What can the cosmetics industry tell us about environmental equity? Sean Storr ’22 is looking to answer this question with his summer Levitt research project, “Environmental Equity and the Cosmetics Industry: An Intersectional Perspective.”
Storr will examine the “eco-beauty” movement that promotes cosmetic products made without hazardous chemicals, aiming to determine whether such products carry a socioeconomic burden. “If you’re poorer,” asked Storr, “can you afford products that aren’t as hazardous? Or perhaps you don’t buy as many products — you’re not affected by it.” So, Storr will be looking at the nature of this link between cosmetics and socioeconomic status.
Other studies on the social implications of the cosmetics industry focus mostly on its relation to race and gender, Storr said. His project will expand on these topics, also placing them in conversation with class. “It’s going to be a lot of looking at what products are marketed to people with less buying power — how much do they spend on cosmetics, that sort of stuff,” Storr said.
To accomplish this, Storr is turning to online databases that compile and sort cosmetic products based on the eco-friendliness of their ingredients. These databases, in turn, can be searched for products that seem to be marketed primarily toward poorer women, which should hopefully reveal either a clear trend showing that these products tend to be more hazardous—or a clear lack thereof. As it is still early in the summer, Storr is uncertain as to which direction his research will go. “It’ll be interesting to see what I come up with,” he said, “because it could go either way.”
Major: Environmental Studies
Hometown: Kingston, Ontario
High School: Regiopolis-Notre Dame Catholic High School
For this project, Storr is being advised by Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies Vivyan Adair. He made clear the important role Adair has played in the development of his work thus far, noting her availability and responsiveness. On the research front specifically, Storr highlighted the value of Adair’s experience. “She’s been awesome for putting together research, because obviously that’s something she does a lot and that I have less experience in,” he explained.
The guiding question behind this project, said Storr, was born out of a summer internship at the New York State Environmental Protection Bureau. “Whenever there was a pollutant [the bureau] was looking at,” he said, “they were like — who are the most vulnerable people to this?” Encouraged by coworkers to pursue relevant topics of interest, Storr began to notice that there were few, if any, studies on the intersection between eco-friendly cosmetics and socioeconomic status.
Now an environmental studies major, Storr acknowledged that his academic path was not immediately clear upon entering Hamilton. “I went in as a pre-med,” he recalled, “and then I got into a calc class and realized that pre-med wasn’t for me.” After an ecology class with Professor Andrea Townsend and a few courses on topics like geology and climate change, Storr said he “jumped all the way in,” switching his major from biology. “And it just kind of happened from there,” he said.
About the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center
Recognizing its long tradition of preparing graduates for public service and active citizenship, Hamilton College established the Levitt Center in 1980. It is named for Arthur Levitt Sr., a longtime New York State public servant with an outstanding reputation for efficiency and probity. The Center encourages students to combine academic knowledge with practical skills as they engage in public affairs through research, field studies, community-based learning, lectures, discussion, and practice. Levitt Center programming is open to students and faculty across all disciplines and departments and is organized around programs that encourage interdisciplinary collaboration and discussion, innovative research and pedagogy, and positive social change.