We’re living in a golden age for skincare. Brands are churning out a nearly infinite variety of products at price points ranging from student budget to celebrity splurge, and making them available globally. And we no longer have to rely on magazine articles and department store sales staff to help us decide what would work best for our skin. Regular consumers can (and do) review products on blogs and social media, giving authentic feedback on the products that catch our eye, driving trends and influencing the beauty industry at large.
It’s tempting, especially since some of those skincare reviewers gain large followings and the privileges that come with that, to want to add our own voices to the mix. I’m all for non-industry, non-professional people reviewing cosmetics—those reviews are often more helpful than puff pieces published by corporate media. But starting out can be daunting.
Generally, when we take the time and effort to write up a review, we do so in the hopes that others will find and read it. But there are so many reviewers out there already. What makes some of them stand out? After reading probably thousands of product reviews (and writing hundreds of them myself), I think it boils down to three basic qualities: voice, trustworthiness, and value. So let’s discuss those.
When we take the time to write up a review, we do so in the hopes that others will read it. But there are so many reviewers out there. What makes some of them stand out?
Voice: Your Identity as a Reviewer
In publishing, “voice” is critical, but sometimes also critically hard to teach or even to explain clearly. Your voice as a writer comes from your choice of words and how you string them together, and, much like the impact your choice of clothes and accessories and how you put them together can have on people in your offline life, your writing voice creates your reader’s first impression of you and reinforces their sense of your identity over time. Voice differentiates one reviewer from another and can make a reviewer memorable—or forgettable.
Strive for a genuine, authentic voice. In fashion, we want to be true to our real aesthetic, but in a polished and curated way. The same applies to our writing voice. As you write your reviews, give yourself permission to write as you think and speak, more or less. If your internal monologue isn’t dry and academic, then don’t try to emulate a dry and academic style. If you’d be uncomfortable with nonstop jokes and bubbly sass, don’t fake it. Be yourself, with your own vocabulary and sentence structures. Just organize your thoughts so that they flow well, and clean up your spelling and grammar so that others can understand you.
And actually use your own voice. I’ve read plenty of reviews that I forgot instantly, because instead of giving their own feedback in their own voice on the products featured, the reviewers simply regurgitated brand copy (or pasted that brand copy in without much comment of their own).
People aren’t looking up skincare reviews to read what the brands have to say. They can go to the brands’ own websites and social media for that. It’s good to clarify what the brands’ claims are, but their marketing copy shouldn’t be the bulk of good skincare review content.
Trustworthiness: Your Credibility as a Reviewer
Credibility is key to writing reviews that others will pay attention to, bookmark, and share with others. Luckily for those of us without advanced cosmetic chemistry or dermatology degrees, credibility in this arena comes in many forms. It can come from your deep knowledge of product formulations or skin science. More commonly for skincare reviewers, however, credibility comes from your honesty regarding the products you review, regardless of whether you can explain the differences between hyaluronic acid and sodium hyaluronate.
The most important thing you can do to show your trustworthiness, therefore, is to describe your experience with the product honestly. Don’t worry that you’ll offend the brand: You most likely won’t, and if you do, the fact that they can’t take criticism means they’re trash anyway. Don’t worry that you’ll offend people who love the product: Most adults realize that not everyone can love the same things they love, and if they don’t, that’s a them problem, not a you problem. If you don’t like something about a product, explain it. You may be helping someone else who’d hate it for the same reasons as you.
But temper your criticism. Overly negative, scathing reviews can come off as insincere, too, as if the reviewer was just looking for reasons to hate a product or a brand. I find the most helpful way to think about criticism is to remember that Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV) applies to skincare as well. I may hate a moisturizer because it’s far too light for my skin and doesn’t seem to do anything, but I can also acknowledge in my review that readers with very oily skin will probably feel differently. Showing your readers that you’re aware of the differences between people’s skin and tastes will go a long way towards establishing your credibility.
I may hate a moisturizer because it’s far too light for my skin, but I can also acknowledge that readers with very oily skin will probably feel differently.
Establishing your credibility isn’t a one-shot task, either. Lasting trust takes time to develop. Be consistent and fair in all your reviews as you build up your body of work, and you’ll start to see readers coming back to you over and over, because they’ve learned they can trust you.
Value: The Help You Provide as a Reviewer
The last piece of the puzzle is the value your reviews provide to your readers.
Why do people look up skincare reviews? They’re curious about a certain product and want more information before they decide whether it’s worth the risk and investment or not. That’s what reviews are for. So in your reviews, strive to provide valuable information to your readers in a way that’s clear and easy to understand.
One of the best starting points in skincare is to provide the full ingredients list of the product (unless you’re reviewing it directly on a brand website or other platform that already provides the ingredients list). While not everyone is an ingredients nerd, some people will genuinely want or need to see the full ingredients, due to allergies and sensitivities or due to a particular fondness for this or that ingredient. Even including a photograph of the ingredients list from the product’s packaging helps.
Use skincare products consistently and for a significant amount of time before writing your review. While a few uses is enough time to tell whether a cleanser cleanses well or a moisturizer moisturizes well, it can take longer than that to learn whether it irritates your skin over time, clogs your pores, or, on the other hand, improves your skin in deeper ways. A “review” written after one use of a product isn’t very credible—that’s just a first impression. First impressions can also be compelling, but they’re not the same as a review. Give most products at least a few weeks of diligent use before making your judgment. Taking notes during your product testing period will help you remember details and flesh out your writing.
When you do give your judgment, be as clear and specific about your results (or lack thereof) as you can be. “I loved this serum” tells the reader very little about whether it will suit their needs. “I loved this serum because it noticeably faded my dark spots,” on the other hand, will. Where a product didn’t meet your expectations, make sure you specify what your expectations actually were. Sometimes they aren’t realistic for what the product is—that’s useful information for the reader, too.
Finally, don’t forget about the experiential details. Scent, consistency, and packaging can all become crucial to a purchasing decision. Is the product too fragranced? Does it smell weird? (Sunday Riley Auto Correct smells like moldy bath towels, a detail I feel everyone interested in the product should know.) Does the consistency feel gross or not play well with your other products? Is the packaging well constructed and easy to use? Points like this help round out your opinion and show that you’ve given the product the time and attention it needs for a thorough and valuable review.
Voice helps communicate who you are. Trustworthiness encourages readers to listen. And valuable information encourages readers to come back to you for more. Even if you aren’t a professional writer or a skincare expert, your opinions can help others, and with some effort, your opinions could reach many others. Does that sound like something you’d like to do? If so, grab a product you’d like to talk about, and get writing!