Podcast Review: Stuff You Should Know – How Makeup Works

Originally I was going to do a different post but then last night just before I sat down to write the next podcast that came up was the “How Makeup Works” from the Stuff You Should Know (SYSK) podcast started and after just 10 minutes I knew I wanted to write a review. I love this podcast and have since college. Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant are the two hosts and have really worked hard to create a quality and successful podcast that I always enjoy. You cannot listen to a podcast done by this pair that won’t make you feel just a little smarter by the end. Like a lot of their podcasts there is an accompanying article on the How Stuff Works website that you can read here and that I also referred to when writing this review. The podcast itself can be found on iTunes or on the SYSK website here.


Josh and Chuck start the podcast by going back to the roots of makeup. Ancient Egypt is typically recognized as the birthplace of the now $62.5 billion industry. The cosmetics industry as we know it started in the 1910s when companies started to transform stage makeup to products that could be used on the silver screen. This later transitioned to makeup for the public as movie stars began to use the products off screen as well as on. Many companies got their start with just one product, such as Maybelline when it’s namesake Mabel started to make her own mascara and Revlon got it’s start with nail polish. Marketing-wise, a lot of the same tactics to sell are used. Estee Lauder started giving out free samples in department stores when her company was starting out and now you can’t walk through a the cosmetics department of Macy’s or Nordstrom’s without the salespeople asking you to test five new products and giving you samples of eight more. This was very interesting and it was hilarious to hear two men learn in astonished voices how many makeup brands are named after a person. A good history lesson never hurts anyone either!

Common ingredients were also discussed, as they haven’t changed much in the history of makeup. Essentially when you compare lipsticks from different companies in terms of ingredients, you’ll find the same materials make up the products. For example, lipsticks will all contain wax, oil, moisturizer, and pigments, no matter the brand. This was funny to hear as I look at all the lipsticks I own and think to myself “they’re the same, they’re nothing special”. Poor lipsticks!

The pair then transitioned to talk about the safety standards in the industry. It turns out the safety standards in the industry have not changed since 1938, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was founded in the U.S.A. The industry managed to lobby the FDA to allow them to self-regulate their own standards. That could change as a result of the Personal Care Products Safety Act, introduced just last month, meant to help strengthen these standards by giving the FDA more power over the cosmetics industry. One of the most telling signs of how unregulated the industry is can be found in the numbers. The European Union has banned 1,300 chemicals from personal care items while the US has only banned 11. This bill would also state that companies would have to report and research products when health issues occurred among users, which they do not have to do at now due to their self-regulated policies.

I found news of this bill quite a relief as they did a good job of explaining how terrible the dangers were. The bill has just been introduced so it has a ways to go before it can become a law but if you’re in the US you can also learn more and reach out to the Senators from your state to let them know your opinions and help them make an informed decision on what the people they represent would best benefit from.

There are other issues in the cosmetics world as well. One huge problem in the industry is how difficult it is to prove that the ingredients used in products are harmful. Even if you find parabens in a tumor, it’s still not conclusive evidence that they caused the tumor to begin with. Studies were also mentioned on how women absorb about 5 pounds of chemicals a year through the products they use, that are essentially unregulated in the US. One thing I didn’t know is how dangerous mascara is considered when compared to other products. From the article on the website it describes how the wand could poke your eye and scratch the cornea which could lead to bacteria entering the eye. If not properly removed before bed, the mascara could flake off and enter the eye as well. All of this can lead to blindness or infection. Another problem with current regulations is the boom in the natural products market. The FDA does not regulate verbiage for the products so companies are able to market their items using words like “organic”, “all natural”, and so on. And companies do take advantage of this and will stick these words all over their packaging when the products contain ingredients that would not qualify to use these words otherwise.

There was also a part on the connection between makeup and perceived beauty. Research points out that evolutionary speaking, we’re trained to notice youthful, symmetrical faces and makeup can help us achieve that look. We can also use make up to highlight our best features. And, of course, no makeup conversation is complete without talking about the beauty standards set by models, actors and actresses, and what we see in advertisements. Feminism was also discussed in the podcast as well as in the article. Feminists in the 60s and 70s did start to reject wearing makeup, thinking it was only meant to look more beautiful for men. Women did also argue that makeup was a personal choice and these arguments continue to this day. We also have conversations about the role of makeup in our professional lives, personal lives, and how our beliefs and values can be affected by choosing to wear, or not wear, makeup. Men’s role in makeup was mentioned both in terms of men’s preferences to seeing women wearing makeup (which vary as widely as women’s preferences do). Men also wear makeup such as musicians and actors, but also in everyday life as well, particularly foundation and concealer.


All in all I approved of this podcast as well. SYSK is always fun to listen to and over the years I’ve gotten to know Josh and Chuck pretty well. They’re both very smart and aware individuals who can always provide professional and informative content. I recommend SYSK to everyone who likes to collect knowledge and take as many opportunities to learn new things. They have covered many, many different topics over the years so you’ll probably find something you’re interested in to listen to no matter what mood you’re in. I’m not paid to promote the podcast, nor have I been asked to promote them, I just genuinely enjoy the podcast.

If you have any podcast suggestions, let me know! I hope you’ll check out the podcast or at least enjoyed this post. Feel free to leave any additional information you may have in the comments below as well, I’d love to read it!

Thanks for reading!

One comment

  1. […] Hosted by Josh Clark and Charles “Chuck” Bryant, this podcast is by far my favorite. I’ve been listening to this podcast since my early college days and while I’ve taken breaks from this podcast I always go back. At this point they have 800+ podcasts and are always adding more. I likely won’t be able to listen to all of them but I’ll certainly try. These two have covered topics such as how to start your own country, to how space stations work, to make up (which I reviewed here). […]


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