The Language of Beauty Ads

By Amy-Willard Cross

There is a very specific language of beauty.

It's a language spoken by billions—and the cosmetics industry spends a whopping 20-25% of its annual budget to sell its wares. It’s a nice language that doesn’t offend. And it's quite standardized. Just by looking at an ad, you can tell what they're selling. And we’re all somehow fluent in it, without even having studied.

After spending days watching hundreds of ads for beauty products, I deciphered this rosetta stone and can tell you a few things about the language of selling product.


If a woman is wearing a t-shirt and panties, especially a white t-shirt or a sleeveless dress, and tracing fingers down her limbs, she is trying to sell you a product to put on the skin—that is not on your face. 

Jergens and Vaseline spray on:

Same thing if a man is caressing a woman dressed thusly. The strap of a white camisole tells you that a body cream is involved somehow. In fact, lotion manufacturers might want to package a camisole with every bottle of body lotion.

Nivea Extended Moisture: youtube 


If an ad is set in Paris, the bottle in question will be scented—an eau de toilette, or perfume, depending on your budget. 

Victoria's secret:

If a woman enters a café or party, and stands out from the multitudes of other women in that room, it’s because she is wearing something that smells really good.

Givenchy Irresistible with Amanda Seyfreid; youtube

Lancome's La Vie est Belle with Julia Roberts: youtube

Or if a woman is being chased by a man who spies her in that crowd, you are also seeing a perfume commercial.

Coco Mademoiselle with Keira Knightley;

Or if she leaves that party in a motorboat down the Seine with the handsome man in hot pursuit, it is still because of that amazing man-zombifying perfume.

Keira in boat, being watched by the guy on the bridge: youtube


Moisturizers and other products you put on your face are ALL ABOUT SCIENCE. That means molecules and compounds. There are also a lot of numbers involved—percentages many times faster than a certain quantity of days. When you see any of those on a printed page or TV screen, you are definitely being taught the physics, chemistry, and science behind a face cream. It might be minerals, vitamins, or some kind of special process that releases these compounds into the various layers of dermis. 

Clinique Custom Repair Serum:

Estee Lauder's Advanced Night Repair:

Regenerist Microsculpting Cream:

L'Oreal Youth Code:

Olay Total Effects:


L'Oreal's Revitalift:


If a woman is touching her stomach as water cascades over her, the market share of body wash is clearly at at stake. Sometimes, a man might be in the waterfall with her. As with body lotion, a woman’s skin seems best enjoyed by a companion. In fact, the reason for us having all those square feet of dermis, might be for the pleasure of loved ones. Hence the need to keep our microbiome clean. 


Shampoo ads involve a moving silken curtain of keratin strands of hair; the woman flips or touches this impressive drapery. It turns out there is technology involved in creating this silky tsunami—a hair serf. Someone is in a green suit in front of a green screen is flipping the model's hair around. The other amazing thing about these products is they make your hair flow upwards no matter where you are: in heaven, on a roof top, or even in a plane.

Nexxus Hydra-Light:

Suave Professionals Morrocan Oil:

Garnier Triple Fructis: 

Herbal Essence:


One thing you will rarely see in a beauty commercial is humor. Lipstick, face cream, and makeup don’t need any lightening up. (Julie Bowen does talk about a graveyard of face creams, and Tina Fey manages to sound funny while talking about the brand she sells. Jennifer Aniston narrates a flat out humorous ad for Aveeno, conspiratorally relating how all these other beauty brands tried to woo her, but she rebuked them all until the noble Aveeno asked for her help.)


You will also rarely see children of any kind. (Eucerin has a spot where a mother talks to her child about itchy skin, and in Pantene's video on "Confident Women," a soldier comes home to her child with open arms.) But mostly these are women-only spaces—where a man enters only to admire, caress, or pursue her in a sweet night-of-the-living-dead kind of way.


There is little love-making in beauty world. Maybe some caressing around body lotions or kisses at the end of perfume commercials. One more obvious reference to sex is Natalie Portman’s Miss Dior ad, where a black ribbon becomes a 50 shades kind of blindfold that later transforms into sateen restraint. She also takes a bath wearing sunglasses.

In this utopia, there is little sexism or objectifying, because after all—the clients are trying to woo women. (Oddly, the same can't be said for household product commercials.)


The ultimate fantasy might just be total purity.  Beauty flourishes in white rooms and against white backdrops with no real messiness of the worldish. Beauty-land is a zen place where there are no concerns other than the self.

Now that will make anyone look 10 years younger in 5 minutes with 50% more radiance.