Thoughts: essays galore

Fighting Occupation, Colonialism, & Apartheid With Your Makeup Collection

by Natalie De La Rosa

“Wings so sharp they could kill a man” is a saying we often hear from activists who use makeup to feel confident, empowered, and to make a statement. While some people use makeup to express themselves through bright colors, dark lips, and attention-grabbing looks, there are other ways you can use cosmetics to make a statement.

In 2005, Palestinian Civil Society initiated “The global movement for a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights”, and in 2007 The Palestinian BDS National Committee was established to coordinate this movement.

The BDS movement is a way to hold Israel accountable for the ways they have and continue to violate the human rights of both Palestinians and Africans. Over the past eleven years, there have been additions to the list of companies to boycott as well as many victories. One such win came in 2010 when Costco stopped selling Ahava products, thanks to BDS advocates contacting the company.

Activists involved in the BDS movement believe their actions will help result in justice for Palestinians. However, this boycott will take the efforts of many people. Several companies on the BDS list are the parent companies of some of the most popular makeup brands on the market— I’m talking brands like Urban Decay, MAC, Bobbi Brown, and Lancôme.

It is not expected for participants to abide by the BDS list 100 percent of the time. No one is expecting perfection, just a genuine effort. This alone can make—and has made— a huge impact.

Two of the most notoriously pro-Israel parent companies are Estée Lauder and L'Oreal. Ron S. Lauder, current chairman of Estée Lauder, is also the president of the World Jewish Congress, which owns approximately 13% of land in Israel, prohibits the leasing or sale of lands to Non-Jews (i.e. Palestinians and Africans), and works to legitimize the illegal occupation of Palestine.

Estée Lauder is currently the parent company of twenty-eight cosmetic brands, including but not limited to favorites such as Aveda, Bobbi Brown, Bumble and Bumble, Clinique, MAC, Smashbox, and La Mer.

L’Oreal’s involvement with Israel is a little less straightforward and a lot more shady. The BDS movement website includes a breakdown of the company’s support of the occupation of Palestine:

“L’Oreal’s operations in Israel began in the mid-1990s, motivated in part by political considerations. Since then, L’Oreal Israel, the company’s subsidiary in Israel, has operated a factory in the Israeli town of Migdal Ha’emek in the Lower Galilee. The settlement of Migdal Ha’emek was established in 1952 on lands belonging to the ethnically-cleansed Palestinian village of al-Mujaydil, whose original inhabitants are still denied the right to return to their homes. Like almost all other Jewish settlements built in the midst of Palestinian villages in the Galilee, inside Israel, Migdal Ha’emek discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel, denying them the right to buy, rent or live on any part of the town, simply because they are ‘non Jews.’”

L'Oreal also manufactures and exports products containing dead sea minerals, a resource found in The West Bank, which is closed to Palestinians through military and apartheid presence. The company’s involvement goes further into the occupation and apartheid through academia: in July of 2008 L’Oreal awarded a $100,000 "lifetime achievement" award to a scientist at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science.

The Weizmann institute is a major center for “clandestine research and development of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons on behalf of Israel’s military establishment with which it has close ties.” L’Oreal is currently the parent company of thirty-seven cosmetic brands including: Lâncome, Giorgio Armani Beauty, Yves Saint Laurent Beauté, Biotherm, Kiehl’s, Ralph Lauren, Shu Uemura, Cacharel, Helena Rubinstein, Clarisonic, Diesel, Viktor & Rolf, Yue Sai, Maison Martin Margiela, Urban Decay, Guy Laroche, Paloma Picasso, Vichy, La Roche-Posay, SkinCeuticals, Inneov, Rogers&Gallet, Sanoflore, L’Oreal Paris, Garnier, Maybelline New York, Softsheen, Carson, Essie, The Body Shop, L’Oreal Professionnel, Kérastase, Redken, Matrix, Pureology, Shu Uemura Art of Hair, Mizani, and NYX.

While the BDS movement encompasses much more than cosmetic brands, these are opportunities we have, as makeup lovers, to advocate for the human rights of Palestinians and Africans who are being treated inhumanely by Israel. Targeting cosmetics in the BDS movement is the easiest, most accessible way to join the efforts in fighting for the freedom of Palestine and the end to an apartheid state. There are many other companies we can boycott, but some are more difficult and less doable for everyone. It’s hard to boycott certain companies when you need basic necessities such as cleaning supplies, diapers, or menstrual supplies and there is a lack of affordable, accessible alternatives.

It is not expected for participants to abide by the BDS list 100 percent of the time. No one is expecting perfection, just a genuine effort. This alone can make—and has made— a huge impact. There are plenty of dupes for favorite cosmetics that are both affordable and accessible. For example, there are many dupes for MAC’s cult favorite lipstick, Ruby Woo.

A question that tends to come up during conversations centered around the BDS movement is why we boycott companies that support Israel, but not companies that use sweatshop labor. The difference is that the BDS movement was called for by Palestinian people and organizations working towards freedom, while a boycott of materials made in harsh conditions known as sweatshops has not been called for by workers.

In fact, many workers and labor activists in countries that are hit hardest by this type of labor—such as Bangladesh— have expressed that they do not want people to boycott the products they make because it would hurt them more than help them. Sweatshop work is often seen as a “better option” than other work available for women; boycotting is simply not seen as a viable answer for these workers.

Not only are clothes made without sweatshop labor often not affordable, they also do not solve the problem we see in the manufacturing of clothing.

If people were to go against those wishes and boycott anyway, it could be harmful to those workers we aim to help and could possibly fail because of lack of organization and impact.

The BDS movement is an organized boycott that has been going on for years, seen many victories, and is supported by those it works to help. As cosmetic lovers and collectors, we have an opportunity and responsibility to advocate for human rights and boycott brands that explicitly go against our morals. We can fight colonialism, occupation, and apartheid by making different choices at our local beauty supply stores, makeup counters, drugstores, Ultas, and Sephoras.  

I know that boycotting this many brands can seem daunting, but I promise there are so many more options to create a huge, beautiful makeup collection (I should know, I have entirely too much makeup!). When I first heard about the BDS movement, I was overwhelmed. I had so many favorites that were on the list, and participating seemed almost impossible. Here are my tips:

I hope this has informed you and encouraged you to take part in this movement. I know you’re wondering what brands are BDS friendly: to finish this off, here are some brands you can add to your collection. 


Farouk systems brands

  • Chi haircare and tools
  • Biosilk hair products
  • Sunglitz hair products
  • Royal Treatment hair products
  • Shiseido cosmetics, brands include:
  • NARS
  • Shiseido
  • Ayura
  • Bare Escentuals/Bare Minerals

Coty corporation, brands include:

  • Philosophy
  • Chloe
  • Mark Jacobs fragrances
  • Rimmel London
  • Sally Hansen
  • Chloe
  • OPI
  • NYC
  • Alba Botanica

LVMH Group

  • E.L.F. Cosmetics
  • Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics
  • Bite Beauty
  • Deva Curl
  • Tillie Nail Polish
  • Stila cosmetics (formerly owned by EstéeLauder)
  • Lush Cosmetics
  • Ilia Cosmetics
  • 100% Pure Cosmetics
  • Jane cosmetics
  • Eucerin
  • Aquaphor
  • Nivea
  • Burt’s Bees
  • Dove
  • Axe
  • Ponds
  • Vaseline
  • Saint Ives
  • Timotei
  • Toni&Guy
  • Simple skincare