Can Beauty And Wellness Brands Help Make Social Media Better For Mental Health?

Coverage in the Wall Street Journal and Congressional testimony by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen has underscored that Facebook Inc.’s apps, most notably Instagram, can be dangerous for mental health, particularly the mental health of teenage girls. In that context, for this edition of our ongoing series posing questions relevant to indie beauty, we asked 17 beauty and wellness entrepreneurs and executives: Is there something beauty and wellness brands can or should be doing to help make social media content less harmful for mental health? Is there anything you are doing? Stephanie Morimoto Founder and CEO, Asutra

We live in a culture that puts completely unrealistic expectations on women and girls–and increasingly everyone–to look a certain way. The Wall Street Journal’s Facebook Files showed that Instagram in particular exacerbates social comparison because only the best moments and “perfect” images are shared, leading to unhealthy body image and sense of self.

There are emerging brands doing great work to call attention to mental health concerns and what you can do. One simple, actionable step I think beauty and wellness brands can do is to post content that shows a diversity of people. Don’t show just one standard of beauty, health or fitness, show all the ways you can look and feel that are relevant to the problem your brand is solving. I think this would have additional mental health benefits by creating more inclusion and a sense that we are in this together.

At Asutra, our belief is that it’s not the way you look, it’s the way you feel. And that you will feel your best when you’re taking care of your mind, body and soul on purpose. We try to convey that in two ways on our social media. One, we walk our talk and show a diverse group of people doing things related to self-care versus focusing the post on the way the person’s body or face looks. We showcase real routines by real users because we know our customers trust other customers the most.

Two, we share humor and inspiration to bring a laugh to someone’s day who needs it or inspiration on how to make time for self-care or use our hero ingredient, magnesium, for well-being or better sleep, which, in turn, supports mental health. Our goal is to inspire people with actionable steps that feel doable, not daunting.

Erika Geraerts Founder, Fluff

We would love to see beauty brands’ content and editorial extend beyond products and routines. The current conversations we see around mental health are often performative or relegated to specific days instead of an ongoing, foundational discussion. We simply ask of our content, “Does this post make our audience want to be themselves or someone else?”

We believe social media is about connection and conversation: listen, reflect, engage and represent. Beauty is so much more than makeup—it’s about what’s in your head, not what’s on your face—so social media should represent our customers’ states of mind, what they are thinking, feeling, creating and doing, with makeup being the last thing on that list. People want to feel seen, heard and represented, and that’s about emotion, feelings and storytelling, not just appearance.

Camille Bell Co-Founder and CEO, Pound Cake

The obvious first step is to show more than just one type of person. We should be past the point where our customers only see thin bodies and light faces. However, we can still go deeper. When we show hands holding our products, we should be conscientious of the type of hands we use. Let’s see some thick-ass fingers. It’s also cool to use plus-size and fat models, but let’s make sure they don’t all have thin faces (see thin fat privilege).

Also, we can’t always just have able-bodied people on the timeline. We need people to know that this product was made with them in mind and that this corner of beauty is accessible to them by all standards. On that note, let’s be careful about who we call “beautiful” in our captions. This may have a bit of a learning curve, but the risk of forgetting to praise some folks after praising others is not worth taking.

We should all consider hiding like counts when we post individuals so that no specific type of person seems more/less desirable than another. If a post doesn’t do well, first ask yourself, “Why?” Did the person you posted have darker skin, their natural hair out, a gap/chip or a fuller face? If so, don’t punish those people by appealing to others’ biases.

At Pound Cake, we’re doing all of that, but we’re also including educational content that targets stigmas in the real world. Right now, this is taking the form of Instagram swipe-throughs with partners from marginalized communities to dissect things like fatphobia, transphobia, ableism, colorism, and how they all exist in beauty.

