Continuing with our Beauty Skepticism series, today we’re going to talk about the “argument from authority fallacy” and how it can lead you astray.
What is it?
Argument from authority is the idea that you automatically believe something just because some source you respect says it’s true.
We see it in our comments section or in advertisements all the time for example…
“My stylist tells me that Pantene puts wax on my hair”
“My dermatologist said that I should stay away from parabens”
“My naturapath says this homeopathic remedy will cure acne.”
But a person’s background does not make them infallible. There are plenty of dermatologists and scientists that have screwy, mistaken beliefs. You should be skeptical of anything you hear that is not supported by some kind of experiment. Challenge people to tell you how they know what they “know”.
While argument from authority is not a good way to decide what is true, it can be useful to guide you in the direction of truth. Of course, some authorities are more reliable than others. Here are a list of “beauty authorities” and why you should be skeptical of what they have to say.
a. Cosmetologists / Stylists – They have useful experience, but most of their product knowledge is given to them by biased cosmetic marketing companies. Additionally, they are sometimes motivated to get you to buy products that make them extra money.
b. Dermatologists – Top notch educations allow them to cure skin diseases. Unfortunately, some see more money in selling their own line of products that cost more, but haven’t been proven to be better than store brands.
c. Celebrities – Yes, they always look good however, so would you if you had stylists and trainers whenever you needed them. This doesn’t mean they know any more about beauty products than you.
d. Sales people – They may know and use their products, but their sales bias makes them unreliable. They’ll ignore negatives that might make you question purchasing something from them.
e. Advertisers – They attempt to educate you about products but often tell half-truths to make their products look better.
f. Websites – Anyone can write anything and put it on the Internet. ALL things you read on the Internet should be questioned. They are often regurgitations of biased press releases sent out by PR firms.
g. Media – Those great product articles you read about in Cosmo, Redbook, or Lucky? They may actually be great or maybe not. Story ideas often come directly from PR agencies advocating for specific products.
h. Friends – Your product-aware friend has lots of knowledge about what she likes and this can be useful. However, that doesn’t mean she knows why things work or even what will work for you.
i. Scientists – How could we forget the Beauty Brains and the other cosmetic scientists out there? Certainly, they have useful knowledge but they don’t know everything. Most of their knowledge is based on what the average person will experience. This says nothing about what will work for you specifically. It’s one reason we haven’t created a list of recommended products.
Being Skeptical of Authorities
There are three things you should ask yourself whenever you hear an authority tell you something they think is true.
1. What are their motivations? Are they making money by getting you to buy a product?
2. How do they know what they know? Have they conducted experiments or studied the experimental work of others? Or are they merely giving you an opinion based on years of experience? The former is more reliable than the latter.
3. How do they know a fact will apply to you? Yes, they may know what research has to say about the general population but what do they know about you? Your skin and hair are unique. Be wary of any authorities that don’t recognize your individuality. No product/treatment will work for everyone!
Not Always Incorrect
We should note that not all appeals to authority are incorrect. Often, the opinions of experts is the best information we can get. For example, no one really knows whether global warming is happening. But the majority of climate scientists believe it is, so it’s the best thing to believe. Of course, this consensus opinion is based on a survey of the best available experimental evidence, so it is not strictly belief from authority.
Beauty Brains Bottom Line
To protect yourself from people who don’t have your best interest in mind, you have to remain skeptical of expert advice from beauty authorities. Understand that they are often wrong. You should never rely on a single source and don’t forget, no one “knows” what will work for you. You have to figure that out for yourself.
Who is your Beauty Expert and why do you believe what they have to say? Leave a comment below.