It's an unpleasant truth that for many, helping those in need is a spectator sport. While many of us try our best to pay it forward — hooking up friends with job interviews, giving back during the holidays, and donating all we can in both time and gently used goods to charity — it requires major compromise and serious self-sacrifice to do much more. It’s unpleasant to see others going through a hard time, particularly when looking at life with Instagram-colored glasses. And sometimes —
most times — it’s easier to look the other way.
But here’s the good news: Forward-thinking brands in the beauty world make it crazy-easy to support the most crucial of causes. Because hair, makeup, and skin-care companies with a sense of social responsibility are taking the money we give them for lipstick, eye cream, and shampoo and using it to do some pretty incredible things — like helping women in war-torn countries rebuild their lives. Or building a state-of-the-art eye-laser treatment facility
within an aircraft designed to touch down in developing nations and help treat blindness that's completely preventable in the first world.
It’s not just the massive corporations that are making a difference. A natural indie brand is making documentarians out of indigenous teens in the Amazon basin, and another company gives every last cent of its profits to help women and children in need. What's more, a new upstart is making clean water in Haiti its number-one priority.
This is the new age of beauty — a landscape of must-have, high-performance products that allow us to support incredible causes, too. The stories will spark warm fuzzies — and maybe even inspire us to think bigger. Here are the brands that are turning our makeup and skin-care purchases into global change, one sale at a time.
Confidence Queens: Charlotte Tilbury If you were caught in a socially, economically, and geopolitically dire situation, would lipstick rank among your few must-have items? Compared to clean water access or securing a safe and dry place to sleep, the pursuit of a statement lip may seem...superfluous. But according to those on the ground at some of the most harrowing of crisis situations, lipstick does more than just make a woman look cool. Just ask Brita Fernandez Schmidt, executive director of Women for Women International UK, who made a surprising discovery the wake of the Bosnian war 20 years back. “Women for Women International first started helping women in Bosnia 20 years ago — where it is estimated that 50,000 women were raped during the conflict — we asked women what else they wanted, in addition to the financial support and training,” she says. “And they told us they wanted lipstick! Women told us that they wanted the snipers to know that they were killing a beautiful woman; for them, it was an act of defiance and an expression of their strength and beauty.” Since then, Women for Women International UK has gone on to help nearly half a million women survivors of war rebuild their lives. But Schmidt never forgot about this initial discovery — something that affected fellow badass and beauty guru, Charlotte Tilbury. "When I first met Brita and heard the many stories of the women in the program, I was shocked, devastated, and determined to do something to make a real difference,” Tilbury says. So this year, when Tilbury released her Hot Lips collection, comprised of 12 colors inspired by powerhouse beauties (Emily Ratajkowski, Kate Moss, Kim Kardashian, Cindy Crawford and Liv Tyler are just a few), she not only pledged to donate $2 for each tube sold to the NGO, but convinced each of the famous ladies named in the lipstick collection to sponsor a woman through the program for a year. “I have called on an army of powerful, influential women to help raise awareness of their cause and highlight the hidden suffering of so many women,” she declares. It’s a move that not only shows that women are better when we band together, but that we’re pretty strong when rocking a gorgeous lip, too. Charlotte Tilbury Hot Lips Lipstick, $32, available at Charlotte Tilbury.
