More than skin deep: the benefits of Cosmetics


Director General, Cosmetics Europe, Brussels, Belgium


Cosmetics and personal care products are often perceived as superficial, ‘skin deep’, dispensable vanity products which no one would really miss if one day they were all taken away.  In order to check what the European consumers really think about cosmetic products, Cosmetics Europe, the European trade association, commissioned a survey in ten EU Member States to better understand the perceptions of cosmetics and their impact on such factors and self-esteem, well-being and social interactions. 

The article summarises the most revealing results of the survey report, which shows that in addition to the already well-documents functional benefits of cosmetic and personal care products, they also bring significant positive influence on the quality of life, well-belling and self-esteem.

The word ‘cosmetic’ is frequently used as a synonym for the insubstantial or trivial. For example, we have all heard of changes to a document or an arrangement which are said to be ‘cosmetic’ because they are unimportant. Similarly,  improving one’s appearance is sometimes perceived as without meaning,  detached from the ‘authentic’ self which is beyond mere superficial enhancement. At worst, users of cosmetics are vain and thus morally culpable. Cosmetic products are thus semantically linked to things that don’t matter.

There are two obvious ways in which these perceptions are false. First, many cosmetic products produce obvious health benefits. Sunscreens protect against sunburn and skin cancer; toothpaste (yes, it’s a cosmetic) promotes oral health. Cleansing products such as the humble bar of soap help avoid the spread of disease, and as an integral part of the pubic hygiene revolution which began in the nineteenth century, have probably helped to save countless numbers of lives.

Second, the application of cosmetics is pret ...