Hayley Williams Co-Founder, Good Dye Young

At the end of the day, I think the best thing a beauty brand can do is take the emphasis off the word “beauty.” Beauty doesn’t have to have a negative connotation if you think of it in a holistic way. However, adding any type of beauty to your life is actually a lifestyle choice.

Take just one of your customers as an example. Imagine that one person’s life and how your company is impacting it. For Good Dye Young, the hope is in giving a sense of agency to them, an outlet. We want to empower that one person to present themselves to the world in whatever way they want to.

If we can do that for one person, we can do it for many. Beauty is where you find it. I think it’s our responsibility as beauty brands to show people they can find it anywhere, and it can look a lot of ways.

Sona Gasparian Founder, Persona Cosmetics

As a digitally native brand, we understand that social media can be an amazing place for connection and creativity, but is a double-edged sword that has the ability to breed comparison, unrealistic standards and contribute negatively to mental health.

Transparency and promoting realistic standards should be a priority of every beauty brand. Some ways we carry this out are moving to unretouched campaign imagery, sharing diverse skin types and textures across our social channels, and creating an open dialogue surrounding mental health with our community to reduce the stigma and inspire our community to feel good, with or without makeup.

Michele Scott-Lynch Founder, Bouclème

I strongly believe beauty brands have a responsibility to portray beauty as real. We all have days when we feel good and days when we feel bad. Sharing both helps to keep things balanced. Most images posted on Instagram are an edited version of one of many photos (hundreds even) taken of a moment in a day. What is real about that? The beauty industry pushed back on media and advertising for photoshopping and staging to create perfect imagery. Now, it’s time we apply the same critical eye to our own feeds and choices of influencers.

Our brand messaging is about empowerment, encouraging customers to embrace their natural hair and unique selves. We help customers become the masters of their own curls, offering support without hard and fast rules. It’s important people see a likeness of themselves reflected in your brand imagery to foster a sense of being valued and inclusion. However, I’m sure we could do more. This has definitely given me food for thought.

Ann Somma Founder, Undone Beauty

Beauty brands can be ultra-creative and artistic with their imagery, but it’s important to acknowledge when an image is retouched or fantasy. There’s definitely a place for that in the world of makeup, haircare and skincare—and extraordinary artists that can create out-of-this-world “perfect” looks, but these don’t need to be presented as the expectation for all of us on a daily basis!

We believe in showing many different, always unretouched faces in our imagery. You should be able to see yourself in our content, not a version of beauty that you’d have to spend hours to achieve. We emphasize that our products are for everyone of any age and gender, and can be used in any way. There’s no such thing as “perfect” skin, brows, lashes, lips, etc., so we try to avoid words like “flawless” that can have a pervasive negative effect when you look in the mirror.

Kat Bryce Co-Founder, Loum Beauty

At Loum Beauty, we work hard to make sure our social channels are a force for good for mental health. We have an IGTV series, “Beyond the Bathroom Door,” in which we encourage our guests to talk openly about their mental health and pass their experiences and tips on to our community. Our latest episode featured the mental health campaigner Poppy Jamie and her learnings behind her book “Happy Not Perfect.”

We choose to work with influencers who are open about their own mental health concerns to create content (e.g., we recently did a pack collaboration with Beth Evans, an artist and anxiety sufferer), and believe by giving a platform for people to share their mental health concerns we can play a powerful role in destigmatizing conversations around mental health and showing our community they are not alone.

Elyse Cohen VP of Social Impact and Inclusion, Rare Beauty

At Rare Beauty, we use social media to shape positive conversations around beauty, self-acceptance and mental health. It’s core to the Rare Beauty brand and meaningful for our community. Through creative content, we provide mental health resources and support. Notably, this content is saved as often as traditional beauty content. We even encourage weekend Instagram digital detoxes by not posting and encouraging our community to do the same.

