Making up an international industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars, cosmetics brands are in a powerful position to influence worldwide trends in beauty and lifestyle. Increasingly, they are using their power to spread the message that doing good is as important as looking good.
"Our customers consider it an added value to be able to buy a lipstick that can help people and improve suffering," says Denise Lai, brand general manager of M.A.C Cosmetics in Hong Kong, which is an active supporter of HIV/Aids charities through its Viva Glam programme. "Most of the time, our customers do not mind buying another lipstick for charity. It's HK$145 only and 100 per cent of sales goes to the fund."
M.A.C launched Viva Glam in 1994. Over the years it has become known for its celebrity spokespersons from Dita Von Teese to Lady Gaga and most recently, Ricky Martin and Nicki Minaj lending their star power. To date the fund has raised US$250 million. John Demsey, group president and chairman of the M.A.C AIDS Fund, has called the campaign "the heart and soul of M.A.C Cosmetics".
In Hong Kong, the brand works with local Aids charities and will donate HK$1 million to Unicef Hong Kong to support its Charity Run on November 25 and its Preventing Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV programme. It will also donate HK$400,000 to the Society for AIDS Care on December 1 (World Aids Day).
In much the same way as M.A.C has supported those affected by HIV and Aids, Estée Lauder has led the fight against breast cancer for the past 20 years. Through its Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign - launched by Evelyn Lauder in 1992 with the pink ribbon symbol - the brand has reached more than 70 countries, touching the lives of more than 20 million people.
Every year, the campaign does something new, most recently illuminating The Peninsula hotel in pink on September 27 to raise funds and awareness for the Hong Kong Hereditary Breast Cancer Family Registry.
"We are pleased with the tremendous response this year to the campaign and see increased participation by both staff and consumers," says Irene Kwok, chairwoman of Estée Lauder's campaign this year in Hong Kong. "We believe a world without breast cancer can soon come true."
In September, cosmetics brand Laura Mercier launched its own fund supporting ovarian cancer. Besides donating US$100,000 to New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, profits from the sale of its Bonne Mine palette and Rose Hope Lip Glacé will be used to fund research and raise awareness of the disease.
Other brands, meanwhile, choose to support environmental causes, many of which are inspired by the ingredients in their own products. La Prairie uses only marine-sourced substances cultivated in carefully controlled, land-based environments, particularly in its Advanced Marine Biology Collection.
When the brand launched three new products in the collection this year, it announced a partnership with the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation for the first La Prairie Award for Innovation in Marine Protection. The international jury was headed by Céline Cousteau, granddaughter of underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau, with La Prairie customers invited to vote for their favourite project through a Facebook campaign.
"These days, people are more aware of charity and how they can help preserve the environment," says Noelle Cheng, brand director for La Prairie Hong Kong. "So when brands do things like this, they try to get involved as well."
In fact, the highest number of votes for the award came from Hong Kong. "We invested a lot into promoting this award," Cheng says. "In addition to invitation cards for customers to go online and vote, our therapists were also keen to talk about it, particularly with customers buying Advanced Marine Biology [products]." The US$100,000 grand prize was awarded last month to the Tethys Research Institute in Italy, which spearheads the Monk Seal Conservation Project, with two runners-up also receiving donations.
For its part, luxury skincare line La Mer has partnered with international ocean advocacy organisation Oceana since 2005. This year's awareness-raising activities included a US$200,000 donation to Oceana, limited-edition packaging of the brand's signature Crème de la Mer and an ocean-themed photography competition.
Other brands produce special products to highlight a cause. This year, Chantecaille partnered with The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust to draw attention to the plight of the endangered elephant. "We first became aware of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust through a moving article in National Geographic and realised the world's largest mammals are still under threat from the ivory trade," says Edith Hoi, marketing and public relations manager for Chantecaille in Hong Kong.
By working with the charity directly, Hoi says the brand is confident that the money raised goes to the right place. She also believes the make-up palette featuring the elephant, created with the charity in mind, helps to educate customers about the issues of global sustainability. "Thirty-eight thousand African elephants are killed annually, and if this continues, the species could be wiped out by 2025," Hoi says. "This beautiful quad palette will always remind people of this message."
Also using products to raise awareness, Elemis partnered this year with new charity Socially Conscious (SOCO). The British skincare brand has agreed to donate 50,000 vaccines to children in Africa through the sale of its iconic Papaya Enzyme Peel, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
"We knew that the papaya and pineapple actives within the formulation were sourced from Kenya and Congo. We felt it would be fantastic to give something back to the countries that provide us with such wonderful extracts," says marketing director Oriele Frank. "It was by coincidence that we were introduced to [SOCO founder] Priya [Lakhani] who wanted to launch a new initiative to allow companies to give 'One for One' direct to specific needs."
Elemis will provide one pentavalent vaccine for children for every Papaya Enzyme Peel sold. In Britain, Elemis is also well-known for its Treatments on Tour Spa Bus that drives around London offering beauty treatments. For every treatment sold, the company donates £1 (HK$12.50) to the charity Mothers4Children, which helps children in need.
For those who think the beauty industry is a superficial money-making machine, it's time to think again. There is much thought and consideration behind every brand's chosen charity, some which are entwined firmly in their DNA. In many ways, these brands have proven that beauty is more than just skin deep.