The skincare hobbyist is a thoroughly modern invention. In the days before blogs, online forums, and social media, the role of skincare consumers was limited to just that: consumption. We consumed the advertising created by skincare brands, consumed content about skincare created and published by corporate media, and consumed the skincare products themselves when the advertising and corporate content worked as intended.
It’s a whole different world these days. We’re not restricted to passive consumption anymore. Skincare hobbyists—the forum members and Reddit posters, the bloggers, and the YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok content creators who acquire and review products on their own platforms and in their own time—actively influence the whole ecosystem. Products go viral and trends rise and fall thanks to the combined efforts of the thousands of regular everyday non-professional skincare enthusiasts. And that’s awesome.
Do you want to join the ranks of the skincare hobbyists shaping beauty trends today? While there’s no requirement for you to become an “expert” before you even launch, having a foundation of basic knowledge is ideal. Here’s a few things to learn before you get started.
The skincare hobbyist is a thoroughly modern invention, and we’re not restricted to passive consumption anymore. Skincare hobbyists actively influence the whole ecosystem.
Dipping a Toe in the Science
More so than makeup, skincare involves a certain comfort level with science. It makes sense, since skincare is expected to actually alter the structure and function of your skin in order to improve its appearance. You don’t need to be an esthetician, a dermatologist, or a chemist to become a skincare hobbyist, of course, but you should get familiar with some of the scientific underpinnings of the industry.
Read up on actives. These are the elite class of skincare ingredients whose benefits to skin have been demonstrated through extensive, credible scientific research. In other words, they’re as “proven” as skincare ingredients can be. Some to learn about:
- Retinoids like tretinoin (found in Retin-A), adapalene, retinol, and retinyl palmitate
- Vitamin C (L-ascorbic acid) and its derivatives, like magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (MAP) and sodium ascorbyl phosphate (SAP)
- Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs)
Actives are often the backbone of an effective skincare product, so being familiar with what they can do and what conditions need to be met in order for them to do the thing will go a long way towards giving you a solid knowledge base from which to start.
Also spend some time learning how to identify credible research. Not every skincare ingredient is supported by extensive research (there’s just not enough funding or interest for that!), but some are. Brands often make claims that can be either supported or debunked by looking into existing research. And certain trends and movements, like the sunscreen fearmongering of the past few years, originate in questionable research interpreted in questionable ways.
Pay attention to factors like the size of studies. Testing an ingredient on five people won’t yield conclusions as reliable as testing an ingredient on 50, and 500 is even better (but exceptionally rare in cosmetics research). Look to see if studies are placebo-controlled. When they aren’t, it’s hard to know how to interpret any results. Check to see what organization funded the study. A significant amount of cosmetics research is funded by cosmetics brands, which have a special interest in manipulating data to support the claims they’d like to make about their own products. And keep an eye out for whether multiple research studies come to the same conclusion about their topic. Results that can be replicated are the ones that truly matter.
Earlier, I mentioned that there’s no requirement to become an “expert” before launching a beauty content channel or social media account. In fact, I’d say positioning oneself as an expert is generally not the best direction to go.
Pretty much every blogger, Instagrammer, YouTuber, or other skincare hobbyist and content creator on the Internet has had multiple encounters with readers or viewers asking them to fix their personal skin problems. It’s a flattering problem to have, to be sure. People struggling with their skin see you as knowledgeable enough to help them solve their issues—that can feel good.
Ultimately, however, it’s not a good thing. Skin is a very individual and very quirky thing. Nothing works the same for everyone. Not even heavily researched and objectively optimally formulated actives. Not even prescription topicals. The most important term in the skincare community is YMMV. It stands for “your mileage may vary,” and it is the one absolute truth of skincare. Even a dermatologist or esthetician cannot (and ethically should not) attempt to diagnose or treat people in the informal setting of social media or emails. Those of us who are hobbyists definitely should not. Attempting to, or presenting yourself as someone who can, can lead to disappointment, frustration, and anger.
The most important term in the skincare community is YMMV. It stands for “your mileage may vary,” and it is the one absolute truth of skincare.
So get comfortable with the concept of YMMV. Think of your content as a way of sharing what products have done (or failed to do) for you, rather than as a way of making promises to your readers about what those products will do for them. Taking a descriptive, rather than prescriptive, approach to your content will save you and your readers or viewers a lot of unhappiness down the line.
Deciding on Your PR Policy
One final consideration before you take the plunge into the skincare hobbyist world: How will you handle press samples, the free products that brands and vendors provide to content creators in hopes of securing publicity and sales?
Every skincare hobbyist needs to make some investment at the outset. You need products in order to try them and review them, and you need a somewhat steady supply of different products in order to create new content.
The outlay these days can be much lower than it once was, however. Brands have taken note of the influence skincare hobbyists have over their audiences. Since sending free products out to influencers generally costs much less than producing traditional ad campaigns and buying the airtime or ad space to show them, the free product flows like water nowadays, even to accounts whose subscribers haven’t hit four digits yet. There are even services like 0.8L and Octoly, which act as middlemen between brands and influencers. These types of services enter your social stats into a database, and when brands plan influencer campaigns and want to work with, say, 20 skincare Instagrammers with 1,000-5,000 followers apiece, the services scan for qualifying members and set the collaboration up.
I’ve always been in favor of press samples. They level out the playing field, allowing skincare hobbyists with more limited budgets opportunities to test and review products they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. Others’ opinions may differ, of course. Some readers and some influencers avoid them, believing that a free product creates inherent positive bias in the reviewer. Before you get started, it may be helpful to sit down and consider how you feel about press samples. That way you won’t get caught off guard when the first offers come in. If you decide that you are open to press samples, take some time to learn about how to disclose them properly in accordance with your country’s laws.
Should you become a skincare hobbyist? Some people feel the field is too crowded and too competitive now. In my opinion, that only matters if you’re thinking about going into it because you specifically want to be a famous influencer in the first place.
If you’re considering becoming a skincare hobbyist simply because you love skincare, love talking about skincare, love trying new skincare, and love sharing your experiences with likeminded people—which is why I personally started doing this a million years ago—then the field can never be too crowded or competitive. You’ll make friends and gain some following, whether it’s small or large. You’ll learn from your peers and have the opportunity to help educate others. And, of course, you’ll get to try out a whole universe of new products and hopefully find ones that work best for your skin!