Amid the pandemic, millions turned to TikTok—the short-form content app originally called Musical.ly—for solace. For months, lip-syncing and eight counts of elbow jabs and windmills took the place of doomscrolling. And for those not rhythmically inclined, there was a neck of the TikTok woods for everyone to discover— from true crime to tech and, of course, one of the fastest-growing areas on the platform, beauty.
Beauty TikTok—a corner of the app where users can find 60-second product reviews, makeup transformations, hair tutorials, and more, became a beast on its own. The space is currently in a “hyper-growth phase,” according to Olga Pelovangu, the global brand partnerships for beauty and tech at TikTok.
And with over 67.9B views on the hashtag beauty alone, the vertical even has the power to sell out a cult-favorite lipstick overnight. The appeal of beauty TikTok is understandable; long product reviews, tutorials, and educational videos are formed into bite-sized mini clips that make it easier for users to digest information. On the app, anyone with a ring light, iPhone, and a down-to-earth personality can become a star, unlike competitor YouTube, where multiple camera light sources, a quality high-definition DSLR camera, and a “certain look” was the formula for climbing up the ranks on the site.
TikTok allows creators to be, whether they’re a board-certified dermatologist with a few extra hours on hand to respond to other users’ burning skincare questions or a regular girl from Massachusetts testing out new products while “swearing like a sailor” in-between her makeup application. Unfortunately, navigating beauty TikTok can be overwhelming, especially when a straightforward hashtag yields millions, sometimes billions, of video results and a slew of questions such as, Who’s the best in hair to follow? What dermatologist can I trust for product recommendations? Do I need this new foundation?
To cut through the noise, we created our very own TikTok Beauty University—a guide to popular creators who have mastered the art of schooling users in hair, makeup, and skincare. So when they speak, we listen, we buy, we repeat.
Welcome to TikTok Beauty University. What class will you head to today?
Beauty 101: Skincare Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated
Professor: Dr. Camile Howard-Verovic
Think of Dr. Camille Howard-Verovic as your guardian skincare angel. If you’ve ever skipped out on wearing sunscreen one day and felt like someone was watching you, chances are you’ve come across Dr. Camille’s TikTok account. Her advice and recommendations come off as a concerned big sister or best friend reminding viewers constantly to wear sunscreen and not believe everything that goes viral on the app. Skeptical about a product? Dr. Howard-Verovic uses her platform to debunk the silliest skincare trends. She initially joined TikTok in May 2020 to see what was appealing to her TikTok-obsessed niece. “I quickly found that the platform was an excellent medium to educate my audience about skin health. I also realized there was lots of skincare misinformation, and I wanted to address some crazy skin trends,” she explains.
Like the time she came across the trend of people using menstrual blood to treat acne. “I’m happy that people are excited about skincare and skin health. But It doesn’t have to be complicated, and you don’t need a 10 step routine to have healthy skin,” she adds. One of the most rewarding parts of being on TikTok is helping those who look like her find better ways to treat their skin woes. “Dermatology is a dynamic specialty in which there is a healthy mix of procedures and clinical decision-making. I find so much in having an answer for my colleagues and patients,” she says. “I think it is important to be a Black physician on social media. After about six months on TikTok, I received so many messages from young women who want to be dermatologists.”
TikTok Made Me Buy It: Finipil Lait 50 Antiseptic Cream, $17; amazon.com
Cop or Flop? How to Determine What Trendy Products Are Worth Your Coins
Professor: Alessandro Cardoso
Shocker, working at a furniture store is as dull as you’d expect. When Alessandro took a job at his local furniture store, he would often sneak out to browse the aisles at the Ulta Beauty store located next door. “I would leave my job and walk around Ulta Beauty for hours, talking to the employees and swatching makeup. I’d spend a good two hours out of my work shift at Ulta every day, just hanging out with the employees,” he recalls. When the pandemic hit, Alessandro was laid off and turned to TikTok to respite from his woes. “I remember I applied for unemployment. But that was a blessing in disguise because I was able to focus my time on TikTok. Right now, it’s my full-time job,” he says. A job that has garnered 47 million likes, over 822,000 followers, and a shout-out from Selena Gomez since he first joined in April 2020. Gomez reacted to his video using the brand’s setting spray and exposed him to a larger audience. Whether reviewing high-end or drugstore products, Alessandro’s audience can always expect genuine takes on the industry’s buzziest products.If it’s not worth the buy, Alessandro will let you know in a heartbeat. “I say what’s on everyone’s mind, you know?” he says. “I feel like people appreciate the transparency.”