The Childhood Cancer Squasher: Lancôme We've all seen the St. Jude logo around town — on change jars and signs noting businesses that earmark a portion of every sale for the cause. But for anyone who's actually visited or been treated at the Memphis, Tennessee hospital, it's unlike anything you've ever imagined. Founded in 1962 by Danny Thomas, the son of Lebanese immigrants, the goal was simple: Treat children with cancer and life-threatening illnesses at absolutely, positively no charge. Not a single penny — and that includes travel expenses to get to the hospital, hotels, or apartments given for the whole family to live in (depending on the length of treatment), and access to some of the best researchers and doctors in the country. If it sounds unprecedented, that's because it was. Named after St. Jude Thaddeus, the saint of hopeless causes, the organization has lifted survival rates of childhood cancer in the U.S. from 20% to 80% by sharing all their monumental research with any doctor who needs it to treat their own patients. We'll say that again: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital raised childhood cancer survival rates from 20% to 80% in just a few decades! How is this possible? It takes over 2 million dollars per day to keep the hospital running, which is totally funded by donations, grants, and partnerships with brands who donate a portion of sales through promotions. Such is the case for longtime partner Lancôme, who has raised over $3 million dollars since its partnership began in 2010, making all the good the hospital does that much easier. As if the company wasn't doing enough, it also sponsors in-hospital events where patients get makeovers by professional makeup artists to provide what they call "moments of happiness" during what is undeniably rigorous and exhausting treatment. This November and December, the brand is adding a new promotion by donating 10% of all Matte Shaker sales to St. Jude, up to $3,000, among their regular donation schedule. As if we needed another reason to pick up the beautifully pigmented, matte lip color. (Insider tip: Plum Plum Girl is gorgeously on-trend for fall, Nude Dehli is universally-flattering for everyday, and Kiss Me Cherie, seen here, is the red everyone needs.) You can always donate to St. Jude, too. And for those that can't, you can always donate blood, which saves the hospital almost 2 million dollars per year. Like the hospital says, "If you can't give green, give red." Lancôme Matte Shaker Liquid Lipstick, $22, available at Lancôme USA.
The Flight Catcher: Bbrowbar Genius kiosks that have improved our lives: Essie nail polish and Benefit makeup-dispensing kiosks at JFK, the ones that make recycling old phones easy, and one that 3-D prints pizza (obviously). But the grandmother of them all? A little kiosk in New Delhi, India that helps rescue and rehabilitate kids who suffer abuse or are sold into childhood slavery. Funded by blinkbrowbar founders Vanita Parti and Nisha Parti and run in partnership with New Delhi-based NGO Butterflies Street Children, the kiosk is located in New Delhi Railway Station, the city’s hotbed of comings and goings. Among the half million people who use the station daily are children who are literally running for their lives. “The most harrowing scenarios are when children have escaped slavery, are then returned to their family, and [are] sold once again,” notes blinkbrowbar cofounder Vanita Parti. Kiosk staff members have helped connect hundreds of children to a family or person who can take care of them. While Delhi may seem worlds away from a sleek London-based brand with brow shaping salons in Saks and products sold on Net-a-Porter, its connection to India is actually quite intimate: Much of the company’s workforce is comprised of women from the Indian subcontinent. What’s more, cofounder Parti can see the tangible changes that the kiosk makes. “I’ve personally chatted with the children and was saddened by the fact that some of them didn't even know their age. They seem to have lost their childhood,” she explains. “I believe that the U.K. has some amazing charities to help children but the scale of despair and lack of help in India really made us want to support a charity for children India.” During the past five years, the company has donated thousands of British pounds to the charity; a percentage of brow-threading sales funds the endeavor. Compared to instant pizza? It’s money well spent. Bbrowbar Waterproof Brow Kit, $62, available at Net-a-Porter.
The Sight Saver: L'Occitane An elevator ride ranks right up there with taking out the trash and checking email as the most mundane of human tasks. But for L’Occitane founder Olivier Baussan, a single elevator ascension has served as a catalyst for major change. After seeing a blind woman touch the floor numbers on an elevator panel, he was inspired to add braille to most of the brand’s packaging. And that was only the start. In the past 15 years, the brand has also teamed with Orbis International, a nonprofit that delivers eye care to those in developing nations. Its vehicle for change is a literal one: a one-of-a-kind aircraft dubbed the Flying Eye Hospital that delivers doctor and nurse trainees to parts of the world where preventable blindness is prevalent. There, they demonstrate how to prescribe glasses or do laser eye surgery — right on the plane! So far, L’Occitane and Orbis’ efforts have provided more than two million people with eye care or glasses — something that people in many developing nations typically don’t have access to. And now, the two are about to one-up their bright-eyed flight patterns even more. Five years in the making, the latest version of Orbis’ Flying Eye Hospital features a patient care and treatment room, which contains optical lasers for tons of procedures — all courtesy of a half-million-dollar donation from L'Occitane. Also on the massive MD-10 aircraft? A 48-seat classroom, a biomedical work area, and a fully accredited eye hospital fitted with technology that can transmit live surgeries around the world in 3D. The plane’s maiden voyages will include stops in the US, Europe, and Asia before tackling its first two missions in China and Indonesia. And to think it all started in an elevator. L'Occitane Divine Eyes, $80, available at L'Occitane.
