonlight (sunlight?) as a beauty influencer. But the brands at the top of these pyramid schemes are making off with the fat profits while their eager minions go on to alienate and annoy everyone they know on Facebook. (Look, person I went to high school with and knew only vaguely, I get enough targeted ads! I don’t need you messaging me out of the blue under the guise of catching up only to have you pitch me an all-in-one face palette!) It’s not a scam, but it’s at least scam-adjacent.

Neutral Evil: YouTuber Feuds

For a beauty editor, I have fairly elementary knowledge re: the ins-and-outs of YouTuber drama. But while I may not recognize the name of every influencer who releases a collab with a brand, I do know that editorial coverage on any related gossip (public social media gaff, quality control issues with products, or quarrels with other beauty vloggers) can float a beauty site’s traffic goals for a full week. Beauty vlogger fame is often accumulated via cosmetic creativity, yes, but also largely by personality, so when big names fuck up, it feels personal, and the fallout, to fans, is commensurate to a sense of betrayal. Cue the makeup-free, sobbing apology videos, cue the public make-up tweets, the screenshot receipts—the receipts! An entire protocol of how to handle a micro-celebrity scandal has emerged in the past five years or so and it is captivating, for better or worse.

Chaotic Evil: 3-in-1s

The notorious 3-in-1 shampoo/conditioner/body wash—and all similarly simplified body care products marketed towards men—has been on continuous roast on social media, for good reason. Beauty has long been considered a frivolous pursuit due to its association with femininity, but conventionally feminine beauty standards are evolving, so why can’t masculinity’s traditional relationship with beauty do the same? The practice of marketing products as oversimplified to the point of aggressive functionality (or in some cases, branded to reference literal warfare) reinforces not only toxic masculinity but also the gendering of how one chooses to take care of themselves. It makes navigating a glow-up trickier than it already may be. But everyone deserves to glow up on their own terms, and the brands that recognize and facilitate that are the ones changing and winning the game.

Graphics by Coco Lashar.

Sable Yong

Sable Yong

Sable is a New York City-based writer. A former beauty editor and now a freelance narcissist, you can find her work on Allure, GQ, Vogue (Teen and regular), Nylon, New York Magazine, Man Repeller (obviously), and sometimes the packaging of beauty products. Like every millennial writer who came of age in the era of analog feelings, she has a newsletter.

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