Unilever Is Excising The Word “Normal” From Beauty Packaging. What Other Words Should Be Excised From Beauty?

Unilever recently announced it would eliminate the word “normal” from its beauty product packaging. In light of the company’s move, we ask 21 beauty brand founders and executives: What word or term do you think should be excised from the beauty industry lexicon?

Rhonda Marshall Co-Founder, Inahsi Naturals

"Chemical-free" should be excised from the beauty industry lexicon because there is no such thing as a product being chemical-free. All products contain chemicals, even the most natural products. For example, every water-based beauty product has water as its main ingredient. Water is in fact a chemical. Its chemical name is dihydrogen monoxide. To say "chemical-free" is to imply that chemicals are bad, and your products should be free of them. This is misleading. At the end of the day, the focus should be on results and the overall safety of the product rather than claims of “free from.”

Leah Rodarti Co-Founder, OH.SO

I agree with Unilever’s decision to eliminate the word “normal” because what exactly is normal? “Anti-aging” and “flawless”are two key terms that come to mind when we talk about the language that should be cut out of the beauty industry. I don’t think brands should rely on fearmongering to sell their products because there is no one standard of “beauty” or “flawless skin.” Additionally, the term “anti-aging” casts a negative light on a subject that so many already struggle with. Aging is not a bad thing. We should love the skin that we’re in and be proud of the lives that we’ve lived. I have noticed that “well-being” is replacing “anti-aging,” but I feel “graceful aging” or “aging gracefully” are nice alternatives.

Janet Schriever Founder, Code of Harmony

The word/phrase I have an issue with is “anti-aging.” The entire beauty industry is built on ageism primarily directed at women. We don’t talk about it because ageism is completely normalized and the very cornerstone of how many companies sell their products. "Anti-aging" puts all women in a position of feeling bad about their age because our products are all focused on hating what we will all eventually be—old. As an aesthetician and a brand owner in her 50s, I recognize my participation in the use of this word and am working on removing it from my vernacular completely because it is offensive.

Cilia Fishman Co-Founder, Ladybug Potions

My co-founder Laura Khoudari and I think the word "natural" should be excised. First, the word "natural" conveys the idea that somehow a beauty product is good for you and wholesome, but this is often misleading. What consumers don't know is that there are no government regulations in place to restrict companies from advertising using the word "natural." What ends up frequently happening is that the beauty product is marketed as being natural, but, in fact, contains harmful, toxic ingredients. The consumer believes they are buying a natural product when, in reality, the product is laden with chemicals.

Arielle Brown Founder, Bea's Bayou Skincare

"Urban" should be eliminated. It's a term often used to describe products made either by or for mostly African American or POC communities, and these products are typically not intermixed with non-"urban" brands on the shelves. These products may be staples in certain communities, but not always and surely are not made with exclusive ingredients that only Black and brown people can use.

In addition, there are many great creators who assume they will be placed in this box and do not even attempt to reach broader audiences in their marketing. With Bea's Bayou Skincare, I wanted to create something that was obviously for everyone and not to be considered only an "urban" product because I, the creator, was a POC. “Urban” does not describe my skin nor my hair type so it does not belong.

Marco Vernazza Founder, Aloe Attiva

When Unilever announced striking the word “normal” from its consumer-facing vocabulary, it gave me pause. We often become numb to terminology long used in beauty. One such term, “imperfections,” has been commonly used in skincare and complexion products for years. As such, if you are concerned about skin discolorations, scars, blemishes, freckles, uneven skin tone supporting copy would use this term: “addresses imperfections."

Let us put forth the actual definition. Imperfections [are] a fault, blemish or undesirable feature. Is this the right 21st century language? At Aloe Attiva, we believe that skin deserves better. So, we use our proprietary aloe-powered waterless technology in pushing the envelope forward for better skincare. We strive for better, not perfect. Perhaps it is time to stop using the word “imperfections” because the truth is no one is perfect."

Allison Moss Founder, Type:A

"Vegan" when it comes to defining a beauty product. It can be misleading. Since we associate vegan with an extreme form of plant-based eating, the suggestion by calling a beauty product "vegan" is that the product is all-natural and super safe. Some products promoted as vegan use a plant-based source of an ingredient that previously was animal derived. Aqualane is a good example here. However, vegan is often used to imply a product is super safe or highly natural. Technically, it just means ingredients are not animal-derived.