Lauren Gores Ireland Co-Founder, Summer Fridays

As both brand founders and content creators, we know how critical representation is for our community and its core to everything we create within Summer Fridays. Inclusion comes in all kinds of forms, from showing varying body types to skin tones, to cultures, to ages, to races, to backgrounds and more. We know beauty standards are so narrowly shaped by what people see around them, which is why it’s so important that all brands are committed to highlighting that all bodies are beautiful.

Our team constantly considers how we are evolving, because inclusion requires at least that from us. It requires us to be infinitely mindful of the content we are sharing with millions of people—content that undoubtedly shapes how we all see ourselves. Every brand should be taking a look at this daily.

Highlighting this message is what shaped the campaign around our Summer Skin Nourishing Body Lotion launch earlier this year surrounding the message of “in your summer skin.” We wanted our brand’s storytelling to showcase the beauty within different body types, encouraging our community to share their own story of feeling beautiful in the skin they’re in. The result was beautifully real and humbling to see our community open themselves to others in such an honest way.

Daisy Pyo Social Media Director, Selfmade

At Selfmade, we sit at an exciting intersection between mental health and beauty/skincare. We strive to center ourselves here in an effort to not only offer clean and good-for-you products, but also by democratizing access to mental health tools and resources wherever possible. We know that it’s important to assess what self-care is, and we are firm believers that it’s more than a face mask or anything you can find in a bottle.

Social media is one place where we try our best to position ourselves as a resource in a variety of ways: partnering with brands and organizations with values and mission that aligns with ours such as PYM and Aakoma Project, hosting IG Live conversations with experts from all areas of the mental health field as well as being very intentional and mindful of the type of content we post. (i.e., never posting any photoshopped/edited images from our shoots, creating and posting easy-to-digest mental health education, etc. We also use our platform to give space to real people, especially WOC in marginalized communities to share their own unique story in hopes to help others feel less alone.

Jann Parish Founder and CEO, GLU Girls Like You

Having been in the consumer marketing space for more than 20 years, I have long felt that social media has had an ability to overreach on many topics and teen girls seem to bear quite a bit of the brunt when it comes to misinformation. Through our research, we hear from girls who will tell us that TikTok stories are fact or openly compare themselves to standards that are misaligned or not in their best interests.

GLU was built on the principle that it takes courage and a sense of self to grow up. It’s our core value. For us, that means creating content that lends itself to developing a whole self, both emotionally and physically. Our stories are written in partnership with experts by teens and young adults. We create products that support them and don’t ask them to change. It’s community at its core, which takes time and serious focus. We generally save Facebook and Instagram advertising for their caregivers. We reach our 13- to 18-year-old young woman through local events, philanthropy and promoting our content plus product through aligned partners.

And a few words from my daughter Lila (aged 12, but 13 next month!): My mom asked me about this topic, and I really had something to say. I do love TikTok, and I find all kinds of interesting things on the platform and feel like there are things to learn there.

But starting this company with my mom means I’ve been able to understand social media in a different way that many kids my age don’t, which is why the way we talk about puberty and growing up can’t be a made-up story or just what I am experiencing. We called it Girls Like You, not Girls Like Me for a reason. It is about you and what you’re like. We’re all different and it’s OK. That’s the best story to tell anyway.

Sivan Ayla Richards Founder and CEO, Lux Unfiltered

Our goal for the Lux Unfiltered Instagram page is to share unfiltered, unedited photos in part to truly depict the results of our products, but also to showcase realistic beauty standards. Between filters and editing apps, it is so easy to be misled online by what you’re seeing, and I think beauty brands in particular should be mindful of that when deciding what content is shared.

We have started moving in the direction of sharing more customer-created content as well so it is not strictly model content from our photoshoots. Being a relatable and realistic beauty brand online is something we are consciously working towards with each post and ad shared.

Julie McClure Founder and CEO, Hello.Me

We tend to compare ourselves to the unrealistic appearances found on social media, which can absolutely have detrimental effects on one’s mental health. I think beauty brands have a bigger responsibility to show authentic, inclusive versions of people. Eliminating filters and retouching would go a long way towards improving the situation.

