As opposition against animal testing for cosmetics continue to soar, choosing cruelty-free makeup is a given for most consumers, and brands are scrambling to label their products vegan and/or free from animal testing. But ethical beauty concerns more than the product itself. The tools used to apply it are also a factor, and not everyone is aware of the fact that makeup brushes are often a product of cruelty to animals.
Conventional makeup brushes are often made either from synthetic hair or animal hair, namely badger or squirrel. PETA Asia has investigated the badger-hair industry in China, producing footage that shows production practices that most ethical consumers would never get behind: badgers are either captured in their natural habitats using snares, or bred in captivity in small, cramped cages. As any animal held captive, badgers suffer enormously from the stress of living their entire life in a cage: these highly social animals are deprived the opportunity to do anything that is natural to them, such as forage, dig, choose their mate or create the complicated burrow systems that they are known for. Workers kill them by hitting them in the head and then slitting their throats – all for a makeup brush.
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There is also an element of public-health risk when wild animals are kept captive in small cages. We have already seen COVID-19 break out on fur farms across the globe, and badger farming isn’t much different from fur farms, or the conditions in which animals are kept at live-animal markets, akin to the one where the virus is believed to have originated. The proximity to other animals makes it easy for blood and other bodily fluids to mix, leading to an increased risk of pathogens flourishing.
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“Every badger or goat-hair brush represents a sensitive animal who endured a violent death,” says PETA Director of Corporate Projects Yvonne Taylor. “PETA is calling on retailers everywhere to embrace animal-free brushes that no one had to suffer and die for.”
And retailers are in fact reacting: after the investigative footage was released, companies such as NARS, Morphe, Cult Beauty, and even L’Oréal Group and Procter & Gamble banned the use of badger hair.
When shopping for brushes, customers need to adopt a slightly different mindset from when shopping for cosmetic products. The term “cruelty-free” is misleading when it comes to brushes – they are usually not tested on animals. As there is nothing to regulate the use of the term when it comes to tools, it is sometimes used by companies to “humane-wash” an animal-hair product that was made by torturing badgers or other animals. A better label to look out for is “vegan”, which indicates that the product was not made from animals at all.
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Brands like Nanshy, e.lf. cosmetics, 100% Pure and EcoTools are great go-to destinations for ethically made vegan brushes. Companies like these also generally opt for materials that are kinder to the environment when it comes to handles and packaging, such as bamboo, recycled aluminium and upcycled plastic. The bristles themselves are synthetic, and to minimise the harm done by these fibres, it’s important to make your brushes last for as long as you can. With good care, cleaning and storage, brushes can last for years – and as conscious consumers, this is what we should be aiming for.
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Cover image by cottonbro.