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CVS’ Big Reveal: Brand Support Accelerates Transparency Efforts in Beauty Aisles

In addition to the retailer's efforts to show what's been altered and what hasn't is the debut of more than 60 new brands including Bliss, Sun Bum and Essence.

CVS Reveals First Release of Unaltered
CoverGirl is among the supporters of CVS’ Beauty Mark.

Today at the Times Square flagship, CVS reveals its updated beauty aisles including unaltered beauty images, as well as 60 new brands. The department reflects efforts of several brand partners who joined CVS in its Beauty Mark Initiative, launched one year ago, to bring greater transparency to beauty imagery.

Unretouched photos of Kerry Washington for Neutrogena, Ayesha Curry representing Cover Girl and Revlon ambassador Ashley Graham will be among the celebrity and influencer images illustrating industry support behind efforts to keep it real. “It’s important to us that we encourage the people who buy our products to feel confident about their beauty, to recognize the difference between authentic and digitally altered imagery and empower them to be their true and best selves,” said Michelle Freyre, president, U.S. Beauty at Johnson & Johnson.

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The CVS Beauty Mark initiative was designed to lead positive change around transparency in beauty and create new standards for post-production alterations in the beauty category. It sparked conversation inside and outside of the beauty industry and inspired many other companies to follow suit.

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CVS set a goal to have full transparency for all beauty imagery by 2020. Images that aren’t materially altered earn a special watermark, the CVS Beauty Mark. Brands who do Photoshop their materials will be clearly labeled “digitally altered” so consumers know what’s real and what’s not. The retailer is well on its way to hit the 2020 mark. By early next month, 70 percent of images throughout CVS stores will be compliant — meaning either bearing the Beauty Mark or noted as digitally altered. Moreover, hundreds of in-store images will not be retouched.

“As a purpose-led health care company as well as one of the largest beauty retailers in the country, we want the millions of customers that visit CVS Pharmacy locations each day to see a more authentic and diverse representation of beauty,” said Kevin Hourican, president of CVS Pharmacy.

The call to action follows other health-related moves at the chain that started in 2014 with the elimination of tobacco product sales and widened in scope to include the availability of healthier foods and the removal of parabens, phthalates and the most prevalent formaldehyde donors from more than 600 store brand beauty and personal care items (to be completed this year).

“Our purpose is to help people on their path to better health and to pass on a healthy self-image to the next generation,” Maly Bernstein, vice president Beauty and Personal Care at CVS, told WWD. “We are partnering with our lead brands in the marketplace to advance the initiative to promote a healthier mindset and healthier access to beauty.”

The effort is about transparency and letting people know which is which, according to Bernstein. The program includes beauty imagery on, external advertising and promotion along with the retailer’s social channels, which have a total reach of more than 100 million consumers each year. All of CVS’ beauty influencer partners are contractually required to share only photos that have not been digitally altered, including no use of social filters. As part of the celebration of authentic and transparent beauty imagery, CVS is encouraging consumers to post an unfiltered and unaltered picture of themselves on their social media channels with the hashtag #beautyunaltered.

Experts maintain that unrealistic beauty messages are unhealthy. “Research shows that exposure to altered media is linked to poor body image, and that dissatisfaction can lead to eating disorders and other critical health concerns,” said Dr. Tochi Iroku-Malize, a practicing family physician in Bay Shore, New York, and member of the American Academy of Family Physicians Board of Directors.

CVS Reveals First Release of Unaltered
Unaltered images are noted with a special watermark.

Among them leading brand partners pushing CVS toward its objective are Neutrogena, CoverGirl, Revlon, Olay, Almay, Aveeno, Rimmel, Joah, L’Oréal, Maybelline, Unilever, Burt’s Bees and Physician’s Formula. Change in process takes time, but we’re inspired by the leadership of our key brands, large and niche. They embraced and advance the effort,” Bernstein said. “We’re doing this for our mutual customers.”

J&J’s Freyre said her company is all in. “We are ecstatic that our celebrity brand ambassadors including Kerry Washington, Jennifer Garner and Nicole Kidman support our efforts, allowing Johnson & Johnson Beauty brands, such as Neutrogena, Aveeno [and] Clean & Clear to be among the first unaltered images in stores next month. We truly do believe consumers will appreciate the transparency of this initiative and find a subtle joy while shopping that perhaps didn’t exist before. But beyond that, we hope that seeing a realistic representation of beauty in stores will inspire them to experiment, not because of unrealistic visuals that simply aren’t attainable, but because our products allow them to be the best version of themselves, whomever that may be,” she said.

Consumers appear to like what they are hearing from CVS. “How do we measure? Customers tell you. We got so many inspired letters, e-mails and social media support [since announcing Beauty Mark]. And although the overall mass market [beauty sales] is down, at CVS we are up. We continue to lead growth in the marketplace,” Bernstein said. Industry sources confirm CVS is posting better results in beauty than mass market competitors where the category has declined over the past year.

Gains could continue to escalate as the retailer deepens efforts to improve its beauty assortment and presentations. Sixty new brands have been added including Hello Kitty Skin Care, Sun Bum, Essence cosmetics and the introduction of Bliss. “We continue to bring first to market products like K-beauty, a large selection of derm brands and now colored mascaras,” Bernstein said.

CVS is also gleaning learnings from its four BeautyIRL stores, which feature services from GlamSquad and upscale fixturing. “We are excited about guilt-free, stress-free, ‘me time’ products and experiences we are bringing to that format,” Bernstein said.

The CVS Beauty Mark initiative sparked conversations about beauty ideals, a subject the company hopes to keep alive during a discussion at the store today. Moderated by Katie Couric, key industry experts, executives from CVS and its brand partners and a celebrity spokesperson will delve into the importance of the positive beauty representation, implications on the beauty industry and the next steps in accelerating the issue. Slated to attend are J&J’s Freyre; Andrew Stanleick, senior vice president, North America for Coty Consumer Beauty; Dr. Rachel Rodgers, associate professor of Applied Psychology at Northeastern University; Curry and CVS’ chief marketing officer Norman de Greve.

As part of ongoing support of its non-profit partner Girls Inc., CVS teamed with celebrity sisters Sara and Erin Foster to create limited-edition T-shirts (through apparel company Sub_Urban Riot) that herald the unaltered images and the CVS Beauty Mark. The Sara & Erin x CVS “Sans Retouching” T-shirt will be available for purchase on beginning Jan. 24, 2019, with 100 percent of proceeds supporting the Girls Inc. in their mission to inspire all girls to be strong, smart and bold. Also, during January, when customers purchase select Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble and L’Oréal beauty products, a $1 donation will be made to Girls Inc., up to $300,000 collectively for the entire promotion period.