TikTok Made Me Buy It: Rare Beauty Always An Optimist 4-in-1 Prime & Set Mist, $24; sephora.com
Intro to Preventative, Not Reversive Skincare
Professor: Hyram Yarbro
To command the attention of 6.6 million followers on TikTok on the giant topic of skincare is no easy feat. But that’s the beauty of Hyram Yarbro’s page—his takes on beauty and skincare are anything but boring. Cocktailing humor, authenticity, and research together, Hyram’s following turns to him for unfiltered reviews on the skincare industry’s buzziest products. Through his platform, he hopes to make information accessible for those who can’t afford a visit to the derm’s office. Growing up, Hyram wished he had someone like himself to introduce him to skincare.
Raised on a cattle ranch in Arizona, Hyram was only aware of skincare’s luxury experience rather than the actual benefits. In Arizona, the humidity level was so low Hyram struggled with severe eczema breakouts. Once he moved to Hawaii for college, the humidity helped to hydrate his skin. But after experiencing breakouts during college due to stress and lack of sleep, Hyram’s friends recommended that he start investing in skincare products. “I have combination skin,” he adds. “So my struggles put me in a good position to be able to trial all different kinds of products to be able to recommend to my audience because they have different skin types.” On TikTok, he excels in the “duet” format in which creators can build upon another creator’s video by uploading a side-by-side clip reacting to the original video. Adopting this formula has allowed him to debunk skincare myths, respond to his audience’s concerns, and inject humor in product reviews. However, he lives by one rule only: sunscreen is the most critical step in a skincare routine.
TikTok is also grounds for making derms, estheticians, and influencers shriek in fear due to many DIY skin hacks. “What Tiktok has introduced is the importance of preventative, not reversive skincare,” he says. “So there’s this perspective shift where people are taking care of their skin so that they can prevent that long-term damage, and that’s what skincare is about.”
TikTok Made Me Buy It: Evenprime Barrier Serum, $36; amazon.com
Black Hair Grows: Debunking Common Myths About Natural Hair
Professor: Seun Okimi
For Seun Okimi, her first memory of beauty was feeling like the “other” in a world that praised European beauty standards. “I was wondering: Why didn’t I fit into the beauty standard that I saw around me? Why am I different?” she says. So Okimi diverted her attention to the art of reinvention and began learning the process of crafting different hairstyles by installing wigs and weaves. She quickly realized that she could create a slew of styles that Black women could also try when they wanted to be “different.” She cut her teeth as a content creator on YouTube but turned to TikTok more recently. Her TikTok page is very unlike the content she was creating on YouTube.
With each video she uploads, sh,e teaches her audience never to lose hope or patience when it comes to your hair. “I think a lot of people have this idea that their hair won’t grow. So I’m showing that we can grow our hair, or even if it is short, it’s beautiful to have short hair as well,” she says.
Okimi takes an educational approach to her videos, teaching her audience how to care for protective styles, install natural-looking wigs, and prevent breakage and shedding on 4C hair. “To feel beautiful, we feel like we have to do so much to our hair and struggle,” she says. “We don’t have to struggle so much to get to where we want with our beauty. We are beautiful without struggle.”
TikTok Made Me Buy It: The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution, $8; ulta.com
What Are Skincare Brands Really Selling You? The Truth About Trendy Skincare
Professor: Dr. Muneeb Shah
Dermatologists have a bad rep of not always being the most personable, but with TikTok, Dr. Shah aims to show his audience that dermatologists aren’t robots. “When you see a dermatologist in the office, the patient and doctor have to build that trust, so you feel comfortable opening up,” says Dr. Shah. “It’s the same thing on TikTok. I get so many messages from people who tell me they went to a dermatologist because of my videos and they found skin cancer, or that they finally got onto an active prescription treatment and their skin is getting better from my product recommendation.”
He offers some more wisdom for TikTok users. “When you’re authentic, people will see that, and then more organic opportunities will come to you,” he advises. “Always be skeptical when something’s going viral, whether it’s good or bad. If a product is the best product ever, ask yourself, Is it really? Do I personally really need it?” Finally, always think about why you’re buying what you’re buying.”
TikTok Made Me Buy It: Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, $30; nordstrom.com
Makeup Should Be Anything But Boring
Professor: Tammi Clarke
On Makeup By Tammi’s page, everything is better with a little—err, a lot of—color. In a world of soft glam mugs, Makeup By Tammi and her dramatic purple winged liner looks stick out amongst the crowd. The London makeup artist’s aesthetic is not for the faint of heart; eyeliners and eyeshadows bend to her will as she draws cow spots around her eye in one video and a smoky sunset eye in another. At the height of the pandemic, she launched her Bandana Series, in which she selected a random bandana shade to base her makeup look. “People should have fun with their makeup; add colors or graphic liners, there are no rules,” she says. “A lot of people can be intimidated by bright makeup, but when they see it on someone, especially someone that looks like them, it can encourage them to try it.”
Clarke enjoys watching and creating short yet concise videos that teach users how to take care of their skin and makeup in mini videos. “Beauty TikTok is so amazing because it almost simplifies the process; it can show people they can take care of their skin with just three simple steps, or how to make their makeup last longer with just two steps,” she adds. Her favorite makeup tip? “Use a little powder before foundation if you have oily skin like me because it buys you a few extra hours wear before the oils come through the foundation,” she advises.
