Scrub the skin, soothe the soul

Beauty: Trendy cosmetics evoke New-Age mantras of inner balance and healing. Do they work? Is your aura glowing?

January 02, 2000|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,Sun Staff

People seek fulfillment through many things: love, religion, art.

Then there are those who seek it in shower gel.

Aveda has one called "Fulfillment." It's part of the company's "Chakra" line of body cleansers with mood enhancing aromas. You can also choose "Motivation," "Attraction" and more.

Lately, it seems, the cosmetic industry is looking for converts instead of customers.

The companies and salespeople have turned into makeup missionaries, selling the concept that you can exfoliate your way to enlightenment.

No longer is makeup just supposed to make you look good and help you snag that man.

Now, supposedly, it qualifies you to hang with the Dalai Lama and Richard Gere on a Tibetan mountaintop.

"It's about health and healing instead of health and beauty," says Christina Carlino, chief executive officer of philosophy, a Phoenix-based cosmetics line started in 1996. "The old messages of beauty used to completely alienate people."

In the past five years, the inner-beauty industry has become a religion.

Aveda can balance your aura with shampoo. On the Origins Web site, not only can you buy such calming tonics as Give Peace a Chance, but you can also gaze at a swirling, hypnotic mandala, a Hindu symbol representing the universe. Philosophy suggests you can find "hope in a jar" with one of its daily moisturizers. 5S (five senses) divides its products into five customized mind and body regimens with names like Nurturing, Adoring and Energizing.

Lancome has latched on to the trend with Hydra Zen for stressed-out skin. Boston-based Color Investment Cosmetics sells kits based on colors from the free-flowing feng shui principle. Smack some red on your lips for fame, put some pink on your lids if you're looking for love. Color Investment founder Dianne Sloane contends that the right tint of eye shadow can bring you closer to your destiny. The spiritual trend, however, is most prevalent in skin and hair-care products.

"Products can't just be about surface benefits," says Marlisa Butler, a marketer for 5S. "They want a harmony between how they feel on the inside and the outside."

The inner-beauty brands use color therapy, aromatherapy or organic ingredients, and often draw from Eastern philosophies, such as feng shui and Indian ayurvedic beliefs. New Age buzzwords like "zen", "de-stress," "balance" and "aura" are incorporated into the labels.

"Nobody sells 'moisturizers' anymore," says Paula Begoun, author of "Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me."

The holistic approach to makeup started in the mid-'90s with the explosion of spa culture, and aromatherapy, Begoun says.

People wanted the same rejuvenating, healing, pampering products in their own medicine cabinets.

Allure beauty editor Kristin Perrotta thinks the trend is very much of the times.

"It reflects our acceptance of a more holistic approach to health," she says. It's natural for a society that has warmed to alternative medicine, acupuncture and aromatherapy to gravitate toward it, she explains.

It's also an issue of time. Women are looking to get pretty and peaceful in one fell swoop. "It's popular because we all want a quick fix," she says. "We're stressed. Few of us have any kind of balance in our lives, so why not try it? It's worth a shot."

Begoun, who has made a career of debunking cosmetic industry myths, thinks this is yet another expensive, exploitative fad.

She thinks that aging boomers vulnerable to the products' comforting claims and pseudo-spiritual Gen-Xers are the most likely to give in.

"Fun and God at the same time," she says. "That's totally Generation X."

And great marketing never hurt. All these brands have clean, stylish, streamlined packaging.

Philosophy has clear containers with the product names simply written on them. 5S is calm, cool and color-coordinated. Aveda, often thought of as the first to popularize the trend, is slick and austere. Origins infuses standard products like face scrubs with attitude through names like Never a Dull Moment. "I don't believe it's going to work, but I buy them because of the marketing," says Gina Bracaglia, 31, a software marketing manager from Baltimore, who uses Origins. "It's like those commercials when you go [in the shower] with the soap, and you come out and the birds are chirping."

Lynda Sloper, 56, is also buying the products without buying into the hype.

"My inner balance comes from me, not from my makeup or skin products," says Sloper, a registered nurse who lives in Ellicott City and is a longtime Origins customer.

But not everyone is as level-headed. Some women actually think a concealer can Complete Me, as the name of one philosophy product suggests.

"I do think that's what women gamble on," Begoun says. "To drop $45, no one's thinking it's just cute."

So, how far can a company take these spiritual claims?

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