Crossing The Line? When Makeup Brands Name Their Products Something Controversial

Far from being a wilting wallflower, the beauty industry is well known for pushing the boundaries and re-inventing the wheel at every given opportunity. From a half naked Miley Cyrus and Ricky Martin pushing lipstick, to using slightly embarrassing names you’d rather not ask for while shopping with your Nan, makeup brands don’t shy away from creating controversy – but when does it go too far? This week a red lipgloss titled ‘Underage Red’ was launched, and pulled, from Sephora stores across the US; part of a collection with celebrity and tattoo artist Kat Von D (a controversial character herself, who’s probably more well known for having an affair with Sandra Bullock’s husband,) it’s not the first time her makeup line has come under scrutiny. Back in 2013 a nude lipstick called ‘Celebutard’ was widely condemned and removed from sale after mothers of disabled children quite rightly took objection. She really should’ve known better. So when does an unusual name cross the boundaries from being cheeky and thought provoking, to just plain unacceptable?

In my opinion using the word ‘underage’ is not glamorous, sexy,
appealing or youthful; it has associations with abuse and child
sexualisation – it’s illegal. I don’t know what Kat Von D was thinking,
nor do I know how the product even made its way onto Sephora shop floors
across the United States, but this isn’t the first (and certainly won’t
be the last) time a makeup product has been slammed for it holding an inappropriate name. MAC have their own ‘Underage’ shade of nude
lipgloss, claiming that it embodies youth and innocence – but I don’t
know any woman that would like to re-capture being an awkward 15 year
old with no idea how to apply eyebrow pencil, nor any sense of self confidence. Youth is full of awkwardness and lack of experience, so I simply don’t understand the logic of calling any kind of makeup product ‘Underage’.

No stranger to controversy, in 2010 MAC were heavily criticised for their Rodarte collection;
calling a nail polish ‘Juarez’ after the impoverished Mexican factory
town best known for its lack of police intervention in the growing
number rapes and murders of women between the ages of 12 and 22? Yeah,
that’s appropriate. From Too Faced’s ‘Better Than Sex’ mascara, to the best selling Nars ‘Orgasm’ blush and Urban Decay ‘Gash’ eyeshadow, it seems that nothing is off limits. I vaguely see the appeal of a mascara that claims to be better than the act of fornication, or the blusher that will give you the look of (ahem) joy, but an eyeshadow colour called ‘Gash’? Please, give me strength.

I know I could do without another ‘Fushia’ or ‘Rose Pink’ lipstick, but surely there’s a way to be creative without being ridiculous? Rimmel always do a great job of creating fun names that make you smile, rather than making you gasp – from Love Bug and Cheeky Chap, to Sweet Retreat and Lose Your Lingerie, they’re cheeky without being obscene. Why do brands become so fixated on calling their products something controversial, rather than focusing on the quality of product or beautiful packaging that houses it? When was the last time you bought a nail varnish, lipstick or gloss because of the name rather than the shade? Can you identify the last time you picked your eyeshadow shade based on it’s sexually explicit description, rather than the fact it complemented your eye colour? Please brands, just stop it – it’s not big and it’s not clever, but it is rather silly.

What do you think about these controversial and explicit shade names that seem to be more and more prevalent in the beauty industry? I’d love to know your thoughts.

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  1. Antonia
    March 19, 2015 / 2:55 pm

    If it's appropriate, I love a fun name in a product. But there's a lot of times when company's do cross the line. I'm shocked Sephora let that enter the shop floor at all! One company who manage to always do fun names without going over the top at The Balm. They're always unique and attention grabbing, but not for all the wrong reasons.Antonia x | Fifi and the Diamonds

    • London Beauty Queen
      March 19, 2015 / 6:50 pm

      I agree with you – I do like The Balm, and like Benefit they keep it cheeky but clean! There's no need to be obscene.

    • Crazyblondegal
      March 20, 2015 / 2:26 pm

      Even The Balm push the line, they named an eyeshadow from the Nude'tude palette 'Schitzo'. They've since changed the name to 'Seductive', but what were they thinking!