TikTok Made Me Buy It: L.A. Girl Pro Matte Mixing Pigment, $10; ulta.com
Real Recognize Real: How to Build a Beauty Community By Being Your Authentic Self
Professor: Mikayla Nogueira
Mikayla Nogueira may opt for soft yet stunning makeup looks now, but her entry into the makeup world began with blood, zombies, and clowns. “I was eight years old when I discovered makeup for the first time. My dad ran a top-rated haunted house attraction, and I got to watch special effects makeup artists every single day doing this crazy Halloween makeup on people. I was fascinated by it,” she says. By 15, she joined her father’s haunted house as a makeup artist and even decided to take on prom and wedding clients. “I was obsessed with [makeup]; I didn’t care about anything else. Makeup was my whole life. I would have done anything for makeup,” she says. Until she became discouraged by the lack of beauty gurus who she could relate to. “My dream was to be social media beauty star. I wanted to make a bigger impact. But I felt like I didn’t fit the mold of what was accepted in the beauty realm. And I didn’t think that that was possible for me,” she remembers. After facing several rejections from top makeup retailers, Nogueira was convinced makeup wasn’t the path she should embark on. Then, Ulta called back and offered her a job. Then, the pandemic happened, and she was suddenly out of a job with a lot of free time on her hands. Enter: TikTok.
“I kept watching hours’ worth of TikTok and loved how cool the app was. The catfish challenge was popping off at the time where you show a before and after of yourself in glam,” she says. At first, her years-long acne struggles discouraged her from posting the video, but she uploaded it anyway and went viral. If her goal was to teach people to be their unapologetic selves, she also had to walk the walk. “I’m unapologetically and authentically myself in my videos,” she says. “And I will never change that. I will never try to be someone I’m not because my biggest value that I have as a person is just to be myself.”
Fans of Nogueira love her intricate eyeshadow designs just as much as they love her thick Boston accent. “I swear like a sailor and that who I am,” she says proudly. Just don’t call her an influencer. “Yes, I heavily influence people, and I’ve had these viral videos that have caused makeup artists to sell out. But in my opinion, that’s just a result of me having a good time and me showing people that makeup can be fun and it’s not so serious. I’m a beauty content creator. I create fun, energetic, authentic, unique content,” Nogueira adds.
TikTok Made Me Buy It: Kryolan Ultra Setting Spray, $39; amazon.com
50 Ways to Style Your Natural Hair
Professor: Deborah Oguche
You go to Deborah’s TikTok page for natural hair tips, but stay for a masterclass in the art of transformation. When she’s not morphing her natural hair into twists or puffs or wigs, she’s offering natural hair product recommendations or tips for growing your hair in under a minute. “I slowly noticed the lack of representation for people with kinky/coily hair while scrolling through my FYP. I decided that there wasn’t enough relatable or helpful content for people who look like me and have my hair texture, so I decided to be a part of that representation,” she says of her account, which boasts over 123,000 followers and over 5.6 million likes. The message of Deborah Oguche’s platform is simple: “Type 4 hair is worth caring for and worth celebrating,” Oguche says.
The lightbulb moment to start creating her own “hair love” content didn’t spark until September 2020, when she joined TikTok in the thick of the pandemic. So by December 2020, the biology student at Temple University picked up a new side hobby: creating relatable content for people who type-4 hair.“I want to build a community where all hair textures are uplifted and represented,” she adds. “If I can be the reason just one person out there starts their hair love journey, I consider that a win for my platform.”
TikTok Made Me Buy It: Gold ‘N Hot Professional Ionic Soft Bonnet Hair Dryer, $50; ulta.com
Getting to the Root of Things: The Best Practices For Growing Hair
Three years ago, Afsennah—and her followers—noticed her hair was thinning. “I got comments about my hair, which made me insecure, so I started to buy everything in the hopes that it would work,” she explains. She turned to “oiling” her hair, as in lathering her strands with a slew of different oils, to strengthen her hair but was left hopeless. Instead of giving up, she began to research scalp care and specific ingredients for her hair type. She could’ve chosen to gatekeep her discoveries but turned to TikTok in January 2021 to share her hair journey and tips. “Having healthy, nice, and long hair is not only genetics. When you don’t take care of your hair, your hair will get damaged regardless of whether you have the most beautiful hair. Prevention is everything,” she tells ELLE.com. You can learn everything on Afsennah’s page, from the difference between hair porosities to the best foods that promote hair growth to her very own hair routine. The self-professed “BFF your hair needs,” Afsennah, can be found in her TikTok comment section, answering her follower’s questions, no matter how small. Her straightforward approach to the seemingly never-ending world of hair oil keeps her 293,000 followers coming back for more.
TikTok Made Me Buy It: Yootech Wireless Charger, $14; amazon.com
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