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Photoshop is a boon for professional photographers. They can tweak a stray shadow, cut out the pedestrian walking by who ruined the perfect shot, or eliminate a stray hair. But for some regulators, the extensive use of Photoshop in makeup ads is more than just fixing some mistakes. It is fraudulent advertising that may be damaging to its target audience.

The CoverGirl complaint focused on the thickness of Taylor Swift’s eyelashes. The advertisement asserted that the mascara being touted could “double the thickness” of a user’s lashes. The Better Business Bureau complained that there was no evidence of such physical changes. Rather than provide the evidence, CoverGirl pulled the ad campaign.

The U.K. Advertising Standards Authority took matters into its own hands and simply banned a Lancome ad featuring Julia Roberts, asserting that the flawless skin she seemed to have was an unrealistic and “misleading” promise to consumers.

For L’Oreal, the controversy is less about the perfection of the skin and more about its tone. In an advertising campaign, the company digitally altered Beyonce Knowles’s skin, making her lighter than her natural coloring.

Whether punished by regulators or not, such tactics by advertisers consistently create a false sense among consumers of what the products can achieve. The widespread use of photo retouching suggests that it is unlikely to disappear. But at what point does it become lying?

Discussion Questions:

1. Is there a way to establish an ethical standard for retouching in cosmetic and related advertising?


David Kiefaber, “Taylor Swift’s CoverGirl Ad Is Pulled Over Bogus Eyelashes,” Adweek, December 23, 2011.

Bryony Jones, “Britian Bans Airbrushed Julia Roberts Make-Up Ad,” CNN.com, July 28, 2011.

Alexis Garrett Stodghill, “Beyonce L’Oreal Ad Controversy Inspires Black Community Backlash,” TheGrio.com, February 10, 2012.