Farmer University: Paul Mitchell The cost of a package of chicken Top Ramen at Walmart is 25 cents. The cost of an organic bone-in, skin-on chicken thigh — the most important ingredient needed to make a hormone-free homemade veggie, chicken, and noodle soup? Six bucks a pound. With stats like these, it’s no wonder that poverty breeds obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other grave health problems. And believe it or not, John Paul DeJoria, John Paul Mitchell Systems' cofounder, knows this better than anyone. Before he became a multi-billionaire, the entrepreneur — who has pledged to commit 50% of his net wealth to philanthropy — endured a few stints of homelessness. And when growing up in Los Angeles, he recalls a time when “on a Friday, my mom came home from work and said to my brother and I, ‘You know, between us, we have only 27 cents, but we have food in the refrigerator, we have our little garden out back, and we’re happy, so we are rich,’” he told . Forbes Now, through Grow Appalachia, a non-profit initiative in partnership with Berea College, DeJoria is helping Appalachian families create their own gardens of riches. Since 2009, the program has set out to help as many Appalachian families grow as much of their own food as possible. “Providing this new skill set inspires individuals to be entrepreneurs who pay it forward, sharing (and selling) their surplus food with neighbors, friends, and family in need,” DeJoria says. So far, the program has provided more than 4,000 families with the skills and resources needed to grow, prepare, and preserve organic, nutritious food, which not only creates healthier bodies, but sets the foundation for a lasting autonomy along the way. One Kentucky-based family started in the program by planting a single garden. This expanded to farming cacti in a sizable greenhouse specially designed for fruits and veggies. The husband-and-wife team now sell cacti weekly at a local farmer’s market, which boosts their supplemental income. “This embodies everything that this program is designed to do — Grow Appalachia and the resources it provided sparked this couple’s entrepreneurial journey, by staying true to their traditions and culture and adapting it for profitable gain,” says Constance Dykhuizen, executive director of JP's Peace, Love & Happiness Foundation. Nearly 2.4 million pounds of fresh food have been grown to date under the program, which operates in six states. “We have thousands of backyard gardens that are supported by Grow Appalachia and are managed by everyone from boy scouts to prisoners to local volunteers,” DeJoria notes. In all, growers in the program have banked more than $240,000 in revenue — which is a far cry from instant soup. Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Special Shampoo, $13, available at Paul Mitchell.
ER Foodies: Éminence Organic Hospital food ranks right up there with airplane food. It’s typically not good — which is weird, given patients' dire need for nutrition and healing. This is an irony not lost on Boldijarre Koronczay, president of the Hungarian-based Éminence Organic Skin Care. When Koronczay was a kid, he battled a rare form of childhood leukemia. While undergoing treatment in the hospital, his mother and grandmother would feed him homemade, organic, and Biodynamic foods, a component of his care that he credits to helping him kick the life-threatening disease. Three years ago, Boldijarre and his brother Attila Koronczay returned to the same children’s hospital where he was treated — and found that the hospital-supplied food hadn’t changed much. Koronczay responded by creating the Éminence Kids Foundation to provide freshly-made, organic meals to hospital patients. By partnering with local organic farmers and delivery volunteers, Éminence Kids ensures that sick children receive maximum nutrition, in hopes that it helps them feel — and heal — better. Since its inception, the nonprofit has expanded from one hospital in Hungary to many hospitals in three countries, with sights set on worldwide expansion. Éminence Organic Skin Care Bearberry Eye Repair Cream, $70, available at Eminence Organic Skin Care.
