This Is How Instagram Has Changed Our Make-Up Bags
The Debrief: You may not have realised how much Instagram has changed the make-up you buy and the way you apply it
Photograph by Laurence Philomene
In September 2015, Instagram hit 400 million active users, beating Twitter. In 2014 the global cosmetics market was valued at $460 billion, estimated to reach $675 billion by 2020. It’s no wonder then that the world of Instagram and the beauty industry are colliding, producing a massive shift in the type of make-up we’re seeing, buying and applying.
The relationship between the two is an obvious one: beauty products lend themselves well to the picture dedicated social media platform and it's allowed the ‘normal’ but beauty-obessed to catapult themselves in to mainstream beauty industry by showcasing their techniques, looks and favourite products. In turn, this real-life application of beauty, not just information from brand make-up artists (although the 'Insta-famous' are becoming reknowned in their own right) and industry insiders, makes it far more accessible to the average person. Watching someone show off a smokey eye they did in their bedroom seems far more achievable than recreating catwalk trends.
For many well-established beauty influencers, it's Instagram that catapulted them into the public's consciousness. Make-up artist Huda Kattan (@hudabeauty) launched her Instagram account in May 2012. With the help of her sisters Mona and Alya they created the beauty brand HudaBeauty which started making fake eyelashes (Kim Kardashian is said to be a fan). They now have over 13 million followers.
Of course I could spend the majority of the piece chatting about a Kardashian or Jenner but actually, there are far more interesting factors to focus on. Sisters Sonia and Fyza Ali (@soniaxfyza, 500K) followers, Isabel Bedoya (@itsisabelbedoya, 927K) who describes herself as ‘self taught’ and Karen Sarahi Gonzalez (@iluvsarahii, 2.7m) are other examples of people who used Instagram to establish huge followings and create their personal brands. Then there’s other accounts which deliver beauty tips and news to followers in different ways. Make Up Coach (@makeupcoach, 3.3m), for example, posts sped-up snippets of hair and beauty tutorials are providing bite-size beauty to everyone whilst Trend Mood (@trendmood1, 455K) provides the latest beauty news and reviews.
It's accounts like these which have realised the power of Instagram. What stands out is the accessability: quick video tutorials or shots of a certain look allow people to consume bite-sized beauty that doesn’t seem as intimidating or long-winded. Sure, it’s going to take more than a picture of a certain beauty look to get it right (and that’s where longer YouTube tutorials come in) but it’s the initial spark of inspiration that lets everyone get a taste of the industry. And brands are starting to realise that. 'Instagram is like the modern day department store, clicking on a hashtag just takes you to the department you need. It’s so easy to find your perfect niche,' Alexia Inge, co-founder of Cult Beauty told me. And with Instagram starting to roll out shoppable adverts, it's starting to become even more like one.
The power of Instagram
Data compiled by Tribe Dynamics measured the earned media value (EMV) for brands and influencers across different platforms and found the EMV for Instagram had increased by 904% from 2014 to 2015, compared to 26% for blogs. EMV is ‘publicity gained through promotional efforts other than advertising’ in other words, good Instagram = profit. An Instagram page allows brands to create a a relationship with their consumer, far away from the clinical shelves of a drugstore. One which gives them a personality, a voice and, crucially, relatability which so much of the beauty industry lacks.
Brands like Benefit have noticed an increased in store footfall to purchase a product when it’s featured on their Instagram page, according to Digi Day. Not surprising considering a 2014 L2 report which found Instagram’s enagement to be 15 times higher than Facebook – something that's bound to have increased in the two years since. It’s clear that to make it big, beauty brands should be cashing in on the free advertising power of Instagram: hashtags are their best friends and bright, interesting packaging is essential to ensure a product is Insta-worthy. Nail that and you virtually have your customers doing the selling for you.
Insta-famous beauty brands
Then there’s the brands who have become big specifically through Instagram. Frank body launched on Instagram in 2013 and today one frank body product is sold every 27 seconds in over 149 countries. ‘Instagram provides a platform for customers to directly engage with and be directly involved with a brand,’ they told me, emphasising the importance of the brand-consumer relationship. And then there’s the way they have customers creating content for them, minus the extortionate costs. ‘We encouraged others to join #thefrankeffect and take a selfie with frank – creating an abundance of user-generated content. In fact they’ve uploaded over 100,000 images under #thefrankeffect and #letsbefrank.’ Last year they announced they were likely to exceed $20million of revenue at the end of the financial year. Not bad for an Instagram start-up.
The super affordable ColourPop cosmetics was also launched exclusively on Instagram by siblings Laura and John Nelson and now boasts more than 2.2 million Instagram followers. They’ve collaborated with various influencers including beauty YouTuber KathleenLights. And there’s beauty brands you could consider as ‘Insta-famous’ – the likes of Anastasia Beverly Hills, Sugar Pill, Jeffree Star Cosmetics and Morphe – because of the cult following they’ve gained thanks to the platform.
'When Cult Beauty introduced the Anastasia Beverly Hills range to the UK five years ago no-one had heard of it, then within the space of 12 months the brand exploded; to the point where we couldn’t keep a single item in stock. All thanks to Instagram!' Alexia tells me. 'Anastasia was the first Insta-brand to properly harness the power of this channel and according to WWD, they now have the highest "earned media value" on the whole Instagram platform.'
