When a Blind Woman Loves Lip Gloss: My Pitch for the Accessible Beauty Project

When it comes to lip gloss. I can’t get over the creamy texture, the cutesy names, or the shiny look. And I’m certainly not alone. The Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie talks about loving her “shiny lip gloss.” In “We Should All Be Feminists,” Adichie says she wanted to be taken seriously, so she didn’t wear her lip gloss. But she realizes that leaving off the lip gloss is a way of not being true to herself. So she wears her lip gloss and speaks from a place of authenticity.

As a blind woman, I can’t always appreciate the visual effect a lip gloss produces. I can only see my lips well if I’m wearing a dark shade like plum or red—and I tend toward mauves and rosy nudes for my day-to-day wear. But I love the feel of a gloss. I enjoy the scent of most glosses. And I appreciate applying a lip gloss. It feels like a private moment of investment in myself.

And the names! I’ve always been tickled by the Smashbox Be Legendary Liquid Lip in Mauve Wife, even though it turned out to be a dark plum. The BareMinerals GEN NUDE Patent Liquid Lipsticks have cute names like Bestie, Girl Boss, and Can’t Even. And Tarte’s H2O glosses are simply adorable—Private Island, Room Service, Out of Office! The names are flirty, suggestive, and fun, a micro-lesson on vivid language. I’ve been seriously tempted to purchase glosses just for the name.

So what’s the problem, aside from having dozens of mauve lip glosses or sticking to a lip gloss budget?

Headshot of Emily K. Michael smiling. She wears blue glasses, a burgundy dress, and a black-and-white scarf.
Photo by Chelsea Whiteman

Unequal Descriptions: Blind Shoppers Beware!

The adorable names of lip glosses are usually followed by prosaic parentheticals. I’ll use some of my favorite shades as examples:

  • BareMinerals GEN NUDE Buttercream lip gloss in Forbidden (light pink nude)
  • Beautycounter lip gloss in Dahlia (cool pink)
  • Smashbox Gloss Angeles lip gloss in Obvi Mauvey ((mauve)
  • Tarte H2O gloss in sail away (deep rose pink)

When descriptions are provided, shopping is easy. I know what I like: soft pink, rose, nude, mauve, and plum. I like shine but don’t like glitter. And I stay away from any plumping glosses because that tingly burn is unpleasant for me. I’m also a bit of a snob; I prefer glosses with an applicator, not in a tube.

So what happens when I encounter a gloss without a color description?

We live in a world where cutesy names seem to be a lip gloss mandate, but not all companies conform. Sometimes colors are just numbered like “203” or “305.” Other times, the color may be listed without a description.

For example, Tarte is selling this H2O lip gloss set that includes four of their classic shades (whose descriptions are all available on the regular H2O gloss page) and five limited-edition shades (which are not described). The set is a good price and includes two shades I already like: Out of Office and Room Service. But unless I ask someone to describe the five other shades, I’m stuck getting a bunch of mystery colors.

Or take the Dior Lip Glow Oil, which is a lovely product. It comes in five shades, but only one of these shades has a name and description. The 001 Pink is described as “light pink,” while the Coral, Berry, Raspberry, and Rosewood are standalone names. They’re better than number-names, but these color-names rely on a shopper’s ability to see the shade.

Similar problems arise anytime I’m shopping for makeup, clothing, or jewelry. When looking at earrings, I have to compare the listed measurements to make sure they won’t be too big for me to wear comfortably. I often send links to friends and say, “What color is lake’?” or “How would you describe this ‘vibrant floral print’?”

Is Live Chat the Answer?

When retail websites provide a live chat, this can be a helpful option. I have used the live chat features on Amazon, Bumble and Bumble, Lane Bryant, Tarte, and Brighton to ask about product colors and specifications.

But the live chat option always requires lots of explanation on my end. I explain that I’m blind or that I have limited vision. I explain that the site doesn’t describe the colors. Then I have to rely on the customer service person’s ability to describe the item. And let’s be honest: those answering the live chat are probably relying on the website just as much as I am. They didn’t design these colors and styles. They may not be able to tell the difference between a blue red and an orange red. Shimmer vs. glitter? Probably not on their résumé when they applied for a text chat operator job.

Accessible Beauty: A Colorful Exchange

What I need is someone who enjoys fashion and art—and who can describe items accurately. I need someone who understands the communication situation we’re in: the unique needs of a blind shopper relying on a highly visual virtual store. We need a push for accessible beauty, and here are some of my project goals:

  • Encourage clothing, accessories, and makeup vendors to add more useful descriptions for items sold online.
  • Ensure that inventive color names are accompanied by descriptions.
  • Call for consistency across websites: if one color is named, all colors should be named.
  • Provide consultations for blind people shopping for makeup, clothing, and accessories.

Some companies are already providing the needed descriptions. But what’s the difference between “spiced nude” and “toasted nude”? What’s the difference between “rosy mauve” and “pinky mauve”? If a dress is labeled as a “black and white floral,” should I be surprised to learn it has a little bit of red or pink? This is where the need for human collaboration comes in!

How Can You Help?

I’ve laid out a lot of ideas in this post. I’ve been a dreamer. Now I need to take this project forward. Do you have ideas? Do you know people who would be interested in this kind of work? Like, comment, and share! Let’s make Accessible Beauty a beautiful reality!

None of the products linked above are affiliate links.

4 thoughts on “When a Blind Woman Loves Lip Gloss: My Pitch for the Accessible Beauty Project

  1. You make so many great points! I’ve noticed this when shopping online, even for foundation to match complexion.
    I do enjoy going to counters to compare colors to descriptions, texture, etc. but its not always an option.
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Emily,
    About 8 years ago I pitched the idea of a makeup line providing rich descriptions of colors, scents and, textures. Of course, I didn’t stop at that, no, I wanted to create sets by shades and seasons. My idea was mentioned to a large home shopping network. Although they liked my idea, without a prototype or a finished project I was shot down. With no support I let go of my idea. However, I’m in if your voice draws in the cavalry. I had hoped by providing rich descriptions of all the senses would be a benefit to a lot of people with and without disabilities.


  3. Interesting. I just stumbled across your post. I bought Smashbox product and was amused by their rebellious color names, although the actual colors were not that crazy or rebellious. I never thought about this problem with color descriptions before, but I can see your difficulty. Hopefully, someone will catch on to this need.

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