These Beauty Brands Are Designing Their Products With Accessibility in Mind
The beauty industry is finally becoming more inclusive, with a range of new products designed for people with disabilities—but it still has a ways to go.
Over the past decade, shade selections for beauty products have expanded. A diverse range of models are being represented in campaigns and overly retouched advertisements are no longer the norm. But despite the beauty industry’s efforts to become more inclusive, people with disabilities have largely been left out—until now. Independent cosmetics companies and big-name brands alike are finally prioritizing intuitive, user-friendly packaging that serves beauty lovers with disabilities.
Last fall, Olay piloted an easy-to-open lid prototype—a chunky cap with winged handles that fits all Olay moisturizers. The modular, grippy design allows people with dexterity issues or limb differences to effortlessly remove the lid with one hand, while a high-contrast label and Braille lettering help those with visual impairments distinguish each product. This move is in line with its parent company Procter & Gamble’s broader 2020 pledge to make all of its packaging more accessible by 2025. It’s a shift that started in 2018 when Herbal Essences—one of more than 65 companies in the P&G family—added raised bumps and stripes (known as tactile markers) to their shampoo and conditioner bottles for those who are visually impaired. Procter & Gamble made the design for Olay’s easy-open lid open-source, meaning that other brands can copy and refine the features, allowing the beauty industry to work collectively towards identifying and removing barriers.
The push for more accessible products can be partially credited to P&G’s accessibility leader, Sam Latif, who is blind. In her two decades with the company, Latif has hired more people with disabilities and spoken to consumers with disabilities about their frustrations. Unfortunately, Olay’s caps are only available in North America, proving that we still have further to go when it comes to making accessible products readily available.
In Canada, one in five people over the age of 15 has a disability. For those with visual impairments, beauty packaging with raised bumps, high-contrast colour schemes and easy-to-decipher fonts can make a big difference. “These are things that are so simple and minute, but that most companies just haven’t thought of,” says Mary Mammoliti, a Toronto-based food expert and disability advocate who is legally blind.
Mammoliti was diagnosed in her 20s with retinitis pigmentosa (a degenerative eye disease) and had to adapt her beauty routine, relying more heavily on her senses of touch and smell to find products that work for her. Today, she actively seeks out brands like U.K.-based Blind Beauty, which emphasizes product scent, texture and accessible packaging with its vegan and cruelty-free skin care products. Other companies like U.S.-based Victorialand Beauty specialize in packaging that features the CyR.U.S. System (raised universal symbols) and embossed QR codes that play audio information about the products within its certified organic skin care line.
Not all accessible brands shout their merits from the rooftops—in fact, one of the most ubiquitous beauty tools is actually an innovator in inclusive design. Peer into any makeup artist’s cosmetic bag and you’ll likely find a Beautyblender ($26), a teardrop-shaped sponge made for streak-free makeup application that was designed by co-founder Veronica Lorenz, who has dexterity issues. After being diagnosed with a benign cervical spinal cord tumour in the 1990s that left her with reduced feeling in her right hand and arm, the Vancouver-born, Los Angeles-based former makeup artist had to hold tools and brushes with her non-dominant hand. The Beautyblender’s foam construction allows users to apply foundation in a natural-looking way, but it also boasts a chubby shape that is easier to grip than your typical makeup brushes.
Lorenz says the product wasn’t marketed as a tool for people with disabilities out of fear that it wouldn’t be widely accepted. At the time of the Beautyblender’s launch in 2007, many brands avoided the topic of disabilities completely. Lorenz says she is now seeing this change, especially as more people realize that self-care routines can be especially empowering for people living with chronic conditions and disabilities. Her own journey has led her to continue to design several products specifically for people with disabilities, including VampStamp, a tool with a winged eyeliner stamp on the end that can be dipped in ink and easily pressed along the lash line. The product became a go-to for people with dexterity issues, as well as anyone with less-than-perfect application skills.
Today, more products are taking an inclusive approach. Kohl Kreatives has a line of flexible makeup brushes (£45) that bend forwards and backwards, allowing users (including those with motor disabilities) to apply makeup in a way that’s comfortable for them. Other products require only one hand to use, like Revlon’s One Step Hair Dryer and Volumizer—a round brush and hair dryer in one—and Drunk Elephant’s Protini Polypeptide Firming Moisturizer ($89), which has a push applicator that eliminates the need to squeeze or tilt the bottle to dispense the product.
But much of the work left to be done goes beyond creating inclusive products. It’s also about encouraging the beauty industry to allow people with disabilities to tell their own stories, says Xian Horn, a New York City-based beauty and disability advocate. “We’re combating old-fashioned ideas around what disability looks like, feels like and is like,” she says. “The more empowering stories that we can share, the more of a ripple effect it will have on future generations.”
Image: Sarah Wright/Yes And Studio
Try these accessible beauty products in Canada:
Love how your stylist blows out your ‘do? You can DIY the look with the help of this twofer—with just one hand. It’s a hairbrush and hair dryer in one and can provide uber volume, bounce and curl to your mane.
Revlon One Step Hair Dryer and Volumizer, $70, bedbathandbeyond.ca
While Lorenz’s iconic VampStamp shop is on hiatus (the pandemic had a negative effect on her company, but she hopes to relaunch soon), Kaja’s version makes a convenient replacement. The stamp allows you to press on a perfect flick, while the pen can be used to line lashes for a complete cat-eye look.
Kaja Wink Stamp Wing Eyeliner Stamp & Pen, $38, sephora.com
Victorialand skin care products—like the brand’s moisturizer, face oil and sleep mask—deliver deep hydration and luminosity to the skin. But the perks don’t stop there: the packaging offers functionality to people with vision impairments, as it boasts a CyR.U.S. symbol, which is a raised universal identifier.
Skin-Loving Moisturizer, $62, victorialandbeauty.com; Skin-Loving Sleep Mask, $76, victorialandbeauty.com
Boasting a bendy feel and wobbly shape, these makeup brushes are easier to both grip and use than the standard variety, making them a particularly great option for someone with a motor disability or disease. What’s more, the tips come in a variety of shapes—triangle, square and diamond—to make it easier to slip into the nooks and crannies around the nose and eyes.
Kohl Kreatives The Flex Collection Brushes, £45, kohlkreatives.com
This commendable bottle requires just one hand to access the good stuff. A built-in pump at the top allows you to get just the right amount of product on your fingertips that can then be rubbed onto your face to boost skin tone and texture.
Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Firming Moisturizer, $89, sephora.com
With its plump shape and pointed tip, the Beautyblender allows users to apply foundation and achieve a natural-looking finish that—unlike makeup brushes—doesn’t require a strong grip or precise application to use.
Beautyblender Original Makeup Sponge, $26, sephora.com