Vegan products could and sometimes do still use any number of other ingredients which are known toxins or thought to be of concern (parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde donors, etc.). The better practice to deliver true formula safety is to evaluate every ingredient and the entire composition not by material source, but by evaluating existing third-party research on health impact, sustainability and ethical sourcing.

Aishetu Dozie Founder, Bossy Cosmetics

“Nude” needs to either be eliminated or deeply nuanced in beauty. I think by now, in 2021, we have had enough discussions about race, diversity in beauty, inclusion of all hues to know that calling any specific color “nude” is going to be offensive to someone out there. The issue is really about centering whiteness, and our industry has done that for far too long. We’ve seen how representation really does matter to young women and even those of us that are not so young. I love seeing brands that are showing nude is a range, a realm if you will. Having a light pink and calling that “nude” is hurtful in these times because it feels like you haven’t been listening.

Dimitra Davidson President and COO, Indeed Laboratories 

I have always been uncomfortable with the term “anti-aging” as aging is a natural course of life, something we should embrace and not try to deny or defy. For me, it’s always been about a healthy mind, body and soul. Aging is a gift.  

Christine Martey-Ochola Co-Founder, Nuele

I find that "beautifying" is used ubiquitously, but gives the consumer little certainty on the value of the product other than an aspiration of becoming beautiful, suggesting that they are not beautiful in their natural state until they utilize the given product. This positions the idea of beauty through the images and words used by the producer.

This term leaves much to interpretation and quickly becomes anchored to an artificial parameter set by the producer of the product with their ideation of beauty. So, if it’s a skin lightening cream, then the suggestion is people who have lighter skin are beautiful. If a product makes hair curly, then the subliminal message is those with straight hair are not beautiful, If it reduces wrinkles, then those with wrinkles are not beautiful, etc.

If a face cream is called a “beautifying cream,” what is it being anchored on? Is it reducing wrinkles? Then, it’s better termed a wrinkle reducer. Is it increasing moisture to the skin? Then, it’s better termed a moisturizer. If both of these products are to be called "beautifying creams,” but they don’t have a qualifying statement to go alongside them, then the consumer is left to interpret what they should determine as beautiful other than a perception that they may possibly look more beautiful after using the product.

The beauty industry continues to fashion how people perceive themselves in the imagery and expressions used by brands. I believe that creating a culture of diversity and inclusion in how beauty is defined and seen within the beauty industry is important, and those of us in this industry should continue to foster ecosystems that encourage people to deem themselves both worthy and beautiful.

Marilyn Corson Co-Founder, Corson Beauty

“Natural” is another word that comes to mind. It has become the catchall for describing everything from eco-friendly and sustainable brands to nontoxic products that are free of harmful ingredients. Unfortunately, it can also be used to greenwash customers into thinking a product or brand is safe and/or good for the planet when, in reality, it is a completely unregulated term that can essentially mean anything. “Natural” can also be used to disguise exactly what is in a product on the ingredient list. For example, “natural fragrance” on an ingredient list can contain various unnatural ingredients like synthetic solvents, preservatives and pesticides.

Instead, brands should use terms that are specific and highlight exactly what makes their products stand out. For example, we share with customers that our products are 100% plant-based as every single ingredient we use comes from plants. We also highlight that our products don’t contain any water or fillers, which is unambiguous and meaningful to consumers. Being specific helps elevate your brand above the sea of “natural” products that are available in today’s market.

Marilyn Jones Founder, B Fragranced

I also believe that words like fair “skin types” or “balanced skin” should also be excised as they could send a negative connotation that someone with oily, dry or other skin types feel abnormal.

The above is also in reference to haircare brands. There are a few words that I believe these brands should refrain from as well such as “coarse hair” and “thick hair,” which have the tendency of a negative tone, specifically related to African American women and their hair types. I believe the number system seems to be more acceptable for everyone.

Heather Fink Founder, The Sexiest Beauty

Why don't we excise the word "anti-aging?" It most certainly beats the alternative. Sure, it comes with some physical effects that can be addressed and mitigated for overall skin and hair health. At The Sexiest Beauty, we prefer to use more positive, pro-healthy terms such as "restores youthful radiance."

