Industry + Real Talk

Skincare, Gurus, Responsibility, and the Love of the Game

Throughout my career, finding the right balance between creating marketing messages and campaigns that resonate, are authentic and interesting, yet also move the consumer to take a particular action (whether it’s to sign up for a company newsletter or blow hella cash on the latest must-have anti-aging wonder product) has been challenging. This has always been my experience as a marketer, though, because deep down in my soul I don’t really want to sell you anything. And this is doubly true when it comes to skincare.

I don’t want to sell you stuff. I won’t encourage you to buy things.

And yet, as the line between content marketing and blatant advertising begins to blur (the main differences seeming to lie in questions like, “Is this top of funnel or bottom of funnel content?” with the answer determining the project’s budget and therefore sex appeal), I find myself wondering, “Am I actually doing more harm than good? Am I perpetuating cycles of self-doubt and myths of perfection even though my real goal is to help people explore skincare for the sheer bliss of it?”

Because that’s really my goal. Not to sell you things. Not to scare you with psuedo-science.

I’m in it to promote the joy and contentedness of having control over one’s self and presenting one’s best face to the world. Literally.

And so I spend lots of time applying what I know about storytelling, marketing, emotional engagement, etc. to the skincare content I create. I think long and heard about my point of view, the types of self-care I want to advocate and perpetuate, all the while considering whether or not I’m being true not only to my audience but to myself as well. After all, burnout is real, and if I spend too much time and energy trying to fit into someone else’s mold, I’ll end up hating this very thing that I gave birth to from a place of love.

And so I end up creating these very personal projects: things that are uniquely my own, but which I believe are embraced by skin enthusiasts of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds all over the world. And these videos and stories contribute something true and wonderful to the skincare community: sass and humor and irreverence and wisdom, all of which I believe are empowering to women and which I will give up only under the threat of death.

Femme is one of my favorite scents, once described to me as, “The smell Marilyn Monroe left on her sheets after waking from a long nap in a warm room.” It’s a private scent, in the “skank” or “animalic” category, and not for everyone. But I adore it.

But that begs the question: How can I protect what I’m doing as completely valid and healthy and positive and fun without giving The Beauty Industry (TM) ideas about how to sell you things better?

It’s a tricky question, but it’s also not unique. Taking beautiful, authentic, personal experiences and monetizing them is what industries do. It’s what makes advertising work. No one decides to buy a box of Oreos because they saw a sign on the side of the road that said, “Buy Oreos.” We buy Oreos (well, because they’re delicious, but also…) because we ate them as kids. We ripped the tops off and licked out the middle. We dunked them in our milk. We left them on the counter, opened, for a few days so they’d get stale and soft and delectable. (Just me? Ok, then.) And most importantly, we buy Oreos because the stories we tell ourselves — and the stories Nabisco takes advantage of to earn your patronage — make us happy. We have a personal connection to the Oreo that maybe we don’t have with the just-as-delicious Joe Joe from Trader Joe’s.

So our problem isn’t unique, but it is interesting, because in the past few years, interest in skincare has skyrocketed (as borne out by google search term frequency and intensified, no doubt, by the Korean Wave which brought us K-Beauty). You can’t throw a rock on YouTube or Instagram without hitting a beauty blogger (which makes it even more puzzling that LinkedIn doesn’t offer “Beauty” as an industry on its profile pages) and these people (I almost said women, but the field is rife with male bloggers, too) largely aren’t shilling for a brand. They’re doing what they do because it brings them tremendous joy. Sure, the big names are pulling in cash too, but that’s not why they got started. And consumers are savvy: they know when someone has sold out. We crave authenticity in our beauty bloggers because we need to know that their advice and opinions won’t break us out, dry us up, inflame our cheeks, and ruin six months of careful skin refining.

But even more intimately, we crave authenticity because, on some level, we have entered into a relationship with these people. We look forward to watching them. Hel, I have a list of YouTubers I watch before I go to bed every night. How many times have I read comments like, “I don’t even have your skin tone/skin issue/hair type/ money but I’m watching this video anyway because I think you’re awesome”? That trust is important.

And easily broken. Which is what happens when our community is co-opted by commercial interests.

But lest you roll your eyes and tell me that beauty gurus and the marketing folks at L’Oreal have to make a living too, I actually don’t think the onus is on these content creators to preserve the authenticity of the skincare community.

I think the onus is on the consumers. The enthusiasts. Every one of us who reads a blog, watches a video, or subscribes to an Instagram account.

Because skincare should be joyful. It should be entertaining. But with so many commercial interests competing for our attentions, we as consumers have to learn to be discriminating in what we pay our attention to. Do we want to give our time, attention, energy, and perhaps money to those who prey on our fears and low self-image? Or would we rather focus on the aspects of the skincare community that infuse us with happiness, confidence, and laughter?

Every consumer has to make that decision him- or herself. But we have to be cognizant of the choice before we realize we alone can make it.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to do what I do: tell stories. Make people smile. Be irreverent. Share knowledge. And hope never to lose sight of the real reasons I belong to this community: because of the joy and self-confidence it brings me each and every day.

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