Are Accessible Cosmetics the Final Frontier in Makeup Inclusivity?
The New York Times | July 7, 2020
By Hilary Sheinbaum

Are Accessible Cosmetics the Final Frontier in Makeup Inclusivity?

Makeup companies are creating products that are easier to open and apply, especially for people living with A.L.S., Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and other disabilities.

In March 2010, Terri Bryant, a makeup artist and educator, began noticing slight changes to her skill set. Stiffness spanned from her left shoulder down to her fingers, which she was unable to move independently. By 2012, it was taking her a really long time to apply her clients’ makeup. At a wedding, she couldn’t get the bride’s eyebrows to look balanced.

“Makeup artistry has been such a big part of my life,” Ms. Bryant, 47, said. “Yes, it’s my livelihood, but it’s also my creative outlet. It’s been a way I’ve connected with people over the years. The thought of losing that was devastating.”

When doing her own makeup became a challenge, Ms. Bryant could no longer ignore her physical symptoms. In 2015, after visiting a doctor, she learned she had Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disorder that can cause stiffness, shaking and coordination difficulty.

“There is some sense of relief to finally know what’s going on,” said Ms. Bryant, who currently lives in Winter Park, Fla. “Once you know what you’re dealing with, you can take action.”

Ms. Bryant is one of 61 million adults in the U.S. living with disabilities that affect daily life, according to 2016 survey data analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To help herself and others struggling with makeup application, Ms. Bryant founded Guide Beauty, which makes grippable and hand-steadying products, easy-to-open packaging, and other makeup application tools of universal design.

Larger cosmetic brands like Johnson & Johnson, L’Oreal and Maybelline do not consider such inclusivity in their beauty products, although they occasionally produce offerings that make application easier. Maybelline’s Eyestudio Hyper Easy Liquid Eyeliner, for example, has a hexagonal grip for control and stability.

Veronica Lorenz, 51, learned she had benign spinal cord tumors in 1995. She lives in Los Angeles and spent 17 years as a makeup artist on TV and movie sets including “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and two “Pirates of the Caribbean” films. After her first surgery, she lost most feeling in her right arm and taught herself how to be left handed. In 2013, another surgery caused loss of feeling in Ms. Lorenz’s left arm, with the exception of her thumb and the left meridian leading up to her neck.

In 2017, Ms. Lorenz debuted the Vamp Stamp, a cosmetics tool that uses a stamp and cushion eyeliner ink to create cat-eye wings, which otherwise require a steady hand to draw manually. Each applicator has a triangular handle as opposed to a round one, which makes the tools easier to grasp.

“When I first started this, I heard people say this is such a big help to them because they have shaky hands, M.S. or different problems,” said Ms. Lorenz. “The industry has certainly changed a lot since I started this company, with inclusivity for gender and race and people with disabilities.”

Kohl Kreatives, a beauty label out of London, started as a charitable service in late 2015, offering free one-on-one and group cosmetology workshops for individuals with a range of concerns including motor impairments.

Trishna Daswaney, the founder and director of Kohl Kreatives, teaches adaptable skills to people in the U.K., U.S., Australia, Hong Kong and other countries, both in person and virtually. She has hosted more than 400 sessions to date.

To maintain and financially support this service, Ms. Daswaney, 28, created a line of makeup brushes, which offer a more fastened grip, twist 180 degrees; bend backward and forward and stand up, in 2017.

“I created a product that would be acceptable for as many people as possible. I looked into A.L.S., Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, lupus, arthritis — lots of different areas with tremors and grips,” she said. “Giving people back that power and control that they sometimes lose was a top priority and inspiration to me.”

Although niche brands are starting to fill the void and empower consumers, there is a lack of mass market options.

When 28-year-old Marna Michele shops for makeup, she prioritizes a product’s packaging over its popularity. Her selection specifically includes items she can easily open and apply.

Ms. Michele, a secretary and indie pop singer in Costa Mesa, Calif., was diagnosed at birth with arthrogryposis, an incurable condition that affects her joints and muscles. Most mornings at home, Ms. Michele spends 30 to 40 minutes applying primer, foundation, setting powder, eye shadow, eyeliner and mascara. She uses a pigmented pomade on her eyebrows and practices contouring, too.

“One of my favorite things to do in the morning is to ask, ‘What am I going to do to my face? Am I going to do bright makeup, dark makeup, neutral makeup, really intense makeup?’ It’s one of my favorite things to do in the entire day,” Ms. Michele said.

A 9-by-9-inch canvas makeup bag, displaying an Audrey Hepburn quote, holds Ms. Michele’s carefully curated collection of products chosen for their ease of use. But her routine has evolved since she started wearing makeup at 13. “I just had to adapt,” she said.

Although it’s far from a perfect solution, Ms. Michele applies oil primer with a rubber eye dropper, which enhances her grip. She opts for spray foundation from Dior or Sephora’s house brand because “it’s easier than having to open a foundation, pour it and put it on the brush,” she said. “I just spray it straight on my face.”

For Ms. Michele, setting powder typically poses a challenge to open because many are packaged in flat, round containers. As for eye shadows: The brushes are small and hard to hold. Eyeliner caps are problematic, too. “It’s way easier to screw things off than to pull sleek plastic. It slips out of your hands,” she said. “Mascara’s hard because all of the tubes are different shapes and sizes.”

Even though Courtney Donisi of Coral Springs, Fla., is an occupational therapist, she rarely comes across cosmetics with adaptations for individuals with disabilities.

“You don’t walk into a mall and see it there with all the other makeup supplies,” Ms. Donisi said. “Someone who needs it would have to go out of their way to find it and purchase it. It should be way more available than it is.”