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The web is changing the face of beauty as we know it

Blogs, videos, tutorials, swatches, reviews, communities and eyeliner advice from halfway across the world – the web is changing the face of beauty as we know it.

brunch Updated: Dec 15, 2015 14:22 IST
On Instagram, an exaggerated style – thick liner, loud colours – is influencing the real world (Photo: Shutterstock)

Put down the glossy magazine. Stop buying lipstick that looks good on your friend. Don’t fall for that airbrushed celebrity on the billboard. And most importantly, rid yourself of the notion that glamming up successfully is some kind of rocket science. For your first eyeliner or 50th lipstick; for office looks or party trends; for the truth behind the hype, a woman’s first port of call is now the internet. And it’s changing the very idea of beauty.

Coloured and coded

“When you think about it, the web is particularly suited for the beauty revolution,” says Geeta Rao, beauty consultant and Vogue India’s former beauty editor. “Beauty is all about achieving an ideal, and the internet narrows the connection between the aspiration and the accessible like nothing else. Basically it shows you what you want and how to practically go about getting it.”

Falguni Nayar who runs the beauty and wellness e-commerce site, Nykaa, offers a different explanation: “Education is a big part of using a beauty product – what to use, how to use it and to what end. The web is better equipped to answer these questions than a print product, an ad campaign or even a store. “

So where magazines only feature what’s in this month (and cost money), YouTube channels like those by Indian make-up artist Elton Fernandez, have a repository of simple instructional videos so viewers can catch up anytime for free. Where advertising is dominated by flawless-looking celebrities and fantastical claims, sites like MakeupAndBeauty get Indian users, with acne, pigmentation, wrinkles, oily skin and budget concerns, to test those claims; blogs like PeachesAndBlush show you how to replicate a trend at home. Where the white lights and plastic saleswomen in shops can intimidate, no question is too petty or embarrassing on MakeupAlley’s message boards.

“The web is where you can engage with beauty on your own terms,” says PeachesAndBlush’s Mehak Shahani. “It’s where the real customisation and problem solving happens.” The repercussions are already evident, says Nayar. “A woman’s primary beauty advisor is no longer her mother or older sister – it is the collective of women around the world who share her interests and her traits. And who can beat that?”

Browse and blend

With more than 30 lakh Facebook fans, Rati Tehri Singh’s MakeUpAndBeauty is possibly the country’s most comprehensive beauty portal, with Indians in India and abroad contributing reviews for everything from Maybelline to Marc Jacobs. “With cosmetics, a bad purchase can put you off the entire category,” Singh says. The web can minimise buyer’s remorse. “If you like Dior’s iconic 999 lipstick, some blogger with no vested interest has a post about 25 similar reds that are 75 per cent cheaper.”

Fernandez, who uses both celebrity and regular models in his videos (he’s even given his housekeeper a makeover), says the medium demystifies the smoke-and-mirrors nature of cosmetics. “Those mascara ads that use false lashes or extensions? People believe that’s what the mascara will do for them,” he says. “Tutorials give you the reality check on that fantasy.”

How much of a reality check? Google research shows that 50 per cent of all online beauty shoppers watch a YouTube beauty-related video before a purchase. But software firm Pixability’s Beauty on YouTube report for 2015 is more telling. It estimates that YouTube’s 1.8 million beauty videos have attracted 45.3 billion (yes billion) total views and garnered 123 million subscribers from around the world, a 50 per cent jump from 2014. Most beauty videos are for makeup: reviews, step-by-step guides to creating looks, correcting flaws, new products, demos and the like. The site has changed the game for beauty, says Rao. “In one evening I can view a video by [the UK make-up artist] Charlotte Tilbury, an Asian woman with no professional background doing a fantastic look, and a young blogger comparing product prices at home in India.”

Profit and gloss

The Naked palette’s success has spawned a whole range of products.

In the $60-billion global beauty industry, celebs set the trends, bloggers show you how to achieve it. And along the way, their word-of mouth evangelism often does more than a celeb can. Take Urban Decay, which released Naked, a set of 14 brown-toned eyeshadows, right when the nude-look trend hit in 2010. Naked popped up in so many videos, posts and tutorials that it sold out, became the bestselling item of the year and inspired countless rivals named Nude, In The Buff, Full Exposure, Unzipped, Revealed and the like.

Cosmetics giants have realised that it pays to influence the influencers. It’s why MAC released a range of products in collaboration with beauty bloggers across America in 2011, and why L’Oreal released a global make-up line with YouTube beauty star Michelle Phan in 2013. Early this year, Lancome hired British makeup artist Lisa Eldridge as creative director of makeup largely on the popularity of her tutorials (they average 1 million views per video). Closer home, Fernandez will soon be the official spokesperson for a makeup brand. Meanwhile, subscription-based beauty boxes, marketed entirely through web influencers, are letting more users try new products and techniques.

