Mixing Science with Satire

Cosmetic Companies Cash in as Bed Bugs Wreak Havoc

March, 2016

*Disclaimer: All of the scientific information on bed bugs in this piece is indeed real. The information about the makeup industry, however, is not.  

Bed bugs. Over the last few months these two words have turned us into paranoid sheet-washing, clothes-bleaching, mattress-scrubbing hermits, frightened by everyone we come in contact with. Most of us live in fear of these small but vicious insects that leave itchy welts and bits of feces in their wake. One group that has wasted no time capitalizing on the infiltration of these pests: the makeup industry.

Sales for bareMinerals® and MAC® cosmetics have each gone up by over 200% in the past two months, and these are only a couple of the many brands with campaigns targeting bed bug sufferers. Selling products cloaked in seemingly benevolent packaging that promise to help “smoothe and cover up those troublesome welts” or “soothe and polish itchy, red skin,” these companies are cashing in. New skincare collections, for instance bareMinerals “Bites be Gone,” have flown off the shelves. Those affected by bed bugs are ravenously buying up these products that supposedly cleanse, cool, and soothe. Yesterday, MAC released an all-over-body skin foundation that has already sold out. So, I was curious: Were these products really something special? Was this actually some large humanitarian effort to help those in need?

I first set up an interview with MAC cosmetics manager Julia [last name to remain private] at one of their San Diego locations. Upon entering the store, I took a quick inventory of their various products. A bit of a novice, I asked a few questions about their most popular items and Julia tried her best to address my deficient makeup background. Quickly determining that I was a lost cause, we moved on to a discussion about MAC’s new “Heal and Renew” line that was specifically designed for bed bug sufferers. This collection touts the ability to heal bites while reducing swelling, resulting in “the regeneration of your freshest, most youthful looking skin.” I compared the ingredients in the “Heal and Renew” facial cleanser to the standard MAC cleanser and saw only one difference: rose water. I asked Julia if she thought adding rose water alone was enough to “heal” people who had their bodies ravaged by bed bugs. Julia said she assumed rose water must have some unique contribution to the cleanser. “If it made no difference, why would MAC have added it, and why would so many people be buying it?” she declared. Julia was frank in her assessment of how cosmetic companies like MAC are aiding the public, stating, “I’ve seen some people who look terrible. They’re lucky we’re here to help them.” Their recent best seller is an anti-parasite brush spray titled “Lemon Have It.” The ingredients are lemon extract, eucalyptus oil, and water. It comes in a 4 oz. bottle and sells for $46. Buying each of those ingredients and creating my own 20 oz. “Lemon Have It,” I spent a whopping $8.

Next, I headed to a nearby bareMinerals and was welcomed by a cheery employee named Amanda. Amanda raved about their new line, in particular a cooling body mist that “soothes welts and heals the skin.” The main ingredients are mint extract and water, and an 8 oz. bottle sells for $33. Although the employees of brands like MAC and bareMinerals may be well intentioned, it’s not a stretch to say that this is no humanitarian effort on the part of the companies that employ them. These pricey new products have taken the country by storm and are marketed as essential recovery items. As bed bugs continue sucking blood, the makeup industry is sucking in as many scared customers as they can. It’s safe to say that many of us are being duped into purchasing these magical elixirs, spending hard earned money on products we can’t afford. As we yearn for the days before bed bugs, I can promise you that the makeup industry is hoping they are here to stay.

-Samantha Jones