The Rainmaker: Ollie & Otto The foundation of healthy skin is clean skin. But achieving clean skin becomes downright impossible when you don’t have clean water to work with. Because 663 million people don’t have access to safe water (that’s one in 10 of the earth’s population), newly launched indie brand Ollie & Otto is on a mission to move the meter on those dismal stats. For every product purchased from the brand, it will provide clean water to one person for a year. The initiative, a partnership with Generosity.org, aims to help people in the most poverty-stricken and drought-affected areas, such as Haiti, Africa, and India. Of course, getting clean water for washing faces is just part of it. “Lacking reliable access to safe drinking water worsens the health, education, and economies of affected countries,” brand cofounder Mario Callaway points out. The initiative’s first area of focus? Haiti. In the brand’s first year of sales, it plans to provide clean water and/or training to 25,000 people in a country that’s still trying to recover from a 2010 earthquake that damaged its clean water supply infrastructure. “Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and a substantial amount of their population goes without access to potable water on a daily basis," Callaway says. “Poverty exacerbates their lack of access to safe drinking water, so many Haitians resort to collecting water from cheaper, unsafe sources, which can lead to illnesses such as cholera and typhoid.” Clean water for a year not only means clean skin, but healthier people — all in exchange for a soothing shea butter moisturizer or kick-ass castile soap. Ollie & Otto Citrus Castile Soap, $10, available at Ollie & Otto.
The On-Call Rural Derm: Vaseline Think of it as The Red Cross for skin: Vaseline Healing Project works with Direct Relief by providing medical skin care to communities in crisis all over the world (including Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, typhoon victims in Philippines, and rural communities in Kenya). Some have never seen a dermatologist before (in South Africa, for example, there’s only one dermatologist for every four million people). And in communities like these, the program provides skin health training to local clinicians so they can better treat mild skin concerns before they become grave. It’s a simple thing that has huge effects in places where 67% of preventable skin conditions keep people from doing ordinary things, like attending work or school, according to Direct Relief. Vaseline global brand director Kathleen Dunlop has participated in global missions for the project and most recently traveled to Nepal to provide medical care to more than 2000 people in the Sindhupalchowk district as part of the program. “Nepal is a place of striking beauty. But since the earthquake in 2015, the living conditions for many are still difficult. The country has struggled to meet its citizens' increased needs for basic water, sanitation, and hygiene services since last year’s earthquake,” she shares. “One woman we met has worked in the fields all her life, so over the years she has spent a lot of time barefoot in the wet rice paddies, working in mud up to her knees.” Because the woman’s feet were exposed to the elements on a daily basis without any protection, she suffered chronic skin infections, according to Dunlop. She says, “We were able to treat her infections and provide her with enough Vaseline to help her continue to protect her skin from the elements even long after we’re gone.” Vaseline Intensive Care Advanced Repair Lotion, $7.50. available at Walgreens.
The Spinal Cord Crusader: Clark’s Botanicals Clark’s Botanicals founder Francesco Clark knows that connection between an eye cream and supporting medical research may seem unclear. But the spinal cord injury survivor, who suffered the injury when diving into a pool 14 years ago and went on to create products that would clear his own sudden acne post-injury, has made it his mission to connect the dots — and push the dial forward on awareness and treatments through his advocacy. Clark’s strategy: Leave an impactful thumbprint on every relationship he creates. In doing so, he has educated the public about spinal cord injury itself (after the central nervous system is impaired, those who survive the injury can lose their ability to walk and sweat; clogged pores and chronic acne inspired the impetus for his skin-balancing line). He has also inspired fellow advocates, such as Julianne Moore, Maggie Rizer, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, and Martha Stewart. And he’s gotten large corporations, such as American Airlines, involved in the fight. Clark’s Botanicals is currently featured in the airline’s business class amenities kit. In typical Clark fashion, the entrepreneur pushed the relationship further. “Our involvement with the biggest U.S. airline was a surprise to a small, unknown skincare line like ours, and it shows a camaraderie you wouldn’t expect. In speaking with American Airlines, I wanted it to be more than just a collaboration, and I am excited to have them as a sponsor at the Reeve Foundation Gala in November,” Clark says. “I’ve tried my best to make sure whatever connections that I’ve made over the years help to connect to our broader message and purpose.” The crusade to help people understand how spinal cord injuries change people’s lives — and to fundraise for boundary-pushing research while inspiring others — also requires cash. So Clark’s Botanicals donates about 10% of the company’s annual profits to the Reeve Foundation, a leading organization working to find a cure for spinal cord injuries. “It’s not a hard number, and there’s no limit. My main goal is to give as much as we possibly can each year,” he says. Such funds go to further groundbreaking treatments, such as the burgeoning epidural stimulation, in which a continuous electrical current stimulates the spinal cord and activates some of the damaged nerves — something that has allowed some patients to move their legs while the device is on. The research is new, but it may lead to helping those paralyzed from spinal cord injuries to walk again. “If someone was injured 20 years ago, there really was no hope of trying to get better; now, we’re seeing that there is a lot of hope, and nothing is impossible. There's a sense of having a future in terms of regaining some of that neurological function that you may have lost,” he says. “Having said that, I stand by the fact that you can still live a fulfilling and very full life with a spinal cord injury. Now, we just have more options, and possibilities. We can choose to pursue greater independence, which is empowering.” Clark’s Botanicals Age Defying Radiance Cream, $119, available at Clark’s Botanicals.