A discussion of the beauty industry and Instagram would be pretty much redundant without mentioning the selfie. Ofcom estimated that in 2014, the UK took 1.2 billion selfies. That’s over 23 million selfies a week. It's news to no one that this focus on looking 'picture perfect' has changed the products we're buying, and the ones that are being made.
Look at a make-up counter and you’ll be faced with products promising to ‘blur’, ‘fix’, ‘smooth’ and give a ‘HD’ finish. But what does HD even mean? Early last year Sali Hughes, beauty editor at the Guardian, wrote how, once the preserve of the famous, HD make-up was trickling down to the highstreet. Broadly speaking HD make-up, she says, has ‘superior light reflection’ with ‘blurring’ a key term because the ‘modern camera is so harsh’. Old-school cameras had the 'blurring' effect all by themselves but ow we’re paying for our non-pixelated photography in terms of accentuated fine-lines and uneven skin tone and these products promise to counteract that.
And obviously, the picture-led platform of Instagram is fuelling this change, but it also means that make up brands are creating better products. ‘There’s a huge window of opportunity for them to develop textures and formulations that really emulate the type of techniques you’re trying to create through Instagram ready makeup,’ explained make up artist, Neil Young. ‘So making contour powders finer and more real. Skin illuminators a lot finer and more transparent so they actually look a bit more realistic on the skin and probably don’t respond to light so dramatically as previous products and formulations have.’
Beauty brands know this is what people want and are tackling it straight on; there's no ambiguity here. In 2014, Dior launched DiorSkin Star foundation for the 'perfect selfie', Rimmel have their InstaFlawless foundation, Revlon have a PhotoReady range and Smashbox are well known for their Photo Finish line. The list is literally endless, and it'll only grow. We might laugh and turn our noses up at this blatant capitalisation – but it makes perfect business sense.
Camera-ready doesn't always = real-life ready
The trouble is, whilst these Instagram stars look flawless in their #selfies, it's important to remember it's not real life. ‘That kind of makeup looks great in the picture because it’s reacting to light sources. Those textures and formulations are designed to react with light and a flash, so of course they have quite a dramatic effect,’ Neil Young, Make Up Artist told me. ‘But in real life that kind of make-up is very heavy and it doesn’t necessarily translate. You’re capturing a still but what does it look like when someone’s moving around on the street?’ Which is so true – how often do you see an Instagram picture and wonder how they get their make-up so flawless? Well, probably from hours of meticulous application. And if you think they’re going to be looking like that after a night out, you’re wrong.
Many a make-up trend has been catapulted into make-up bags thanks to Instagram: contouring, strobing, baking, sandbagging, the cut-crease and don't get me started on the array of body contouring doing the rounds. These aren't necessary 'new' techniques (although they may have been given a new name and taken to extremes) but the thing is, everyone's starting to do them. Whilst make-up is usually hailed as a tool for individuality and creativity, the beauty landscape is becoming homogenous thanks to all the matte lips, harsh contour, strong highlight and bright concealing that we're seeing.
I'm not judging, I like that look too and I use parts of their techniques in my own routine, but lets not forget that there's more to make-up than what were being shown. Take inspiration from it, don't think of it as gospel. Just like we've all started dressing the same, Instagram has helped to create a tick-box beauty world (contour? Tick. Cut crease? Tick. Baked concealer? Tick).
It’s important to retain a level of reality when it comes to Instagram. Like any media platform it’s easy to get sucked into the fake realism of it, and it can be seen as promoting unrealistic standards of beauty. And we know social media already plays a large part in how we view ourselves. For example a 2014 Dove study found that 82% of women believe social media is influencing how we define beauty today and 63% believe social media has a greater impact on how we define beauty than print media, film and music. Saying that, Instagram’s also birthed hashtags like #ThePowerOfMakeup where they made up half of their faces and left the other side bare to show the reality behind a made-up face and the #NoMakeUpSelfie for Cancer Research.
Of course, Instagram is only one of the social media platforms changing the beauty industry. According to Pixability a video-advertising firm, the beauty category on YouTube racks up around 4.5billion views a month and Snapchat will be hot on its heels. What does makes Instagram so unique is the quick appeal of it and the associated engagement: one picture can translate into a lot of words and a load of inspiration.
There’s no doubt that Instagram, and social media generally, has changed the beauty industry. Like the rise of crowdsourcing in the beauty industry, Instagram is putting the power back into the consumers hands. It allows the industry to be more accessible and approachable but ironically it simultaneously does the opposite: it promotes a perfectly flawless but unrealistic ‘look’.
But this is a trend. History dictates that The Look of now will soon change, because that’s what happens. Whilst we can take inspiration from it, let’s remember that not every beauty trend has to come from the neat gemotric façade of Instagram. If it teaches us anything it should be that thinking outside of the very precise Instagram box is and that no one looks #selfieready all the time.
The beauty products Instagram probably made you buy
Beauty Blender, £16, Cult Beauty; Highlighter in Crescent Moon, £10, Topshop; Sleek MakeUP Cream Contour Kit, £10.99, Boots; Anastasia Beverly Hills Dipbrow Pomade, £15, Cult Beauty; Ciaté London's Liquid Velvet Lipstick, £15.30, Lookfantastic.
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