At Hello.Me, we’re on a mission to change what it means to be hormonal, and our goal is to use social media to empower women to take control of their health and promote feeling good from the inside out. A lot of Hello.Me’s social media content is educating women about the short- and long-term side effects from hormonal birth control, which is generally not addressed or explained via health care providers. We talk about how birth control impacts mood, energy levels, digestion, skin and libido and confirms that what women are feeling isn’t “just in their head,” which can have a very positive impact on mental health.

Sahar Saidi Founder and CEO, LUS Brands

Today, the impact that social media has on mental and emotional well-being cannot be understated. Beauty brands perpetuating an unrealistic portrayal of the “ideal” beauty and body image are now populating the news feed/timeline of a majority of the globe, resulting in a significant detriment to mental health and an exaggerated impact on young women/adolescents.

Responsible beauty brands can help offset this by intentionally developing and sharing content that reflects their audience, featuring models and influencer partners that are real, authentic and represent an inclusive and diverse world view, limiting or eliminating retouching, being open to honest feedback, and partnering with organizations that are fighting to address this important cause.

I have always referred to our company as the “non-beauty” beauty brand because I have felt that the beauty business is such an “ugly” business in many ways. In order to sell someone something, you have to make them feel inferior and in dire need of your products. How horrible, right?

Curly hair brands are no exception. Through their marketing messaging, they have historically made curly haired people feel bad about having their natural hair. Then, they offer their products as a solution to this “problem.” They will tell people with curly hair that their hair is frizzy, uncontrollable, unmanageable and even unprofessional. They will compare curly hair to straight hair (straight hair obviously positioned as the superior and “normal” hair type), and they will say, “We have X products to help you tame your mane, control your frizz, manage your hair, etc.”

I named our company LUS (Love Ur Self) Brands because I wanted to do the complete opposite: Encourage our prospective customers to learn to love their own natural features (starting with their curly hair!) and to tell them that their hair is perfectly fine just the way that it is, even without any products in it whatsoever! The purpose behind our product line was to enhance someone’s own natural hair pattern/texture, not to alter it in any way.

Further to our brand name and messaging, we have always tried to set realistic expectations in our ad creatives and copy. We try to never retouch anyone’s photos (we find perfection in imperfection) and, as often as possible, we use real people, including our own employees and customers, in our paid and organic posts.

We were the first brand to start posting photos of people’s “naked curls,” aka curly hair without any product in it. Naturally curly hair is poofy and frizzy by its very nature (the very problem that most curl brands are trying to solve), but we said forget that. Frizz is not a problem to be solved, it is natural, and it is beautiful too!

We’re trying to redefine “beauty” and encourage our followers and customers to look in the mirror and just be comfortable in their own skin…and hair! On a macro level, we’re trying to lead as examples in the business world. It is possible to build a fast-growth, highly profitable business and still sell lots of products employing positive messaging and encouraging self-love. We hope we’re making an impact.

Co-Founder, HAIRtamin

HAIRtamin feels it’s important for beauty brands to show beauty is all ethnicities, genders, shapes and sizes and, for us in particular, hair types. Additionally, we try our best to highlight real, unedited before and afters from our real customers on our social media pages, too, not just influencer-created content. We want everyone scrolling our feed and watching our stories to feel included, important and as though they belong in the HAIRtamin family.

Jennifer Saul SVP of Marketing, C’est Moi

The C’est Moi brand is defined by celebrating one’s self (hence our brand’s meaning, “It’s Me”) and how truly multidimensional we all are. Social media is a place that we all tend to find ourselves, and our goal is to stay true to both uplifting and educating our community. I believe that it is our responsibility to bring both real information and positive energy wherever we are represented just as we are focused on the efficacy of our formulas.

If you have a question you’d like Beauty Independent to ask beauty entrepreneurs and executives, please send it to [email protected].