Make-up goes inclusive for people with disabilities

Beauty label Kohl Kreatives has a make-up line, Flex Collection, that is designed to be easier for people with disabilities to open and apply.
Beauty label Kohl Kreatives has a make-up line, Flex Collection, that is designed to be easier for people with disabilities to open and apply. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • In March 2010, Ms Terri Bryant, a make-up artist and educator, began noticing slight changes to her skill set.

Stiffness spanned from her left shoulder to her fingers, which she was unable to move independently.

By 2012, it was taking her a really long time to apply her clients' make-up. At a wedding, she could not get the bride's eyebrows to look balanced.

"Make-up artistry has been such a big part of my life," Ms Bryant, 47, said. "Yes, it's my livelihood, but it's also my creative outlet. It's been a way I've connected with people over the years. The thought of losing that was devastating."

In 2015, after visiting a doctor, she learnt she had Parkinson's disease, a neurological disorder that can cause stiffness, shaking and coordination difficulty.

She is one of 61 million American adults living with disabilities that affect daily life, according to 2016 survey data analysed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To help herself and others struggling with make-up application, she founded Guide Beauty, which makes grippable and hand-steadying products, easy-to-open packaging and other make-up application tools of universal design.

Larger cosmetic brands such as Johnson & Johnson, L'Oreal and Maybelline do not consider such inclusivity in their beauty products, although they occasionally produce offerings that make application easier.

Maybelline's Eyestudio Hyper Easy Liquid Eyeliner, for example, has a hexagonal grip for control and stability.

Ms Veronica Lorenz, 51, learnt that she had benign spinal cord tumours in 1995. She has spent 17 years as a make-up artist on television and movie sets including Buffy The Vampire Slayer and two Pirates Of The Caribbean films.

After her first surgery, she lost most feeling in her right arm and taught herself how to be left-handed.

In 2013, another surgery caused loss of feeling in her left arm, with the exception of her thumb and the left meridian leading to her neck.

In 2017, she debuted the Vamp Stamp, a cosmetics tool that uses a stamp and cushion eyeliner ink to create cat-eye wings, which otherwise require a steady hand to draw manually.

Each applicator has a triangular handle as opposed to a round one, which makes the tools easier to grasp.

Kohl Kreatives, a beauty label out of London, started as a charitable service in late 2015, offering free one-on-one and group cosmetology workshops for individuals with a range of concerns, including motor disabilities.

Ms Trishna Daswaney, founder and director of Kohl Kreatives, teaches adaptable skills to people in Britain, United States, Australia, Hong Kong and other places, both in person and virtually. She has hosted more than 400 sessions to date.

To maintain and financially support this service, Ms Daswaney, 28, created a line of make-up brushes, which offer a more fastened grip, twist 180 degrees, bend backward and forward and stand up, in 2017.

"I created a product that would be acceptable for as many people as possible. I looked into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, lupus, arthritis - lots of different areas with tremors and grips," she said.

"Giving people back that power and control that they sometimes lose was a top priority and inspiration to me."

Although niche brands are starting to fill the void and empower consumers, there is a lack of mass-market options.

When 28-year-old Marna Michele shops for make-up, she prioritises a product's packaging over its popularity. Her selection specifically includes items she can easily open and apply.

The secretary and indie pop singer was diagnosed at birth with arthrogryposis, an incurable condition that affects her joints and muscles.

Although it is far from a perfect solution, Michele applies oil primer with a rubber eye dropper, which enhances her grip.

She opts for spray foundation from Dior or Sephora's house brand because "it's easier than having to open a foundation, pour it and put it on the brush", she said. "I just spray it straight on my face."

Setting powder typically poses a challenge for her to open because many are packaged in flat, round containers. Eyeshadow brushes are small and hard to hold. Eyeliner caps are problematic too.

"It's way easier to screw things off than to pull sleek plastic. It slips out of your hands," she said.

Even though Ms Courtney Donisi of Coral Springs, Florida, is an occupational therapist, she rarely comes across cosmetics with adaptations for people with disabilities.

"You don't walk into a mall and see it there with all the other make-up supplies," she said. "Someone who needs it would have to go out of his or her way to find it and purchase it. It should be way more available than it is."


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2020, with the headline Make-up goes inclusive for people with disabilities. Subscribe