The Boss Maker: Shea Moisture Sundial Brands encompass some of the biggest beauty companies in the game: SheaMoisture, Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture, and Nubian Heritage. So we were surprised to learn that the massive company is actually a family-run one, started by an entrepreneuring woman in a very tough situation. At 19 years old, Sofi Tucker was a widowed mother of five — five! — children who supported her family by selling products like shea butter and African black soap in a West African village market. The family business has grown considerably in the two generations since, but Tucker’s grandchildren never forget where they came from. The company has adopted a business model focused on building stronger communities by building fresh-water irrigation systems where the company’s shea butter is produced, and with programs that the brand explains “train women how to be our business partners and to be an entrepreneur,” just like Grandma Sofi. And it's making bosses out of thousands of women each year. Equipping women with the tools they need to become a boss is a “transformational process,” says Sean Hall, vice president of community and development for Sundial Brands. During a recent visit to Ghana, Hall worked with a woman who had to beg in the street for money to support herself and her blind husband, who is unable to work. “In Ghana, people with disabilities are disproportionately disadvantaged due to extreme lack of social services, and stigma and discrimination,” Hall says. “Often, when a family has a member living with a disability, the entire family must work or beg to support the family member, often at the expense of providing for other family members.” After joining the brand’s Community Commerce partnership, in which she produces shea butter for the brand as a part of a woman-led co-op, the Ghanaian woman shared that she no longer begs in the street. By earning a so-called “ethical wage” — one that considers actual cost of survival, including health care costs — the woman now makes enough to support her household, maintain a health care plan, and even save a little. As the company’s demand for more shea butter grows, so do the number of women who can support their own families. Something tells us Ms. Tucker wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Body Lotion, $10, available at Ulta.
The Free For All: Shankara What’s in a name? Plenty. If you’re Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a dad bod just won’t do. And if you’re skin care company Shankara — a name that means “pure beauty with fully-blossomed consciousness” in Sanskrit — then spurring social change is part of your DNA. And man, does this company live up to its name. The Ayurvedic-inspired company not only makes products in sync with a 5,000-year-old Indian philosophy that that focuses on balancing skin using oils and herb; it also gives 100% of its net profits to global, non-profit humanitarian projects. Yep, you read right — all of it. How, exactly, can a beauty company thrive while giving its profits away? It takes the vision of a few social activists — in this case, those that have served the global NGO International Association for Human Values — as well as start-up capital provided by private donors, and years of research and development, all to dream up a 74-piece skin-care line rooted in three doshas. Though the Shankara donation is given to a general IAHV fund (in order to give the NGO “the flexibility to utilize those funds most efficiently,” according to the company), a lot of specific good has come from the brand’s contributions. Specific Shankara-funded projects include: running 425 free schools in rural and tribal areas throughout India (this benefits 51,000 kids); installing hygiene, stress-relief, and medical camps in more than 40,000 villages across India, an initiative which has built 5,400 toilets in rural and urban slum communities, among other endeavors; providing immediate disaster relief and the building of homes, schools, and community and vocational training centers after major disasters, including Chennai floods (2015), the Nepal earthquake (2015), Uttarakhand floods (2013), the Japan tsunami (2011), and the Haiti earthquake (2010); and several initiatives aimed at women’s empowerment, including programs in Iraq in which more than 1,200 women survivors of gender-based violence received life skills training and vocational training in tailoring, computers, Arabic literacy, and Arabic numeracy. And the list goes on — the money has funded shelter and education for at-risk children of sex workers as well as awareness campaigns to help prevent child marriages. It’s a long and impressive resume that takes "fully-blossomed consciousness" to heart — and, bonus, makes us feel great about our skin care purchases in the process. Shankara Balance Oxygenating Mask, $60, available at Shankara.
