How the Beauty Industry Realized the Secret Ingredient of Looking Good Is Feeling Good

Written by Zoe Weiner
Designed by Natalie Carroll

Welcome to the era of the mind-beauty connection.

When Amanda Chantal Bacon launched Moon Juice, her line of adaptogenic powders, juices, and supplements in 2011, she had no intention of heading up a beauty brand—a focus that felt entirely unrelated to her wellness products. “I was never attracted to the beauty industry—not as a teenager flipping through the magazines that had all of the ‘look hot for your man’ messaging—not ever,” she says. “I honestly saw myself as the antithesis of that.”

But two years later, Moon Juice—with Chantal Bacon at the helm—launched its first ingestible beauty product; by 2017, her products were in Sephora. In 2018, the company introduced its first topical skin-care product (now it offers four), and just last month, the brand hit the shelves at Ulta with 12 beauty-focused items. “These aren’t stores that I ever saw myself walking into as a client, let alone as someone who’s selling something there,” says Chantal Bacon.

So what, exactly, changed? "The industry," she says.

Since Moon Juice’s launch, the beauty industry, which once centered "looking hot" for others, as Chantal Bacon puts it, has turned its focus inward. It has shifted increasingly toward care over cosmetics, authenticity over appearance, and placed itself squarely at the center of the wellness conversation. Back in the day, we were told that if we weren’t born with “it,” we at least had Maybelline to cover our flaws, and that very aesthetics-over-everything messaging made talking about beauty and wellness in the same breath seem impossible. But now, at a time when the same red lipstick that companies might have marketed as "irresistible" is now touted as “confidence boosting,” the two are inextricable.

According to Mindbody’s 2023 Wellness Index Report, 65 percent of consumers believe that beauty and grooming are important parts of wellness. And as of 2020, “beauty and personal care” accounted for $955 billion of the $4.4 trillion wellness economy, beating out the categories of “healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss” and “physical activity” as the largest segment of the market, according to the Global Wellness Institute. 

“We’ve definitely seen a shift from beauty as purely an aesthetic to viewing it as a form of self care,” says Cindy Deily, Sephora’s VP of skin-care merchandising. “Beauty and wellness are absolutely intertwined, and we’re seeing that clients are starting to understand the connection between beauty and feeling beautiful and their overall well-being.”

Stocksy / Erin Brant

In other words? We've taken the age-old “look good, feel good” adage and flipped it on its head: Feeling your best is now the priority, and for many, beauty has become the gateway into doing just that.

“Beauty is often seen as an easy entry point into self care because it can be a relatively low-stakes and accessible way to start taking care of oneself,” says Tata Harper, who founded her eponymous clean skin-care brand in 2007. “Beauty routines, such as skin care or makeup application, can be seen as small, manageable steps that individuals can take to feel better about themselves and improve their overall well-being.” 

How beauty became central to wellness

The mind-beauty connection wasn’t born in the United States a few years ago; rather, it spans centuries and continents. (Eastern plant medicines that double as beauty rituals, like Indonesian jamu, all place wellness at the forefront.) But, the beauty industry’s recent introspective focus has shifted how consumers engage with their routines. 

All of this started in the early aughts, when the clean beauty movement—which prioritizes natural formulations free of preservatives—began picking up steam. Early-adopter brands like Juice Beauty (launched 2005), RMS Beauty (launched 2009), and Drunk Elephant (launched 2012) brought “non-toxic” formulas and transparent ingredient labels into the mainstream, and started challenging consumer perception of what was “safe” to use every day. 

It’s worth noting that there are a lot of issues with the concept of clean beauty: There’s no standard definition of the term; new research continues to emerge to disprove the validity of vilifying certain ingredients; and since cosmetics aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there's no trusted judge or jury monitoring ingredients lists anyway—to name a few concerns.

But there’s also no denying the impact that clean beauty has had on our collective attitudes toward our routines. Folks were increasingly considering what they should (and shouldn’t) be putting on their skin, which has catalyzed a new way of thinking about well-being within the context of a beauty routine. "This really was a time of awakening, where people started to crave more transparency, understanding, and empowerment to create wellness for their lives,” says Robyn Watkins, founder of the Holistic Beauty Group, a beauty and wellness product development firm. 

Stocksy / Alba Vitta
Stocksy / Jovana Milanko

This began to shape the way many of us approached beauty in our everyday lives. “Awareness of what’s in our products has led to an awareness of how we use the products, how they affect us, how we are feeling what we need—the list goes on and on,” says Kate McLeod, who founded her eponymous brand of moisturizing body stones in 2018. “Focusing on ingredients keeps shining the light on the connection between what we put on and in our bodies… and how we feel.” 

Though this shift toward prioritizing how products connect to one's sense of inner beauty was percolating throughout the 2010s, it wasn’t until pandemic-induced lockdown orders went into effect in 2020 that it fully came to fruition. Increased time at home provided an opportunity for many to re-evaluate how they were taking care of themselves, and beauty became an entry point into well-being. 

As the pandemic raged, people were left with a slew of new stressors to navigate, and for many, taking the time to do a face mask or soak in the tub suddenly wasn’t frivolous—it was an act of self-preservation. “The health issues, the pandemic, all of the social change and unrest that’s been going on—it’s contributed to a big sense of anxiety and stress across the board,” says Shannon Davenport, founder of body-care brand Esker Beauty, adding that the past few years have been “a time of getting back to basics and tapping into [beauty practices] as relaxation techniques.” 

For many, the alone time they got in the shower or the five minutes they spent applying skin-care serums every night were the only moments of me-time they got throughout the day—so making such moments count gained heightened importance. 

