When I discovered skincare routines in 2016, I was blown out by how many different products existed.
As someone with a recurring acne issue, I was fascinated by the snail mucin-based creams and the tea-tree ointments that promised to have your skin return to its “normal”, beautiful self. The goal to achieve was clear, blemish-free and dewy skin, which glowed even in absence of sunlight. All along in my skincare journey, I was told that clear skin was what “normal” skin looked like, I tried argilla face masks, peeling creams, aloe vera serums. Every product has a helpful label that tells you what skin issue is trying to solve, whether it be acne, or blemishes, or dry skin.
All skincare junkies have heard of the 10 step Korean routine at least once, which FYI includes at least two cleansers, a peeling solution of some sort, a serum, a hydrating cream, a sunscreen lotion, a sheet-mask and a face mist. This tendency to diversify products, each with their specific function, translated into a continuous growth of the skincare industry. Fortune Business Insights reports that in 2018 the global skincare industry was valued at 133.9 billion USD, and it is projected to keep growing 189.3 billion USD in 2025.
If you type skincare on TikTok, you will be submerged with videos such as this one, where the author uses more than 10 products in one sitting. All of these to maintain a “normal” skin. Eudermic, a well-known producer of skincare goods, states, on their official website, that there are usually 4 types of skin. Out of these, “‘Normal’ is a term widely used to refer to well-balanced skin.” But what is “normal” skin?
That’s what Unilever decided to challenge with their Positive Beauty campaign. According to their press release, they decided to remove the term “normal” from the labels of their products to work “towards helping to end discrimination and advocating for a more inclusive vision of beauty.” In other words, after conducting a study on 10,000 people across the globe, Unilever found that there is a shared feeling that the beauty and personal care industry should be more inclusive, and make people feel better. Unilever, parent company to brands such as Dove, Axe, Sunsilk and Lifebuoy, among others, believes that taking ownership of social changes with a move such as this one will certainly have a positive effect on both the company’s revenue, and in changing beauty norms.
Unilever is not new to this type of attempt to change the stereotypes around beauty: in 2004 they launched “Real Beauty” within their Dove products, which portrayed “real” women instead of airbrushed models. At best, their campaign was innovative at the time as it shifted the focus around the consumer, rather than the advertised product. The brand pledged “to always feature real women, never models; to portray women as they are in real life; and to help girls build body confidence and self-esteem.”
The Real Beauty campaign was considered as the best campaign of the century by Advertising Age, and in the following years it kept inspiring new ads as recently as 2013, with the Dove Real Beauty Sketches. The main goal behind Real Beauty was similar to Unilever’s Positive Beauty campaign, but many at the time criticised the brand for failing to include in any way the “Fair and Lovely” products that the company is responsible for, which encourage skin-whitening practices.
Unilever is also the parent company to Axe, which targets a very different segment, and in doing so, promotes a vastly different ideal of beauty, which is objectified to please a mostly male audience.
Positive Beauty being launched by Unilever will see all products under all the brands owned by the company opt out of the “normal” labels for skincare products. Unilever CEO Sunny Jain states that although she believes that brands can make a real impact, she is aware that “[this campaign] will not fix the problem alone, but it is an important step forward.”
Comparing it to Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign, it is easy to see that even as controversial and self-contradicting as it was, it ran successfully for almost two decades. It definitely drew attention and awareness to beauty stereotypes, even if it was not in the original way that was intended. Whether the Positive Beauty campaign will have a similar effect remains to be seen, but it certainly resonates within a larger industry trend, as skincare products begin to be more socially aware of their audience.
I don’t know whether not seeing “normal” as the synonym for the perfect skin type will personally help build my self-confidence, but sparking these types of conversations could bring in a wider, structural change. And perhaps one day when buying beauty products, no one will have to think that their skin is not “normal.”
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