Supporters Of The Guardians: Teadora Beauty You don’t have to have a multibillion-dollar, multinational company to create major change. Just ask the conscientious cofounders behind Teadora Beauty, which creates beauty products made with sustainably sourced power ingredients from the Amazon. In addition to planting trees, educating consumers, and choosing a smart supply-chain strategy (all to help alleviate illegal deforestation in the Amazon), the indie brand supports co-ops led by indigenous people in the Amazon basin, too. But its coolest endeavor is one that’s helping kids deep in the rainforest in the most surprising of ways — by hooking them up with an Audio/Video Lab. (Our nerdy hearts just melted.) An AV Club in the Kayapó village of A’Ukre? Yeah, it sounds wonderfully random to us, too. Here’s how it went down: After Teadora Beauty cofounder Tom Moran spent a month living in the remote village learning about the Kayapó people (who have been called “The Guardians of the Rainforest” by National Geographic and are spread out among about 30 villages, with about 9,000 members), he and visiting professors and students from Purdue University and Brazil’s Universidade Federal de Uberlândia had an epiphany. Why not use their shared technical backgrounds — including Moran’s prior experience with Microsoft — to create a place where community teens could record their elders' myths, legends, and knowledge of plants, among other projects? Using grants and donations, including 1% of net sales from the beauty brand, the crew broke ground on the project in February. The center is now up and running, with local students studying filmmaking and putting the facility to good use (kind of like the kids in Stranger Things, but with a much cooler purpose). Some tap the lab to record events and dances. Others document tribal myths and legends that, until now, have only been handed down orally. Others make their own films or memorialize naming ceremonies. The lab was such a welcome addition to the community, it got a naming ceremony of its own. “The mother of one of the new filmmakers proposed one of these beautiful names for the media center, and the community thought so highly of it, that they voted to accept the name, Kôkôjagõti,” Moran explains. The name has no direct translation, but plenty of meaning. “Beautiful names are passed down from generation to generation, and to some are considered one of the highest honors on a Kayapo community, a way to make you beautiful and whole,” Moran adds. No matter what the project, Kayapó’s freshly minted digital storytellers are all protecting shamanistic knowledge — something that’s faced extinction, just like the flora and fauna of the forest itself. “The hope is that the village continues to be excited by this project, and this helps them reinforce their own culture and independence,” Moran says. “And perhaps one day, they become an example for other tribes and villages, proudly telling the fascinating stories of the Kayapó people and their Amazon home.” Teadora Beauty Brightening and Exfoliating Mud, $34, available at Teadora Beauty.
Education Advocates: Teleties The inception of the new beauty company Teleties may have been established on the principle of functional hair accessories, but it continues on with a much higher purpose. After co-founder Liz Wolcott was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2015, she discovered that she had been living with the symptoms, undetected, for over three years. And by the time she told her family and friends the news, she quickly realized awareness surrounding the illness was limited. So, with Teleties partner Lindsay Phillips by her side, they dedicated their brand mission to the Global Lyme Alliance (GLA). With more than 300,000 people diagnosed with Lyme disease in the U.S. each year, it's hard to believe there's still little to no education on its symptoms or treatment. In fact, more than 55% of current diagnostic testing in early Lyme is inaccurate — making it one of the fastest-growing infectious diseases. To fight the good fight, the Teleties brand tries to supplement both the areas of weakness: research and awareness. To do this, Wolcott and Phillips give a portion of the hair tie proceeds to the GLA — $.15 (of $7.99) for every small pack sold and $.20 (of $9.99) for every large pack. The company also lists hard facts about the illness in retailers. GLA uses the donations to fund research in universities and — in partnership with Ionica Sciences — help develop a more accurate diagnostics test. Safer hair elastics with a big societal impact? That's a win-win. Teleties Moondust Gunmetal Pack, $7.99, available at Teleties.
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of beauty tips, tutorials, and news on the
Refinery29 Beauty Facebook page. Like us on Facebook — we'll see you there!