Nisha Dearborn Founder, Fresh Chemistry

I'd propose we eliminate using the term "fair skin" as a product benefit in the beauty industry, a phrase less used in the U.S., but globally very prevalent. I would also propose that we rethink calling shades "flesh toned" or "nude" unless there is truly a range to match a multitude of skin tones. As we know, we all don't look the same in the nude shade range.

Kim Walls CEO and Co-Founder, Furtuna Skin

Words are powerful. It makes sense to me that Unilever would pick the word “normal" to encapsulate their overarching efforts to drive positive change. “Normal" in the context of dry-normal-oily skin is pretty straightforward in terms of how one might categorize products and skin types, but the societal or cultural idea of normal and what has been “normalized" as ideal in the beauty industry certainly needs to change. Since working as a unified body creates more change and creates it faster, I’d want the beauty industry to align with this personal care giant and pick “normal" to excise from the beauty industry, too. Let’s work together on the big ideas one at a time as one body.

Nicolas Travis Founder, Allies of Skin and PSA Skin

“Anti-aging” is the one word that I think should no longer be used. Firstly, the term presents an impossible concept. We literally get older every hour of every day. There is nothing we can do to stop it. Secondly, it gives unnecessary pressure like we should all aspire to look a certain way. Chasing youth is an empty pursuit because, as mentioned, we get older every single day. So, I believe our collective energy will be better off spent being the best versions of ourselves at any age.

Salome Sallehy Founder, Sugar Sugar Wax

This is a significant milestone. When a huge conglomerate is taking the term “normal” out of their labels, it signals to other players in the space that our beloved beauty industry is growing up—and not a moment too soon. We’ve been talking about personalization in customer experience for more than a decade and taking a non-personal and overly generic label like “normal” out of the equation is just making space for brands to get personal and contextual with their customers. So, there really isn’t a single term to replace normal because, in the diverse mix, that is humanity there are many different versions of “normal.”

In light of this opportunity, I think we’ll start to see terms that actually resonate with individuals and speak to specific skin and hair attributes like coily and oily or flat and fried. There is absolutely an opportunity to get creative and personal with our customers. Not every brand will have something for everyone, but, as a customer, it’ll be easier to identify the brands that can meet you where your needs are. The beauty industry lexicon is about to undergo some much-needed expansion.

Amanda Light Community and Content Manager, SaltyGirl Beauty

It would be great if we could stop marketing products with the promise of looking “youthful” or “younger.” As we have gotten older, we continue to see the knowledge, wisdom and real beauty that has come with our years. But, if we’re being honest, it’s a struggle to embrace that when we are constantly being bombarded with the idea that to be young or younger looking is the beauty ideal. Women especially should be able to age and love everything that comes with that.

Angela Fields Founder, CurlyCoilyTresses

I think "hypoallergenic" should be eliminated from beauty industry lexicon. Medically, it means absolutely nothing, but gives customers a false sense of safety in a product. Ingredient labels must still be reviewed and researched if needed. Those with sensitive skin and allergies must still patch test and monitor for outcomes before assuming a product is safe.

Richard Walker Founder and CEO, Dr. Botanicals

As an LGBTQ+-owned and -led brand, we take gender equality and acceptance seriously. Our Apothecary Collection, for example, is completely gender neutral and suitable for all skin types, colors and ages. No biases here! Being able to buy a product without a “for him” or “for her" label is a freeing experience. Let’s not make the decision for consumers as to whether they are allowed to use or like a product. If you love it, use it!

Mar Cavalone Founder, Dome Beauty

Since Dome Beauty is a color cosmetics brand that focuses on unity across all skin tones, we have always been very mindful when selecting our shade names. Historically, there are a lot of common terms that have been used in the past—and, in many cases, are still being used—that are insensitive to the global beauty community.  Names that pertain to complexion such as "cocoa," "mocha," "caramel" and "chocolate" as well as the shade “nude,” which typically references lighter beige complexions versus acknowledging that each individual has their own shade of nude, perpetuate colorism.  We feel these names should be removed from use to choose more appropriate complexion shade names in the beauty industry. There are so many options that don’t have to allude to names with racial subtext, so let’s be a little imaginative and more mindful. After all, we are in the very creative industry of beauty!

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