Videos by Lisa Eldridge have landed her a Lancome contract.

“Now, with makeup itself being sold online, brands are even more attuned to web experts,” says Shahani. “If a customer is considering buying lipstick online, there’s no luxury of using a tester or seeing the product in person – plus the site’s images are often terrible. So blogs and videos are the first place to look.”

Taking it offline

In the real world, beauty is leaving its mark in unexpected ways. “People wear makeup to office, which was unheard of a decade ago,” observes Rao. “It’s not the standard, kajal-lipstick-eyeshadow either – but separate looks for the office, a party and a wedding.” Nayar says that India has graduated from eyeliner. At Nykaa, which receives 4 million visitors a month, lipsticks make up 8 per cent of sales: “It’s the new gateway product.” Lipstick itself has had a makeover, finds Shahani. “Mac’s bestselling lip colour in India used to be a safe brown. But seeing everyday women carrying off reds and pinks on the net has made them want to try other shades.”

It’s also let women across India share a common idea of beauty. “Women access my site from places I haven’t even heard of,” says Singh. “They come to the city and buy their first MAC blush or eyeliner based on our reviews.” Rao has seen the change in small towns firsthand. “In Chandigarh, Jalandhar, and Rajkot, women are now well informed about what’s available and what not to do.”

But perhaps the web revolution’s biggest gift is that it has made Indians learn from the rest of the world that dark skin is beautiful. “Fewer women want foundation that makes them look lighter,” says Singh. “They understand that make-up is about enhancing what you have rather than changing what you don’t. It’s very empowering.” And it is above all legitimate. “People used to think that if you like makeup, you’re a dumb fake person. The web has taught so many women that loving beauty is nothing to be ashamed about.”


Ideal For Instagram

Five years since it was launched, Instagram has 400 million active users, about 40 per cent of whom generate beauty-related content (selfies, celebrity looks, brand promos, inspiration shots, tutorials, swatches and the like). So it’s no surprise that the photo-and video-led social network is where beauty is breaking new ground. Celebs hire make-up artists based on their posts. Last year saw the launch of Instagram-based makeup brands like DoseOfColors. This year, Glossier, an Instagram-only beauty line, was released.

The Insta world is colouring up the real one. In August this year, a new store, # (pronounced “hashtag”) opened in Soho, New York City, selling beauty products from about 20 brands that were discovered through the app. Established brands are tweaking their wares for the site too. In July, American brand CoverGirl launched its first product to have been tested on the basis of photos shot on the iPhone. The foundation claims to make selfies look natural.

Natural, however, is a loose term in the Insta world. Most make-up imagery posted by younger celebs and bloggers tends to be unnaturally exaggerated: thick black liquid eyeliner, bold eye colour, winged edges, full lips, heavily accentuated cheekbones, and too-dark eyebrows. YouTube make-up artists have also begun offering a new kind of tutorial: How to look good on Instagram.


Watch and learn

Still clueless about cosmetics? Make the web your make-up artist

Start here: If you’ve never ventured beyond liner and lipstick, start by checking out how to put together a simple look for work or an evening out. On YouTube, Indian gurus like ShrutiArjunAnand have videos in Hindi. DelhiFashionBlogger posts simple tutorials with inexpensive products and Elton Fernandez simplifies trendy professional techniques for regular users.

Get specific: Hooked on to those dramatic before/after transformations? Find out what your face needs: dark circles covered? Pigmentation concealed? Acne scars camouflaged? Wrinkles erased? Or just great lip or eye colours? Then focus on videos and blogs by people whose complexion and concerns mirror your own. Alexandrea Garza and Elaine Mokk have legendary video tips on covering acne. Vicky Logan’s videos are great for very dark skins. MakeupWithRaji makes acne scars disappear.

Start shopping: By now, you’re probably more confident about entering a makeup store. Before you buy, read Indian-user reviews on MakeupAndBeauty and Corallista or search for reviews of a particular product by skin colour, type and age on Makeupalley. Compare product swatches on blogs like HeartBowsMakeup or work out which foundation shade will match you at the Foundation Matrix on Temptalia.

Take it forward: Once you’ve realised that beauty is not rocket science, you’ll want to try our more polished and complex looks. KaushalBeauty’s videos are wonderful for special occasions. KeepingUpWithMona has full-on bridal looks. Blogs like PeachesAndBlush offer detailed tutorials and product recommendations across price brackets.

Show it off: Instagram is where makeup looks find their best audience. Follow accounts like TheRaviOsahn, AnchalMUA and Farah Dhukai for inspiration. Or start posting your own.

Follow @GreaterBombay on Twitter

From HT Brunch, December 14

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First Published: Dec 15, 2015 14:22 IST