Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Paula “The Cosmetics Cop” Begoun: Friend or Foe to the Skincare Consumer? February 23, 2010

If you are interested in cosmetic and skincare products you have probably come across Paula Begoun’s best-selling books and even visited her website.  In my estimation, Begoun is the best known and most prolific consumer advocate working today who concentrates solely on critiquing and evaluating the cosmetic and skincare industry.  Begoun and her staff are constantly turning our product reviews (of make-up, hair, and skincare products), answering questions from consumers, and researching ingredients.  In addition, Begoun even has her own line of skincare and make-up products (more about that later).

Paula Begoun has written numerous books of which the best known was are Don’t Go to the Cosmetic Counter Without Me and The Beauty Bible.  I own the older editions of both books; new editions of both books (8th and 3rd respectively) have just been published.  You can find all of Begoun’s books at your local chain bookstore.  If you spend some time on Begoun’s website and sign-up for her weekly email updates it is obvious that many, many people admire her and turn to her for seemingly unbiased advice about the cosmetic and skincare industry and its products.  For all of Begoun’s positive work I still have some issues with her reviews and some of her statements about skincare.  I’ll elaborate below.

The Good

The cosmetic and skincare industry certainly needs a reality check, and I applaud Begoun for devoting her career to being a consumer advocate, to helping educate the public, and to helping people make better choices when it comes to buying skincare and make-up products.  The cosmetic and skincare industry is based upon hype, false hopes and promises, unattainable beauty, youth, and even in some cases out right lies.  It is great that Begoun and her staff try to cut through all the lies and illusions in order to help the public make educated choices about what make-up and skincare products to buy and how to take care of their skin.   Another hallmark of Begoun’s work is how well researched it is.  She always cites her sources (which I greatly appreciate) and it obvious that she and her workers are really looking into subjects from numerous perspectives before publishing their opinions.

The Beauty Bible has a great chapter all about why sun protection is so important.  In addition the book explains very well how to see through all the hype of the cosmetic industry so that you base your consumer decisions on facts instead of marketing claims.  There is mostly thoughtful information in the book about how to care for all the different skin types.  I even thought that the discussion about animal testing, at the back of the book, was interesting and a worthwhile addition to the book.  This book can be a good resource for information about skincare.

Don’t Go to the Cosmetic Counter Without Me contains tens of thousands of product reviews.  It is exhausting just to look at.  Begoun conveniently labels and rates her reviews with faces – smiley faces for great products, neutral faces for so-so products, and faces with frowns for products she doesn’t like.  If she considers the products a good buy there is a check next to the review.  Prices and  a brief explanation about why the rating that was given to the review are included.  Product companies are listed alphabetically so it is easy to find the review you are looking for.  The book includes skincare tips, ingredient explanations, and an explanation of how the product evaluations were done.  Certainly this book is the most exhaustive collection of product reviews currently available.

As someone who likes to play with make-up but is very far from being a make-up artist, I greatly appreciate Begoun’s make-up product reviews.  I find those reviews helpful so that I can spend my money on the right products to get the results that I want.  I appreciate her research about skincare ingredients, and I do find myself looking up what she has to say about different ingredients before making my final decision on how I feel about the ingredient.  I think her research, which is well done, is a definite help to anyone who wants to be better educated about skincare ingredients and formulations.

The Bad

At times I have been confounded by Begoun’s skincare advice and upset that such a wide audience of people was receiving this advice.  Begoun actually began her career as a make-up artist.  When she refused to sell products she didn’t believe were effective her career as a consumer advocate began.  It should be pointed out that Begoun never trained as an esthetician and certainly has never had any medical training.  She is an extremely well-educated, but self-educated, lay person who has made an interest in cosmetics into a very successful career.  I certainly don’t believe that just because Begoun is not a licensed esthetician or a physician that her advice is no good, quite to the contrary at times.  But I do think there is a big difference between someone who examines skin up close on a daily basis (and touches it) and their knowledge compared to someone who deals with all these issues in a simply theoretical way.  There is a huge difference between talking about skin versus caring, looking at, and touching it.  Certainly when it comes Begoun’s reviews of products I find that the lack of actually using and trying the products versus just looking at ingredients in order to evaluate the product is a big issue.  I disagree with some of Begoun’s product reviews for that reason.  Some products she pans I have used with great success and recommend them to my clients.  I haven’t done a scientific study about this but I would say that her product reviews lean toward being generally neutral to negative.  Now is that more a reflection on her exacting standards or on the sad state of cosmetic and skincare industry?  I don’t have an answer for that.

