The Way Urban Decay Promoted Its New Razor Sharp Eyeliner Trivializes Cutting

The wonderful world of advertising isn’t exactly where we look to find nuance and depth; however, that doesn’t absolve brands from being held accountable when they use triggering imagery to sell products. The most recent example of this is the outright irresponsible advertising of Urban Decay’s Razor Sharp Eyeliner promotional image, which featured the picture of an exposed wrist covered in colorful swatches of the Razor Sharp Eyeliner.


Due to immediate backlash, Urban Decay removed the initial tweet, which featured the image of the eyeliner swiped wrist with what I presume was the “playful intention” to mimic imagery of self-harm in a creative way. Of course, when people rightfully critiqued the combination of the wrist image and the name Razor Sharp, Urban Decay sent out a tweet clarifying the intent of the image: to display texture and colors on the inner arm, where skin shows colors more easily. Yes, this is a common technique in beauty, but someone at the company had to have realized the offensive connotation.

While I fully agree that Urban Decay’s promotional image was not only in poor taste, but also dangerously dismissive of hugely pervasive issues of mental health and suicidal tendencies (whether intentional or not), using them as a scapegoat only erases the largely popular trend of trivializing and mocking suicide. It certainly isn’t the first brand this year to use suicide as a marketing ploy, and sadly probably won’t be the last.

While Urban Decay’s decision to name their product Razor Sharp and then proceed to advertise it with imagery that harkens to self-harm is inexcusable, it’s sadly just one small drop in the bucket of our prevalent culture that makes light of cutting and suicide.

Earlier this year, Urban Outfitters released a “Shampoo for Suicidal Hair” that similarly came under fire for its marketing exploitation of self-harm terms in a cheap attempt to make a pun and sell a product to teens.

Taking similar action as Urban Decay, the shampoo marketed for “suicidal hair” was soon removed from the shelves of Urban Outfitters after people criticized the insensitivity.

While a triggering ad campaign might sound trivial to some people, the larger trend of ignoring the legitimacy of depression is a trend that contributes to the fact that only 50 percent of people receive help for major depression and suicide is the number 10 leading cause of death in the United States. Making light of self-harm and dismissing it as a punchline is further stigmatizing the pervasive and complex issue of mental health.

Sadly and unsurprisingly, the lack of tact in marketing around suicidal themes isn’t limited to beauty products. A few years back, Hyundai released an ad depicting a man attempting suicide by starting his Hyundai iX35 inside a closed garage, but the punchline is he fails because their emissions are so low and safe.

The pattern of advertisers dismissing the widespread reality and pain of suicide is intrinsically connected to the ways in which mental health issues are still stigmatized. I am all about some sparkly, colorful eyeliner and the marketing freedom to use clever imagery and puns, but when it comes at the expense of a high-risk group of human beings, I’ll gladly pass. Advertisers can do better. All of us can do better.