“Don’t judge a book by its cover” always felt a bit reductive to me. Of course, I agree with the concept—looks aren’t the most important thing in life, and we need to dig deeper than the surface to find real value in just about everything. Still, even as a child, I wondered: “I can appreciate a cover, too—right?” It’s something that comes up often as an editor, especially when I admire beauty packaging, which is often as pretty as the effect it promises for skin.
There are certain products that bring a significant joy, just by looking at them. Clear makeup brushes filled with swirling liquid and glitter like those wands sold at childhood museum gift shops. A pretty perfume bottle dressed up in tassels like a fancy fairytale canopy bed. A mini massage oil candle with a spout so petite it could serve a gopher tea party.
When it seems like the beauty boom has brought dozens, hundreds, thousands of options for every lip gloss, body oil, cleanser, shampoo (and on and on) there is sound logic in choosing packaging that makes you happy, and neuroscientists, agree.
Beauty activates the ‘bliss chemical’
“We are wired to enjoy fun and cute things,” says Dallas-based neuroscientist and mental health expert Caroline Leaf, PhD, who notes that adorable objects may stir up happy-stored memories from childhood or particularly pleasant times in our lives. “When that memory is sparked, it causes a few responses in the brain and body: We get bursts of theta energy, often called ‘the healing wave,’ along with high alpha activity, which is the calming wave of the brain that helps us draw on our insights,” Dr. Leaf shares.
Plus, another internal boost. “We also get a neurochemical rush in response to the emotions triggered—our serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin levels may rise, causing feelings of happiness, peace, joy, and warmth. Likewise, anandamide, the ‘bliss chemical,’ also starts flowing, giving us a natural high, while our muscle memory is activated,” she says. Why does that matter? “Each time we build a memory in our brains, our associated physical sensations are attached as memories in our body,” Dr. Leaf explains. “So when a good memory is sparked, our bodies may suddenly start to feel good, energized, or simply better.”
We rely on beauty to bring us joy
For Winky Lux founder Natalie Mackey, this is part of her brand DNA. When we met half a decade ago at an industry party in SoHo, she had a team of two. Fast forward to now after going viral with their darling Flower Balm ($16), and the company has multiplied exponentially with nationwide experiential pop-ups and an Instagram account sporting over 350 thousand followers. “We survey our customers every quarter and packaging always comes up as one of the top things they love,” Mackey shares. “Many say that is why they initially tried the products—they come back because they get hooked on the formulas and feel comfortable with our cleaner ingredient profile.”
In her own life, she applies the concept. “Ingrid Lee wrote an amazing and thoroughly researched book called Joyful about how environments and objects can have a meaningful effect on our wellbeing. Surrounding yourself with beautiful and fun things that are also kinder to the environment can help you feel lighter and more inspired throughout the day,” she notes. “It’s the reason we don’t all wear grey utilitarian clothes. I think most of us find joy in pretty little things.” Dr. Leaf seconds the notion. “Indeed, despite everyone being so different, responding to the cute and funny is universal, primarily because it’s a natural part of how we function.”
And to Mackey’s “kinder to the environment” point, appreciating the packaging you purchase might encourage you to actually save it—repurpose it even—rather than just tossing it at the end of its life. Like when Seventeen magazine’s 90s-era Trend-O-Rama column reported about cool girls smashing the unreachable last bits of favorite lipsticks into pretty used-up powder compacts. Or currently, how Bathing Culture’s Refillable Rainbow Glass Mind & Body Wash ($35) dispenser makes keeping it unquestionable, while the Davines Love Conditioner ($33) tub converts into a romantic Tupperware container upon completion. If it stirs positivity, surely the odds of sending it to a landfill could be significantly decreased. Especially if you make the effort to dream up a second act for your favorite things. Below, an array of charming options designed to spark something within you.
Davines Love Conditioner ($33)
Amika Mighty Mini Dryer ($60)
Dear Dahlia Dual Palette ($32)
Wildist Paste Party ($21)
Mutha Body Oil ($104)