Begoun is extremely opinionated on every cosmetic and skincare topic and product.  I guess you need to be to that way in her line of work, but I find her attitude a bit off-putting at times.  I generally think that you need to stay open-minded when it comes to skincare issues.  There are always new products and research to discover.  You need to able to bend a bit in order to stay abreast with the latest findings.

Begoun has declared war on fragrance in cosmetic and skincare products.  Yes, it is true that fragrance can cause irritation and people with sensitive skin should look for products that are fragrance free but should all fragrance be banned from make-up and skincare products?  I don’t think so.  But when I read Begoun’s The Beauty Bible I think I figured out why she is so against fragrance.  Begoun suffered from severe eczema for many years, and so I believe that her hatred of fragrance is purely personal.  I wish her own personal issues wouldn’t loom so large over her reviews.

Another bit of advice that Begoun gives just annoys me.  She writes the following in The Beauty Bible (page 190, 2nd edition):

“If you have dry skin, dry, wrinkled skin, or dry areas (like on the cheeks or around the eyes), you need a moisturizer; otherwise you don’t.  It’s that simple.  If you don’t have dry skin or you have normal to oily skin, you can obtain many of the benefits moisturizers contain (antioxidants, anti-irritants, water-binding agents, natural moisturizing factors) in a well-formulated toner.  Avoiding using a cream-, lotion-, or serum-style moisturizer when you don’t have dry skin can help prevent breakouts and feeling greasy and shiny through your makeup by midday, and encourage your skin to do its natural exfoliation.”

I couldn’t disagree more!!!   Even if you have breakouts you definitely could feel that you want to use a moisturizer.  It is very wrong to tell people that if they use a moisturizer they can cause breakouts.  I know few people who don’t need a moisturizer.  As a matter of fact, many dermatologists even say that a lot of the skin redness and irritation that they see on patients could simply to relieved by using a good moisturizer.  I have never been able to figure out why Begoun continues to give the above advice.

Begoun began her career as a make-up artist so it was strange for me to read her come out against experimenting with eyeshadow color in her chapter about make-up.  Since make-up washes off it is a great medium to experiment with and cosmetic companies certainly offer plenty of color options with which to do so.  I feel that once again this is a personal preference of Begoun’s passed off as fact.  I wish she would encourage “free thinking” when it comes to make-up colors.

The Ugly

As I have already mentioned Begoun has her line of skincare products called Paula’s Choice.  Full disclosure – I use one of her sunscreens and love it.  I also have a client of mine using one of her BHA lotions nightly with great results.  Yet I do have an issue with a consumer advocate having her own products particularly because Begoun shamelessly self-promotes.  In Don’t Go to the Cosmetic Counter Without Me she even goes so far as to review her own products!  Not surprisingly she gives all her products her highest rating.  I found that ridiculous, self-serving, unnecessary, and even slightly unethical.  I turn to Begoun for unbiased reviews; I don’t need her to review her own products as well.

And lastly, none of Begoun’s books have indexes.  Is it too much to ask for a book that is so full of information to have an index???  I don’t think so.  I find myself wasting lots of time trying to find information in The Beauty Bible because of the lack of an index.  I also find the format of “the best product summary” in Don’t Go to the Cosmetic Counter Without Me to be hard to read.

Bottom Line:  I’ve said this before and I’ll continue to stand by it – Paula Begoun is doing important and needed work as a consumer advocate but don’t take her word as the final word on cosmetic and skincare products.  Use her as a reference and do your own research as well.

For another perspective  on Paula Begoun read Caroline Hirons excellent post with her take on the good and bad when it comes to Paula Begoun.

 

 
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