Paula’s Choice

There’s been a spate of PC stuff on MUA of late. There is some suspicion that this is a foray by said company into Social Media for the purposes of drumming up Word On The Street, Buzz, and eventually sales. Whether by company employees, or by loyal fans, or by paid social media professionals, or out of work actors. This is not a new or unusual marketeering tactic.

I’m neutral on much of this. I first bought Paula’s Choice products over a decade ago, at which time they were a godsend because it was hard to find cruelty-free fragrance-free basic bland functional skin stuff in the USA. (Being where I was at the time.) They kept costs down by being online-only, saving on storefront and staffing costs, and indeed loss of profits if selling through distributors in other shops. Their customer service was impeccable. They gave away decent-sized samples with every order, which you could choose; and they also sold sample-to-travel sizes of products; both of which allowed to you try stuff out before committing to full sizes. Otherwise I was stuck with importing stuff whenever back in Europe. And with what little I could find in drugstores, health-food stores, etc. that was appropriate to my skin. Then PC changed and got all fancy.  

Meanwhile, there was the Beautypedia: which was and still is an excellent and very useful online database of products, ingredients, product-lists including ingredients, and links to articles.

My $0.02 as to why there’s been more PC Talk of late: it’s the tenth anniversary, more or less, of the last time this company and their products were innovative and interesting. To talk the sales & marketing & branding talk, there was a need to rekindle the passion in a relationship with customers that had dulled, or where customers were straying. Like what’s supposed to happen with marriages.

Now, I loathe and despise that sort of thing. I don’t see why my relationship with a brand ought to be a monogamous one. Or that I should obey with unquestioning blind devotion, like in a very traditional marriage, where my husband has a godlike status (being, in many religions’ ideas on marriage, a direct intermediary with the divine). Or that I should treat a brand like an organized religion / cult, where I worship (again with that blind faith) and worship no other, false, idols.

I also worry a lot when I am supposed to associate a brand with a person. That isn’t a person, it’s a pseudo-person. A figure, an avatar, a persona. A representative of the brand and an incarnation / embodiment of it. I’m supposed to feel things about the person, like them, feel some loyalty, not want to hurt them; and because they’re so bound up with The Brand Identity (they are, after all, the “id est” part of it), hurting the brand hurts them. This is worrying because (a) it’s not true or real: this is a pseudo-person, a fiction; (b) it encourages personality cult, in addition to the cultish attitudes outlined in the previous paragraph; (c) it’s manipulative and evil. It is folly. Here’s the version of that posted on MUA last week, in response to the question:

Paula’s Choice Poll: Products you like/dislike & why? Also do you like/dislike her?

I’ve liked some of her blander products in the past, like the unscented shampoo/body wash and conditioner, the very hydrating moisturiser, the old SPF 15 mineral sunscreen, the moisturising balm, and my spouse has used some of the BHA stuff. But this was a long time ago, in an earlier wave of PC popularity, around about 2003-05? Things have moved on since then.

The positives: for the most part, PC products are often good and useful and sensible. She’s stuck to her guns on no fragrance, which irritable people like me appreciate. And cruelty-free.

On the other hand:
– Prices have gone up
– Many new products (ex. vitamin c serums) are priced not as value for money (and to undercut parallel products, by being better and cheaper), but to enter the market at the same price point.
– Caved to using fashionable ingredients, for reasons I would suspect of competition and ensuring you have a “full” product range in your stable
– Products, even the blander ones, contain ingredients that irritate me and especially cyclopentasiloxane which is one of the few things that clogs and zits my skin
– Dismissive of very bland skincare because it’s not fancy enough: and often in a snarky way. Not appreciated by people like me who *need* bland! just to retain skin on one’s face…

On balance, a pro but some cons:
– the beautypedia: remains IMHO a useful resource for product research. It has become increasingly prejudiced and pro-PC over the years. But it does still review many products and is pretty good about providing ingredient lists, prices, and links to proper evidence (I.e. scientific journal articles) for backing up claims about ingredients working / not. That having been said, information is not always up to date; there are some errors of fact (ex. not all witch hazel includes alcohol); it’s a resource like any other, like Cosdna, the FDA, EU databases, heaven help us PETA and the EWG: they all want to be useful (sure, with proviso, but that’s the main intent); they’re all pretty useful to some extent (varying); they’re all worth reading; but no single one can be used as The Single Authoritative Source Of All Knowledge.

While I’ve not bought anything for myself from PC in ages, I look at the site periodically to see what’s new, and I browse Beautypedia.

Liking/disliking PC: shouldn’t be a question, and that in itself is the issue. I shouldn’t care less about someone who runs a company (OK, so long as they’re not a mass murderer, war criminal, wife beater, etc.). I should be buying stuff because it is worth buying and because it works on me.

Personality cults are a problem in skincare/cosmetics, and they’re a problem for the same reason they’re a problem in politics. Blind belief.

Problem with PC? Two of them.

1. Moved from being an independent critic of the mainstream cosmetic industry (ten years ago) to becoming part of that industry, as the company grew. To be fair, this is an inevitable downfall of success…

2. Bought into the whole branding, sales, and marketing BS. Branding means having a “story” with central characters, a principal protagonist, a person to get behind. In the PC case, this was fused with the other main bit of marketeering BS we see in the cosmetic industry, of building a brand on an authority figure: all those MDs, celebrity cosmetologists, etc. This then builds up a brand based on customer belief, trust in The Authority, and you get to become part of the cult around the figure, the brand, and the products. It’s a very interesting late 20th to early 21st-century religious phenomenon. Like watching sitcoms and soaps on TV and following sports teams. Substitution behaviour.

The bottom line: You cannot both be an authority and be a critic who constantly questions authority. That is my problem with PC.

One comment

  1. Janice

    My sentiments exactly about Paula’s Choice conflict of interest, Gingerama, but you said it much better than I ever could.

    How dare a company claim to evaluate products to help consumers choose the best, then turn around and dis the majority of them only to promote their own.

    I guess somewhere along the line, Paula realized it was much more profitable to sell products than to evaluate them. This was her demise.

    My pet peeve with PC is that she gives every single product packaged in a jar a low rating because products in jars are (so she claims) over-exposed to air, thus degrading the ingredients. So Paula packages her products in tubes. But wait, when you squeeze product out of the tube, air gets sucked back in the tube. Doesn’t this constant squeezing in and out expose ingredients to air the same as jar packaging? NOBODY (that I can find) addresses this issue, not even Paula. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    Due to her conflict of interest, her arrogance, and her sarcasm, I too quit buying Paula’s Choice about a year ago.

    Besides, its way too much fun snooping around in Sephora for the latest and so-called greatest rather than waiting for PC to catch up a year or two later.

    (Other pet peeve: PC said for years that eye creams weren’t necessary then she came out with one in 2015. WTF???

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