This story first appeared in the spring issue of Digiday magazine, available exclusively to Digiday Pulse members. Join the community and receive the full magazine here.
For makeup artists who began lining eyes and glossing lips before beauty’s youngest influencers were even born, to say the industry has changed would be an understatement.
“When I started, I couldn’t look at YouTube. I couldn’t search for tutorials to figure out how to create a glitter lip,” says Romero Jennings, the director of makeup artistry at Mac Cosmetics, who has been working with the brand for 25 years. “I had to learn the conventional way.”
Jennings says the industry underwent a massive shift overnight. Suddenly, social media apps ruled.
“I found myself having to adapt to stay relevant,” he says. “Instagram is my business card.”
Over the past five years, professional makeup artists have found their territory increasingly crowded by digitally native beauty influencers. Instagram and YouTube, specifically, have given rise to a new class of makeup “artists” who lack formal training, but have turned an iPhone and an arsenal of beauty supplies into paid brand partnerships and followings in the tens of thousands.
Jennings, who studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology and has 95,000 Instagram followers, says that social media’s new position in the beauty industry is so influential, it has created a new way of doing makeup. Makeup artists who preceded Instagram and YouTube have had to translate their skills to social media to stay in the game.
“We call it the ‘Instagram Look,’” says Jennings, referring to the ubiquitous beauty trends that popularize on the platform, like perfectly arched brows. “You have to know the latest technique and how to create looks that shine online.”
Beauty brands, too, have recognized the power of the social influencer. In 2016, creator videos accounted for 86 percent of the top 200 beauty videos on YouTube, while brand videos made up 14 percent, according to a Pixability report. On Instagram, the top beauty hashtag, #instabeauty, yields 11.8 million results. In its research, Pixability doesn’t differentiate between online beauty influencers who have professional training or work as makeup artists because, well, it’s nearly impossible to tell.
“We’ve found there’s no point in differentiating,” says Jackie Paulino, vp of customer success at Pixability. “Brands are interested in looking at who has the most subscribers and who is growing the fastest. From there, they figure out who’s the best fit for their audience and voice. They’re not asking about professional training. Just like a social media star, makeup artists can build their own brands online.”
When anyone with a steady hand and a Stila eyeliner can find themselves featured on a brand’s Instagram page, professional makeup artists have to find ways to establish their work. An Instagram portfolio is a start.
But professional artists also have a skill that many bloggers creating tutorials lack: the ability to do other people’s makeup.
“The line between artist and enthusiast has blurred,” says Keri Blair, a makeup artist who has worked in the industry for 21 years. “But the line is still there: If you love to do tutorials, you can do your own face. That’s a different skillset than doing it on other people.”
Blair says that navigating the industry can be more overwhelming than it was in the past, but she chooses to look on the bright side. Social media influencers who are invited backstage at fashion shows (crowding the already crowded space formerly reserved for makeup artists) can jump start a democratization of the industry. They’re translating dramatic runway looks to the everyday beauty lover, effectively opening the industry up to a more diverse crowd.
“It actually opens your mind to an arsenal of tips and ticks, and new techniques,” says Blair.
Jennings agrees. As Mac’s lead makeup artist backstage at fashion shows, he dutifully shares the inspiration for the show with press-badged bloggers. Those bloggers then create tutorials for the amateur experimentalist. The pattern is so popular, Mac has tested new product innovations to support it: A new line of matte lipsticks was created last year to consolidate a popular runway look into one product; backstage, artists were using a trio of powder, liner and lipstick to create the effect.
“Street trends have always pushed the makeup industry, and the new street is social media,” says Jennings. “Now, social media helps drive product innovation. It feels like we’re in an age of beauty obsession, and that really helps business.”