  2. Paige Wallbank
    March 19, 2015 / 3:00 pm

    It is quite cringe, my boyfriend says why the hell would you name a blusher Orgasm? I know men don't understand make up at the best of times but there is no need aha, there is plenty of lovely names or unique ones to name make up other than sexual references. Paige 🙂 – xx

  3. Neesha Rees
    March 19, 2015 / 3:22 pm

    This post really got me thinking. I think it's really desperate of the brands to name a product knowing it will cause controversy. It seems their only way of keeping the brand in the spotlight but for all the wrong reasons. It does get people talking, maybe that's what they are after.I'm not bothered if the product is numbered or named. If it's a good product then that's all that mattersReinventing Neesha

    • London Beauty Queen
      March 19, 2015 / 6:51 pm

      I completely agree with you – and I've never featured a product because of its name, only its effectiveness. It's baffling really!

  4. Anonymous
    March 19, 2015 / 3:23 pm

    I agree that sometimes beauty products are given silly names. I'm not sure that Kat Von D had an affair with Jesse James when he was still married though, that's just press rumours. I don't think it's fair to include that in this article, her make up products are good x

    • London Beauty Queen
      March 19, 2015 / 6:49 pm

      It's well documented that she did, and I believe they both admitted it at the time. It's included because it illustrates she's no stranger to controversy and plays with the media to her own advantage… But I've never tried her products so can't comment on that!

    • Etta
      March 19, 2015 / 9:07 pm

      I think it simply comes down to marketing. There's little doubting that Nars' names like orgasm and deep throat certainly stick in the memory and have a strong connection with the brand but then again they aren't offending anyone. Brands have to think about the connotations of the names they use as well as seeing aspect for a name to be really successful… xx

  5. Carys Emily
    March 19, 2015 / 3:27 pm

    This was really interesting ! I've never really thought about it before but there really isn't a need for offensive names even more so when there are probably other names that would fit the product just as well that could still be quirky. I think when I'm looking for some new makeup i'm never really drawn to the names of things more the product itself but it is eye catching when an entire line is named something quirky. I think benefit does it really well without being offensive Distant Dreamer

  6. Jade Wimsey
    March 19, 2015 / 3:48 pm

    I agree with you, 'underage' does cross the line; as you said it doesn't conjure up an image in your head of anything other than children and inexperienced makeup application – not something i'd personally want for my brand no matter how much it was all over the news

    • London Beauty Queen
      March 19, 2015 / 6:52 pm

      It's just massively cringey isn't it. I don't know what they were thinking!

  7. sampan_27
    March 19, 2015 / 3:53 pm

    As soon as I started reading this I did think Nars blush, Too Faced Mascara and MAC lipstick ooh err brands! but UD Gash, just had my eyes popping out!! Next will we have rape red, or penis primer, just to grab those headlines and cause some stir for their launches?!I often wonder if the colours and texture etc live up to their stand out names. The product will speak for itself, if it is worthing grabbing attention. I, myself, like product names like Benefit ranges, lately I have been telling people "oh puff off" which works well for the swear jar stakes! However, I am not one for going to make up counters, or even record shops for a controversial album, as it is so cringey to ask for those things!! It puts me off a brand straight away, for certain. These companies may think they are being quirkly, unique and wow stopping people in their tracks, but in reality an ordinary girl like me, the buying public is no way going to buy the skin crawling name. Such an excllent topic for discussion as always LBQ :)

    • London Beauty Queen
      March 19, 2015 / 6:52 pm

      Haha, penis primer has made my day… I just hope someone launches that now ; ) Glad you enjoyed the article x

  8. nikki Smith
    March 19, 2015 / 5:45 pm

    I think the only reason brands become provocative and controversial in the hope that the product gets talked about and then translated into sales. However with kat von d it may have damaged the brand. It's also to appear hip- I cannot imagine Estée Lauder doing the same.

  9. Roxie Ferguson
    March 19, 2015 / 6:23 pm

    I thought about this recently when I came across a tinted moisturiser from Soap & Glory called 'Glow Job' …really? I get that it's supposed to be cheeky and playful but it really put me off! Brands like Essie and Rimmel have some really cute names that I love though. As for Kat Von D she probably knew exactly what she was doing. I think she thrives on controversy regardless if it puts her in a bad light, at the end of the day I bet she's thrilled everyone's talking about her!Roxie ♥

    • London Beauty Queen
      March 22, 2015 / 5:31 pm

      I think Soap & Glory get away with a lot because they're cheeky, but Glow Job could be a little bit too far – it's obviously sexual, and knowing their main target is teenage girls, is a little irresponsible.

