Today, Unilever officially made a pledge to drop the word "normal" from the packaging and advertising of its beauty and personal-care brands. The revolutionary step forward is part of the multinational corporation's new Positive Beauty vision, which aims to eradicate exclusionary language and outdated beauty ideals when it comes to beauty products — namely, how we talk about skin and hair.
Popular brands under the Unilever beauty umbrella include drugstore go-tos like Dove, Love Beauty & Planet, Vaseline, and Shea Moisture — all of which will no longer use "normal" to describe skin or hair types. In the beauty industry, experts typically characterize "normal" skin as skin which isn't particularly oily or dry, nor affected by skin conditions such as acne or eczema, for instance. The word serves a similar purpose in hair care, referring to hair that hasn't been altered by bleach or dye, or the condition of the scalp. However, the word can be seen to have negative connotations, suggesting that skin and hair types outside of the description are abnormal and therefore inherently undesirable.
The Canadian Dermatology Association reports that 20% of Canadians have acne and, according to the British Skin Foundation, 70% of British people have visible skin conditions or scars that affect their confidence, and 60% of British people currently suffer or have suffered from skin disease at some point in their lifetime. Unilever's research found that using the word "normal" to describe beauty products makes people feel excluded, and so the move aims to question damaging beauty ideals, prevent discrimination, and champion inclusion.
Sunny Jain, president of Unilever's beauty and personal care department, said in a company statement, "With one billion people using our beauty and personal care products every day and even more seeing our advertising, our brands have the power to make a real difference to people's lives." By launching the Positive Beauty initiative, Jain said, Unilever is committed to tackling harmful norms and stereotypes in the hope that this will shape a "broader, far more inclusive definition of beauty."
In the statement, Jain acknowledged that this pledge, while impactful, isn't a panacea for the issues the beauty industry faces as a whole. "We know that removing 'normal' from our products and packaging will not fix the problem alone, but it is an important step forward," he said. "It's just one of a number of actions we are taking as part of our Positive Beauty vision, which aims not only to do less harm, but more good for both people and the planet."
Sarah Degnan Kambou, president of the International Center for Research on Women, echoed Jain's sentiment. "Every day, we see and hear messages about how to 'fit in,' how to be included in very narrow definitions of what is 'normal,'" she said. "In order to champion equity, we need to challenge these restrictive 'norms' and create societies and communities that celebrate diversity and the unique qualities and ideas that each person brings. Beauty is no exception."
So far, Unilever has reviewed over 200 products globally, all of which are labeled with the word "normal" when referring to skin and hair. The company says that progress is being made in the hair-care category especially as it works hard to tweak its product descriptions to meet the needs of all consumers, not just a select few. Bottles that currently read "normal to damaged hair" will be replaced by more precise language, such as "dry" or "oily," for example.
The move has been praised by consumers worldwide, as Unilever says that seven in 10 people agree that using the word "normal" on product packaging and advertising is unfavourable and dismissive. The company states that for younger people aged 18 to 35, the number increases to eight in 10. Clearly this change is welcome, and will help many more people feel as though they aren't being singled out or excluded when shopping for beauty and personal-care products in the future. It's a positive difference, and we're definitely on board.