How Vaseline redefined its purpose behind ‘equitable skincare for all’

The Unilever brand this month launched the See My Skin campaign.

The company also created new artwork on limited-edition Vaseline jelly jars featuring women of color.
The company also created new artwork on limited-edition Vaseline jelly jars featuring women of color.

When thinking of Vaseline, the image that likely pops in many people’s heads is a jar, filled with petroleum jelly, featuring a blue label and blue top. 

But the skincare brand, which is owned by Unilever, would like customers to remember it as a company whose core purpose is “equitable skincare for all,” said Kevin Tolson, brand director of Unilever U.S. skincare.

To achieve that mission, the company this month launched See My Skin, a digital platform where visitors see images of people of color, which are often lacking in dermatology searches online. Consumes can also connect with dermatologists who understand the cultural, physical and mental needs of people of color, according to the campaign website. 

The goal is for people to think of Vaseline as a brand that “sells a petroleum jelly that has been loved by communities for decades upon decades and as a business that does well in the community,” said Tolson.

The company started to think more deliberately about representation of people of color in skincare in 2019, Tolson said. A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that in Google image-search results for 71 skin conditions, among the 3,700 photographs evaluated, 91.7% displayed light skin.

That lack of representation “may result in missed diagnoses and worse outcomes in people of color,” according to the study authors. 

While white people are at greater risk of melanoma, Black people have a lower survival rate from the form of skin cancer, according to a study in the Annals of Surgical Oncology.

To try to address that disparity, Vaseline worked with dermatologists to create a curriculum to help providers better treat, diagnose and care for skin of color on Medscape, which health providers could use for continuing medical education credits.

For the See My Skin campaign, Vaseline worked with HUED, a platform focused on connecting Black and Latinx people to healthcare providers; VisualDx, a medical diagnostic company; PR firm Edelman and Paper Monday, a creative studio.

The studio, which is based in New York and specializes in Black portraiture, created a campaign film featuring four women of color with skin conditions reflecting on the impact of the online search results. 

“Searching online, I definitely found it hard to get solutions for dark-skinned women, particularly with skin conditions that looked like me,” the first woman of color says in the video.

Another woman, wiping away tears, says, “I’m not seeing any evidence of people who look like me.”

The video closes with a woman saying, “My community deserves to be seen,” and shows a search bar in which the conditions “eczema” and “chronic dry skin” appear.

“We wanted to make sure we were sharing authentic stories to really highlight this issue,” said Smita Reddy, U.S. brand chair for Edelman. 

To promote the campaign, the team went to the heart of the issue: a search engine. They did a search engine optimization media buy so that when people search for skincare solutions, See My Skin pops up, Reddy said. 

The company also created new artwork on limited-edition Vaseline jelly jars featuring women of color; the phrase “equitable skincare for all”; and a QR code that guides customers to Seemyskin.com

“The goal to this point is not to be a secret that sits in the sidecar of this business,” said Tolson. “It is the core. It’s what we want people to know us for.”

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