  10. Zoe C-B
    March 19, 2015 / 6:58 pm

    I'm guessing the reason brands name their products with such sexual names is because literally every thing else is sexualized, so they have to sexualize their brand too, don't they? It really pisses me off. The beauty industry is NOTHING compare to clothing companies.. Why is the model only wearing panties and a casual shirt, no one would wear it like that. This subject tires me so much because I have so much to say, ugh. I really really really hate it I really want to swear but this isn't my blog and you probably don't want certain words

    • London Beauty Queen
      March 22, 2015 / 5:32 pm

      Don't even get me started on fashion brands! American Apparel are always getting in trouble for half naked teenage girls shifting bodysuits, which to me is completely unnecessary. It's almost like they do it to cause controversy!

  11. Saloca
    March 19, 2015 / 7:50 pm

    Sad thing is, controversy sells, just look at the gossip magazines. Anything that get's people talking is all advertising for the brand, you can guarantee that when the name for Kats lipstick came out, people bought it because they knew the interest and hype it was causing, and then to pull it from sale only ups it's price and appeal for some. A lot of people want to be little rebels and buying products with raunchy, dangerous names makes them feel rebellious, imagine them being asked what shade their blush is, and they smirk a little and say 'orgasm'. It makes me cringe when you see REALLY young girls on YouTube talking about the likes of Nars 'orgasm'. I'm no prude and I'm all for a little innuendo but there's a time and place and I wouldn't want to be the mother who sees 'better than sex' on their daughters birthday wish list! I'm 27 and I couldn't ask my mum to buy me that lol!

    • London Beauty Queen
      March 22, 2015 / 5:34 pm

      I know I would have been embarrassed as a teen (or probably in my 20s!) of asking for an Orgasm blush. I get why he called it that (I interviewed Francois Nars and asked the question) and that Nars isn't a teen brand, but I do think it's more of a marketing ploy to get attention than anything else.

  12. Jasmine Stewart
    March 19, 2015 / 7:50 pm

    At best it's cringe-inducing, at worst it's offensive – I wish brands would stop trying to be 'edgy' as it's getting really quite boring…xx Magpie Jasmine

  13. Sophie B
    March 19, 2015 / 8:14 pm

    It's embarrassing to have these awkward, sexual names on display on your dresser, there's no need for it. But I guess, as the saying goes, sex sells and always will do. X

  14. Karishma Ravalia
    March 19, 2015 / 8:22 pm

    I think there's a line between fun, flirty names and inappropriate names. I don't see anything wrong with Too Faced Better than Sex but Underage is a bit far. I guess it's just different for everyone though.

  15. Lori
    March 19, 2015 / 8:26 pm

    I don't normally mind about names but Underage Red is definitely inappropriate. Illamasqua have a few risky nail polishes which make me laugh though. I have one called Milf which is a gorgeous mint green but every time I mention it on twitter I get dodgy messages haha

    • London Beauty Queen
      March 22, 2015 / 5:35 pm

      I didn't know they had Milf! Although that I find less offensive, more because it's not obvious – you have to know the film reference to understand it's meaning. But I do think brands are going too far.

  16. Rosie
    March 19, 2015 / 9:42 pm

    Underage Red is an awful name, I have no idea how that ended up on the shelves. Surely someone must have raised an objection and said 'hold on, perhaps this isn't a great idea', or maybe they did and it was ignored.I don't buy a product because of it's name but I guess it's just a way of creating interest and getting people talking about their product or brand if they have a name which is a bit risky. Tongue in cheek is fine but anything which implies abuse is just not right at all.

    • London Beauty Queen
      March 22, 2015 / 5:35 pm

      I totally agree with you Rosie!

  17. Fii Cridland
    March 19, 2015 / 10:32 pm

    Considering red is the 'sexy' shade universally, that's just poor form to go around naming it 'underage'. The connotations are hideous. And to OK production for that is disgusting.In regards to 'orgasm' and 'better than sex' I don't really have a problem with them, it's a fun marketing technique and I think they're definitely more memorable as products. In my personal opinion, I think a lot of the stigma comes from societies reluctance to be OK with freely talking about sex, even though it's a pretty natural thing. But then again I've grown up in a pretty chatty household and none of those products would make my mum or dad bat an eylid. Gotta love some of the slogan teams play on words for other products though. little miss fii || Fii x

    • London Beauty Queen
      March 22, 2015 / 5:36 pm

      I think you're right Fifi – maybe it's the fact us Brits are a bit stuffy when it comes to being open about sex, so we're more likely to be offended by some of the cheeky names.

