Health as Beauty

Trends / Wellness
Rebecca Rom-Frank
Oct 5, 2022
The rhetoric of the Beauty industry has long been shifting away from how you look to how you feel, and this is reflected in the visuals they’re choosing, too. Since 2019, the Beauty industry has been using fewer traditional scenarios such as make‑up application, skin and body care, or admiring oneself in the mirror—now favoring more visuals which elevate themes of mental health, healthy lifestyle choices, and nutrition. The pandemic caused a temporary decline in cosmetics sales while many of us stayed indoors1, and at the same time catalyzed an increased awareness of overall mental and physical health issues, our VisualGPS consumer survey found. It’s now more common than ever to see vitamins and supplements sold as part of beauty regimens2, and many body and skincare products are now marketed with more sensitive, healing language.3 The clean beauty shelves in Sephora stores indicate that even as make‑up returns in the wake of the pandemic, consumers are linking brand values and practices with personal health and wellness, and visuals will continue to reflect this cultural shift.
Transparency linked to wellness
As consumers are more concerned about sustainability and business practices of the products they use on their bodies, transparency is emerging as an important visual theme for wellness‑focused beauty brands. The clean beauty industry is set to reach $22 billion by 2024,and we see this reflected through more visuals showing loose ingredients—flowers, spices, herbs, fruit—which represent the natural origins of these products. We are also seeing an aesthetic of literal transparency—visuals showing water, liquids, glass, shadows and refracted light, all playing with the self‑awareness of photography or video as a medium—and some beauty and fashion brands are shooting ad campaigns on 35mm film in 2022, visible grain be darned.5 Social media has also heightened the expectation of transparency in terms of seeing other people’s real lives, and over the years popular beauty visuals have generally become less posed and professional, and more relaxed, personal, and focused on everyday routines. With millions of make‑up tutorials and self‑care routines at their fingertips, consumers are conditioned to seeing behind the façade of perfection, not to mention the business practices of the brands they buy from. Transparency—aesthetically, thematically, or both—is likely to resonate with the beauty consumer who wants to feel in control of their health through more awareness of the products they are putting on their bodies.
Mental health from all angles
For the beauty industry, it’s worth considering all aspects of mental health when choosing visuals, including the power of friendship and bonding in addition to mindfulness and self‑reflection. Though beauty visuals tend to focus on personal care routines and show one person alone, this is especially true for young adults: even though they tend to be overrepresented, 70% are seen alone, and they are 12x more likely to be seen looking in the mirror than seniors. Pre‑pandemic, this may have figured into narratives of independence and self‑discovery, but now, it may not feel so aspirational. Our VisualGPS consumer survey found that 7 in 10 Gen Z and Millennials are struggling with mental health, twice as much as older generations; a study by the APA confirms that younger generations were more likely to report feeling lonely during the pandemic,6 perhaps because they are less likely to be partnered or have families of their own. As mindfulness figures into visuals of personal care routines more and more, it’s also worth considering showing self‑care and beauty routines as a communal activity, whether with friends, roommates, partners, or family present, to resonate with the aspirations of young people to feel more socially connected, and perhaps even less vain (?!), in a post‑pandemic world.
The inclusion imperative: gender, aging, and race
The increased focus on health and wellness has made space for shifts in who is seen in Beauty visuals and how they are shown. Since 2019, alongside the increase in health‑focused visuals, we have seen a decrease in visuals showing women and traditional representations of femininity—and there is twice as much interest in showing men. Men’s skin and body care products found boosted success during the pandemic,7 but this also reflects a broader industry shift of gender‑neutral branding8 which emphasizes how their products contribute to personal self‑improvement, rather than upholding gendered standards of beauty. For example, luxury skincare brands such as Aesop, Malin + Goetz, and Byredo use design‑forward branding with simple color schemes. At the same time, however, visuals showing men still tend to feature fitness scenarios more than thoughtful personal care routines. And queer, transgender, and gender‑diverse individuals still tend to be left out of Beauty visuals, even though a number of start‑up makeup brands are marketing directly to the LGBTQ+ community.9 Beauty has traditionally been an industry oriented towards women, but our VisualGPS consumer survey found that 7 in 10 American women see gender as a fluid social construct. So as health and wellness becomes the focus of a previously very overtly‑gendered industry, there is a lot more space to reach a broader, more expansively‑gendered audience through branding as well as visuals.

In 2022, we’re seeing more Beauty visuals which place less emphasis on skin alone and more on inner peace and contentment in all stages of life. Consider how, for the announcement of her 50th birthday on the Goop Beauty website, Gwyneth Paltrow posted a full‑body photo of herself leaping across her backyard in a bikini10; whereas five years ago, aging was still largely represented by close‑ups on wrinkles, or at best, studio portraits of (primarily white) senior women who had successfully minimized their fine lines. Make no mistake, this is still aspirational marketing—we can’t all afford Gwyneth's lifestyle or plastic surgery—and the American anti‑aging industry is still going $4.9 billion strong and growing.11 This visual shift is largely a reflection of how the industry has rebranded from the rhetoric of targeted “anti‑aging” to euphemistic “agelessness” in order to hook younger consumers earlier,12 but people want to see even more realism: our VisualGPS image testing revealed that consumers of all ages really do respond positively to images of happiness and fulfillment in old age, even when wrinkles are visible. So consider visuals which portray aging as a natural process of becoming more comfortable in one’s own skin, no matter what it looks like.

Especially since the launch of Fenty Beauty's expansive collection of foundation shades in 2017, racial inclusion in the Beauty industry is more than a conversation13—it's now an expectation. Black‑owned Beauty products and businesses have been amplified by the social movements in 202014, and visibility of people of non‑white races and ethnicities represented in the Beauty industry's visuals has increased significantly since 2019, including darker‑skinned Black people—although there is still room for more inclusion of darker‑skinned Latinx and South Asian people. However, it's important to note that skin color is not the only marker of race. There has also been increased usage of visuals showing African hair care. As the Beauty industry pivots towards addressing health and wellness, there is even more of an imperative to speak to all people, including those with larger body sizes, disabilities, and skin and hair conditions, as well.

Read more from Creative Insights:

Real People = Real Bodies
Skin Positivity: Beautiful Shades
Inclusive Beauty
Nature Travel