"The term 'care' evolved from being this special time out that you give yourself sporadically in your week to a daily overall approach to living your life, and I think what's changed is the feeling of 'Hey, I deserve this,'" says Jackson of the shift in the beauty mindset over the course of the last few years. 

According to an analysis by the NPD group, though lockdown inspired us to create spa-like environments at home, three years later we’re still engaging with beauty as a portal to feeling well. “Consumers are grappling with COVID fatigue and searching for products, rituals, and activities that not only bring them a moment of peace, but can also bring them joy,” according to the report.

All of this brings us to today. “Since the pandemic, it’s clear that clients are prioritizing their overall health and well-being more than ever before,” says Deily. “Self care is at the forefront as people embrace beauty regimens that not only cater to the ‘outside,’ but also from within.”

"Wellness beauty" is now an industry of its own

Gone are the days when consumers expected a product to simply deliver on its promise of brighter skin or shinier hair, for example. Now, the benefits need to be layered, whether that means offering multiple health-supporting functions, feel-good effects, or both. 

“I think there’s become a greater realization that beauty is not a selfish act or something that is done to please others,” says Harper. “I believe beauty has shifted from the narrative of looking good to grasp the attention of others to a much more personal and unique experience for the user.” 

Arguably the biggest example of the increased focus on well-being in beauty is in the "skinification of everything," with traditional facial-care ingredients making their way into every part of our routine over the past few years. Body-care products that target specific concerns (like acne and wrinkles) and foundations that offer legitimate skin-care benefits have hit the market in droves. And the phrase "scalp care is skin care" has become a common refrain among hair brands that are infusing products with actives like ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin C, highlighting the care in hair care.

“It used to be a unique value proposition that a makeup brand was so different because it was pulling ingredients that you’d normally see in facial skin care, but now, that’s table stakes,” says Jackson.

Courtesy of Selfmade

The link between beauty and mental health has also entered the chat. "I’ve seen mainstream brands adapt mindfulness and holistic themes into their products," says Watkins. "The trend [started with] bubble baths and escalated during the pandemic and forced people to reckon with emotional stress and physiological benefits of products." 

Psychodermatology products, which address the stress-skin connection, are poised to dominate the market in 2023. “We use psychodermatology as a lens to view our skin as a window to our internal world so we are better able to define needs and meet them, rather than defaulting into a feeling of shame when our appearance is so tied to our feeling of worth by society,” says Stephanie Lee, founder of psychodermatology brand Selfmade and one of our 2023 Changemakers. In addition to Selfmade, other brands like Trinny London, and Loum have brought this concept to the market by infusing their products with neurocosmetic ingredients that help lower stress levels when applied topically. Others, like Alicia Keys’s Keys SoulcareArkive Headcare, and Murad, are working to highlight the importance of making your beauty routine more mindful.

Across skin and body care, sensory experiences that come with a supplemental feel-good element now reign supreme. Whether it’s a cooling facial cleanser designed to invigorate your senses, a woodsy-scented body wash that evokes the same relaxing response as forest bathing might, or a bath bomb that comes linked to a meditative Spotify playlist, there are a slew of new offerings in this niche.

“Our lives have changed so much over the past few years, and the fact that we’re not rushing into so many things means we can be more mindful about the touchpoint throughout our day,” says Davenport. “... And I think things like an aromatherapy shower, a warm bath, or an ice bath, are a way to shift our consciousness and tap into the mind-body connection.” Consumers agree with this sentiment, with spa-like showers predicted to be one of Pinterests’ biggest 2023 trends and cold plunges taking over on social media.

Stocksy / Atolas

Body-care practices, which inherently have mindfulness baked into them, have gained popularity since the pandemic. Davenport, for one, says her aromatherapy oils and body-planing tools have seen a major spike in sales since 2020. “Body care is highly intimate,” she says. “It’s a solitary, sensual, and almost vulnerable thing—it’s not the same as doing your makeup with your friends—and it has that mindfulness element because it’s about you and your relationship to your body.” Engaging with body care as a beauty practice provides people a chance to make self-care a quick and easy part of their everyday routines.

The global luxury body-care market, which includes everything from lotions and body washes to traditional tools, like gua sha and jade rollers, is expected to grow from $13.3 billion in 2021 to $21.7 billion in 2026, which is a trend researchers attribute to the increased focus on self care.

Finally, going au naturel is now considered just as en vogue as getting glammed up. A minimalist aesthetic that highlights bare, cared-for skin over heavy makeup has been trending on TikTok; air-dried hair products have hit the shelves in droves in response to consumers opting to step away from their strand-destroying heat styling; and natural nails are now just as widely accepted as their freshly manicured counterparts. And if you do want to create a #lewk, there’s now “dopamine makeup,” which involves wearing fun, bright products that inherently boost your mood; better-for-your-hair hot tools from brands like DysonT3, and Zuvi that make it possible to give yourself a DIY blowout with as little damage as possible; and bold, nail-friendly press-ons and polishes available at every major beauty retailer and drugstore. 

The hybridization of beauty and wellness has been in the making for years, but we’ve finally reached a point where products that make us feel good (instead of ones that exclusively make us look good) dominate the market. “You can be rocking killer heels and have your makeup professionally done and the best blowout ever, but if you feel like shit on the inside, something will be missing,” says McLeod. “When you feel good on the inside, and you’ve done that first step of taking care of yourself, it’s going to translate.” 

As we continue to put our well-being at the forefront of our beauty routines, one thing is for sure: "Beauty as wellness is here to stay," says Chantal Bacon.