  18. Jessica
    March 20, 2015 / 4:05 am

    Manufacturers name their products controversial to attract buyers. This is their marketing strategies nowadays to catch attention. then when people hears these..they will become curious and will be checking on these. But I agree that some of them are below the line already.

  19. lamesha
    March 20, 2015 / 7:52 am

    Great post! I actually don't pay attention to what any of my makeup colors are except the Mac lipsticks because the packaging is so plain and that's how you can tell them apart. I agree that the name "underage" doesn't get me all hot and bothered either. When I was underage I was so awkward. If I had a makeup line I'd label them all after mom events "parent teacher conference" "mom's wine" "date night" "expecting" and "girls night". Much better than "celebutard" like wtf is a "celebutard" anyway?

    • London Beauty Queen
      March 22, 2015 / 5:36 pm

      Haha I can't wait for the 'Mom's Wine' shade of lipstick!

  20. Ting Yn
    March 20, 2015 / 12:37 pm

    Then there is also the edgy collaboration… Nars using Guy Bourdin inspiration for a collection when his images are known for showing models that were "dead or injured" and for being sexually provocative. None of this is necessary for great products to be sold. It is a cheap stunt to name something risque or outright offensive. I think that marketing departments need to give consumers more credit.Ting | The Ting Thing

  21. Crazyblondegal
    March 20, 2015 / 2:40 pm

    A year or two I remember a nail polish brand got intro trouble over an offensive name and withdrew it. I tried to find what brand it was, but instead I came across this post, and they raise a good point when comparing to the names of male products! Personally I buy products because of the actual product, not the name. So regardless of how cringey (EG Soap & Glory 'Glow Job') or disgusting (EG NARS 'Pussy Galore') the name is, it's not going to make me want to buy the product any more than before. And if I came across a product that was truly offensive, for example when The Balm named an eyeshadow from the NUDE 'tude palette, 'Schitzo', I simply wouldn't buy it at all.There are plenty of fun, appropriate names that could be used instead, but after all, these products probably gain the most attention, right?Frankie xCrazyblondegal

  22. Becky Smith
    March 20, 2015 / 7:24 pm

    I think Gash definitely has to be the worst. Even if I actually liked the shade I don't think I would buy it because of the name, it just sounds horrible. I believe one of the new Urban Decay sheerer Revolution lipsticks is called something along the lines of Ladyflower? x Becky @ The Little Blog of Beauty

  23. probeautygamer
    March 21, 2015 / 6:48 pm

    I think that there are names that would get attention without being out of line. The best names I saw lately was lipgloss by essence called "Be my cookie monster" and Dermacol liquid lipstick "Kiss me fool" . There are cute names that get attention as well without being over line.Very nice post btw:)@probeautygamer

  24. Emma Luxton
    March 22, 2015 / 10:38 pm

    I definitely think brands can push it too far, they don't need to be named so controversial. I think witty and fun names are better. I like when they're clever and work well with the shade. Emma x Writing Essays With Wine

  25. Lindsey
    March 23, 2015 / 6:32 pm

    I agree! What's the point of even running the risk of offending people and ultimately putting them off not only the product, but the entire brand? Other brands can get away with fun names so clearly not an impossible job! Besides, how do some of these even get past their marketing campaigns – someone had to think of it and someone had to approve it – that's worrying! Keep it fun, please, brands!

  26. Eleanor Pritchard
    March 24, 2015 / 6:59 pm

    I guess as a result these products get attention as a result of the racy names -they're controversial, but people still buy them? In my opinion it's still wrong though

  27. Georgina Kent
    March 26, 2015 / 6:33 pm

    All very true – I get a bit shy/embarrassed when I talk about NARS Orgasm/Deep Throat – necessarily named and inappropriate IMO – I'm no prude, but like you said, there's no need to be controversial like that for no reason, when they could have been more playful like Rimmel are.GeorginaMakeup-Pixi3

  28. jade taylor
    January 4, 2016 / 8:35 pm

    Gashɡaʃ/noun1.a long, deep cut or wound.The rest, I don't see it as much of a problem really. We're all just too prude imo 🙂

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