Even before the Internet 1.0 days of Makeupalley (1999), long before the ubiquity of reviews, in an age where cosmetic claims largely went unchecked, Paula Begoun, also known as the Cosmetic Cop, was calling out low-quality products and their preposterous claims. We review the contributions of Paula Begoun and where she stands today.
Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me
Paula Begoun is a businesswoman, radio host, author, and cosmetic critic. The Cosmetic Cop is the nickname that Oprah Winfrey gave Paula Begoun, which she has happily adopted. Paula Begoun is an influential consumer advocate, best-selling author, and creator of her own cosmetic brand, Paula’s Choice.
Paula Begoun is most well known for her best-selling book, Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me. Initially published in 1991, it was the first popular “encyclopedia” of cosmetics, an altogether new concept at the time. It was one of the first reviews that were based on more than personal preference. Paula delved into the published research on ingredients and their efficacy. Perhaps for the first time, there was a 3rd party reviewer with real criteria:
- The active ingredients that are used
- The quantity of useful active ingredients in the product
- Packaging (its impact on efficacy), ingredient stability
- Price point
Paula’s Choice, Beautypedia, and Cosmetics
In 1994, Paula’s Choice was launched, following her criteria based largely on simple products and proven ingredients (antioxidants, retinol, vitamin C), lower costs, and direct sales. It embraced the power of the Internet and became one of the first beauty brands to make a large portion of its sales on the web. Beautypedia.com also launched a web version of Don’t Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me. The Web platform allows for updates, something a physical book doesn’t allow for, and Beautypedia became an essential resource for cosmetics and make-up fans. Today, many review websites like CosDNA, MakeupAlley, and Sephora, but Beautypedia is undoubtedly the original review website and a gold standard.
While consumer reviews are an indispensable part of the Internet today, the world, and particularly the beauty industry, was a far foggier place in the past. Cosmetics, as an industry, suffers from two serious problems when it comes to informing consumers. The first is that the science behind cosmetics itself is less than certain. Worse, there is a prima facie motivation for those that disseminate the information to misinform their audience. The fact is that until very recently, the only source of opinions on cosmetics came from an interested party, the salesperson.
Is Paula’s Choice Fair?
Undoubtedly, Paula Begoun was a consumer advocate in her earlier years, with her stated goal to inform the public about the difference between a quality product and a well-marketed product. Her brand has come under criticism for some time now, with the inevitable conflict of interest being a reviewer of products and an owner of her brand of products. What’s the truth here?
Paula Begoun may very well be the first consumer advocate voice in the cosmetic space, certainly, the only one with a large enough microphone to reach a largely pre-internet audience. In 2019, we had great resources and organic communities that can take up the mantle, but it’s still an excellent resource for finding information about key ingredients. Beautypedia has already done the research for you, and the information is organized sensibly. Regardless of whether Paula “sold out” or not, it doesn’t take away from her contributions.
It comes down to one thing: Conflict of interest. There’s just no other way to put it. The first thing that’s hard not to notice is that every Paula’s Choice product is rated 5 stars. This itself isn’t problematic (why wouldn’t you be confident about your products). However, we can’t deny that it’s problematic to act as an unbiased reviewer of competing products. Paula claims that Paula’s Choice is the only company that actively recommends products from other brands. Paula’s choice is also the only company that critiques other brands and products with any level of consistency.
- Beautypedia is no longer reviewed by Paula Begoun but by her staff.
- Paula’s Choice has been sold to TA Associates.
- All of Paula’s Choice products are rated 5 stars.
Beautypedia remains a valuable resource when researching a cosmetic product. Although the website has a community section that allows users to write their reviews, it is not a typical review. Beautypedia is an expert review, as Paula has spent the majority of her adult life reviewing the literature on cosmetic chemistry and testing products herself. Whether this makes her biased or more reliable is up to the user to make a judgment on. While it’s impossible to know her intentions, Paula Begoun is undoubtedly not a disinterested party. Whatever her persuasions are on other cosmetic brands, this doesn’t nullify the research on cosmetic ingredients that Paula has put in and educated countless other users.