The cosmetics industry is both bloating and gloating,
even as it grows rich on the aspirations of a billion aspirants
We, of course, are a nation of billions. Billions whose aspirations
 run the gamut. We aspire to more money, bigger cars, better
 houses. We aspire to fairer skin, slimmer silhouettes,
 glossy hair. We aspire to an appearance that cuts 10 years
 off our real age. And if our aspirations tend to reach for
 the sky, so what? There's an industry that moves alongside
our aspirations, intent on fulfilling each and every one of them.
Back when the feminist movement was in its nascent stage,
stalwarts like Germaine Greer and Betty Friedan warned
women against succumbing to the blandishments of the
cosmetics industry. The crux of their argument ran thus:
 don't buy everything offered to you. Step back, pause a
moment, use your intelligence. And you'll find most of what's
on offer is pure moonshine.
Moonshine on your face and money in their pockets.
Back then, these far-sighted women were up against a
formidable foe, one hydra of a corporate entity with as
 many heads as (very) deep pockets. It all boils down to
 economics, of course: there was and is a lot of money in
cosmetics. Corporations don't tend to sit pretty,
and they keep at it. Promote or die an ignominious
death being their adopted creed, they set
to work. The barrage of advertisements all work like
 the water method torture…eventually,
they wear you down to a state of happy compliance.


What hit the West more than two decades ago took its time
 but has definitely arrived on Indian shores and what's more,
 is positively thriving. Which brings us to the figures: the US
leads the world cosmetics market, pegged at a cool USD 50
billion. Asia, and yes that includes us, is a close second.
 In 2009, the cosmetics industry touched Rs 356.6 billion
(USD 7.1 billion). What exactly drives this huge market?
Simple; it's a combination of vastly improved purchasing
power and the rising awareness of the Indian consumer.

Variety being the spice of life, what's on offer these days
 is positively mind-boggling.
Specialty cosmetics is quite the rage, be it the lash-growing
 mascara, or nail enamels that dry in a micro- second.
Says Sruthi, 23, who works at Trivandrum's technopark:
“I make reasonably good money, so I don't see why I
shouldn't spend well on quality
stuff for my skin, face and eyes — Rs. 800 for skin
cream, Rs. 1,200 for the best mascara
there is, it's all for the good.”
Then there is the business of natural/organic
cosmetics. Much of this falls into a gray area
with no real research to back it up. Which
translates into more promises, not all of which
can be believed implicitly.
It's all about branding, but of course. The bigger, the
better-known the brand, the more its products will
invariably cost. People pay for the reassurance of
the brand name. In a strange corollary, consumers
also believe that expensive equals superior quality. In India,
 as in large parts of Asia, fairness creams do brisk
business, selling the enchanting promise
 of fairer skin to the dusky masses.
Tina Roy works at the beauty counter of a well-known
MNC that deals in face and hair products, at one of
Bangalore's malls and corroborates on the fairness
cream trend. “It's amazing, the kind of money people
will pay to acquire lighter skin. To me it smacks
of desperation but if the clients are happy, who
am I to complain?”
So, whatever happened to the reetha and shikakai
powders that served as excellent hair
cleansers? The besan and malai mix that made
 for a super face pack for all types of skin?
Alas, all of them fell by the wayside, overtaken
 by glitzy packaging, Photo-shopped faces,
air-brushed bodies …and promises galore.
The irony is, even as the consumer pays through
 her nose for these fancy cosmetics,
she could well be paying for exposure to
dangerous chemicals such as phthalates and
 DMDM hydantolin that have been linked with
 cancer, asthma, allergies and fertility
issues. Studies have shown that the average
American woman uses 12 beauty products
every day, exposing herself to about 160
 different chemicals; one can safely assume
Indian women aren't lagging too far behind.
Whoever has the time to read, or
understand, the fine print on the packaging?
So, the next time you read of miracle mud,
exhilarating elixir or some marvellous
skin milk, pause. Take a step back and think.
 And you will realise you have done
quite well all these years without the
touted marvel. Not all promises deliver, see?