The beauty industry has undergone a much-needed makeover in the last five years. Driven partly by social media and the pressure put on companies by key beauty audiences, we've seen brands become more inclusive than ever—embracing all genders, body sizes, and skin tones. And while the industry has undoubtedly become more welcoming in these areas, it still falls very short on the inclusion of the disabled community—seemingly producing a majority of products exclusively for non-disabled people.
In today's beauty world, the blind community is largely forgotten about. But whenever the topic of adding braille to packaging is mentioned in a brand's product development meeting, there are usually two responses: It's very expensive to produce. Or, the cost is not worth it because the market for accessibility is small in comparison.
While the first response is valid for many brands (especially smaller, self-funded ones), the second response isn't as factual. The disabled community is not small at all. The World Health Organization reports that, as of 2022, there are 2.2 billion people who live with visual impairment, and 39 million of them are blind.
It's hard to imagine that out of those 39 million people, not enough are interested in cultivating a makeup and skincare routine. This idea inspired Hazal Baybasin—who lost her sight three years ago after three large blood clots were found on the surface of her brain— to create her UK-based brand Blind Beauty.
"I had the luxury to have lost my sight in a hospital with my mother and all these nurses around to help me figure out what was what," explains Baybasin. "And I thought there are loads of blind people out there, so how do they do this without help? I'm sure I'm not the only blind person who wants to do a skincare routine."
After doing research, Baybasin realized there weren't many resources to teach you how to do skincare when you don't have sight. So she started speaking to a few people she found online that were blind and asked them why they didn't have skincare routines. Baybasin says their response was, "I can't because I don't know how to."
How Brands Can Become More Inclusive
More Descriptive Shade Names
The difficulty of doing independent tasks, like cleansing your face or applying moisturizer, is not rare within the blind community. Brandie Kubel, an Independent Living Skills Instructor with Society For The Blind, teaches blind students the non-visual techniques they need to independently do personal care and beauty routines. If the students are interested, they go to local retailers to learn how to shop for beauty products and apply makeup.
For Kubel, who is also blind, navigating beauty products without sight is both a joy and a dreaded challenge. When shopping for makeup, Kubel says the color description on the packaging is a big deal. Without braille to tell her the color, it's not always easy to pick out shaded products.
"Color palettes have names that are so incredibly odd, and because I have no point of reference, I have no idea what it is," Kubel explains. "Finding someone to explain the color to me at most stores is difficult."
She goes on to say that shade names like "ultra" or "vibe" tell a blind person nothing about the color. "It would be lovely if the colors were simplified, but at this point, even an online cheat sheet for descriptions of the color palette would be tremendously helpful," Kubel adds.
When shopping for makeup, Kubel says the color description on the packaging is a big deal. Without braille to tell her the color, it's not always easy to pick out shaded products.
Adding Braille on Packaging
There are a few brands that have been making strides to bridge the gap in accessible packaging—investing in adding braille or using custom molds to make products more readily usable for people with disabilities.
One of these companies is L'Occitane en Provence. The French beauty brand has been a pioneer in inclusive packaging, successfully incorporating braille on products since 1997 after the brand founder, Olivier Baussan, and president, Reinold Geiger, decided to raise awareness about visual impairment.
Braille, a universal language that relies on physical touch, uses indentations embossed onto surfaces that act as text and is read by running your fingers over indentations on a surface. Adding this unique lettering to their products was difficult in the 1990s, as braille had only ever existed in books. L'Occitane contacted an institute in Paris to understand it and, in partnership with a local printer, began to test several techniques to find the right approach for its packaging.
"The first attempts were disappointing, with braille inscriptions that were too sharp and hurt the fingers or pierced the labels in the reel," says a spokesperson from L'Occitane. "A blind salesman was working in a Parisian shop, so we had him start to test the reading." By refining the rendering of this tiny dot of swelling in partnership with L'Occitane—a production standard was identified.
L'Occitane credits its dedication to making accessible products to the brand's respect for nature and people: "The senses have always been incredibly important to us. We want to live in a world where everyone can experience the beauty nature has to offer."
Adding QR Codes on Packaging
While the presence of braille on the packaging is a big step forward, it does not always meet the needs of all users since braille literacy is low among blind and visually impaired people. Only around 10% use it, according to the Royal National Institute of Blind People.
Baysin wants to make sure people who are blind but don't read braille can still use Blind Beauty products and is in the process of adding QR codes to her brand's packaging (which already includes braille). "The QR code will read the name of the product, the ingredients, and how to use it out loud," Baysin explains.
Because QR codes do not have to be designed in a certain way on the packaging, it's an easy solution for others to mirror. "At most, the customers will just have to download an app to their phone," Basin says. "I'm sure they would happily download a free app if it meant they would have an accessible product in their bathroom."
However, even QR codes can have limitations, especially for smaller products with less space to print. That's when tactile shapes and custom mold packaging become important. Benefit Cosmetics, known for being a leader in packaging innovation, includes a built-in wiper with three ridges on their POWmade Brow Pomade jar—taking the guesswork out of a brow pigment format that's already often hard to control for anyone who isn't a brow expert. This built-in wiper also makes it easier and more accessible to visually impaired people who can't see how much product is loaded onto the brush.
"The ridges on the inner wiper are truly sensory and act like an automatic control mechanism, helping the user to control the dosage," explains Kate Helfrich, Benefit's SVP of Global Product & Service Innovation. "So when you glide the brush across, the excess formula catches on the ridges and allows for more clean, controlled application no matter what."
Training and Employment
In beauty, supporting people with disabilities can go beyond modifying packaging. For Cleanlogic, a CPG brand that uses functional braille on 100% of its packaging, that means extending accessibility into larger brand initiatives like employment and training.
"We are proud of the work we do within our internal teams in employing blind, visually impaired, and neurodiverse team members," says Isaac Shapiro, Cleanlogic's co-founder. "We employ them and offer training to help craft our products right in our PA facility outside Philadelphia."
When talking about the market for accessibility, it's impossible to ignore that the unemployment rate for blind and visually impaired people is considerably higher than for the non-disabled population. Shapiro tells me that the unemployment rate within the blind community is at a staggering 70%.
To offset that percentage, Cleanlogic partners with their retailers to offer in-store promotions during October, which also happens to be Blind Awareness Month. "Giving back 5% of sales to local blind agencies helps us to champion the mission of producing tech grants that will help educate and foster healthier employment rates within the blind community," he explains.
Shapiro, whose mother Bea became blind at the age of 7, says the inspiration for this initiative came from his Cleanlogic co-founder Mike Ghesser's older daughter Rosie, who is neurodiverse. Together, the co-founders hope to continually grow their Cleanlogic team to employ, educate, and train people with disabilities. They hope other brands join in their movement and partake in DEI&A (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Accessibility) initiatives.
In beauty, supporting people with disabilities can go beyond modifying packaging.
With multiple avenues to explore, tools to use, and a blind community more than willing to advise on how to navigate it all correctly—we need to start asking beauty brands when, not if, they will begin to make their products universally accessible. Diversity in beauty shouldn't exist as only a marketing tactic, and accessibility should no longer be looked at as a business decision but as an unbending principle of dignity.
Even with the few brands that are currently paving the way to making beauty more accessible, there are still dozens out there continuing to question if making an effort is "worth the cost," when the question should be why they are still allotting such a high price on inclusivity and equality.
When asked what she wants people to know about the importance of acknowledging blindness in the beauty space, Baysin says: "It's not about what we see. It's about how it makes us feel as human beings. Just because I can't see it doesn't mean I can't still feel it. And we all deserve to feel just like everyone else."