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CAN WE TALK ABOUT CULT-LIKE BEHAVIOUR IN THE SKINCARE COMMUNITY...?



Advertisement information: this post does not discuss gifted items however I have / have had a brand relationship with  Deciem / the Ordinary, Paula's Choice, Drunk Elephant and CeraVe (gifting) and the Inkey List (paid content). My blog has Skimlinks and RewardStyle installed to automatically monetise purchases of products I link on my blog, therefore my content may contain affiliate links. All opinions remain my own and please refer to my Disclosure Page  for further detail -

It's time for a chatty post, so let's hope I can tidy this up in the edit... I just wanted to talk a bit about some of the stuff I'm seeing in the skincare community and what I want my platform to be, in contrast to some of these more problematic trends. Let's get into it...

The whole idea to write up this post actually came from the whole 'Inkey vs. the Ordinary' beef. If you aren't up-to-speed: as I'm sure you're aware, Deciem revolutionised skincare by coming out with super-affordable single-active products, and a few years later the Inkey List was launched with a similar concept (I'm sure they'd say themselves that they were inspired by the Ordinary), and there was some overlap in the ingredients, but ultimately I felt their line was different enough to the Ordinary to stand on its own two feet. I think the origin of this controversy is that a few larger influencers like Hyram and James Welsh have said recently that they prefer the Inkey List to the Ordinary. The Ordinary don't do traditional marketing, really, however the Inkey List have worked with a lot of creators (including me!) so there was a bit of a conspiracy theory that these people were being paid to low-key push the Inkey List and slate the Ordinary. Whether or not people feel the need to more strongly-defend brands they've worked with is one thing, but as James Welsh has said: this sort of background continual sponsorship simply isn't a thing. I know the US is a little loosey goosey with advertising disclosure, but the UK is not... if people are being paid then you'll know about it. However, not being sponsored doesn't equate to not having a bias.

This got me thinking... I did actually do a post putting these two brands head-to-head here, but honestly: I don't understand why we have to choose? Look, you can say what you like about the Ordinary having inelegant formulas at times (personally, there are at least a dozen products from them that I think are unique and can't be replaced in my collection, but I can appreciate that some of the classics like hyaluronic acid and niacinamide are a little more well-rounded from Inkey) but Deciem created the concept of single-active skincare at a low price, and the brands that followed this format wouldn't exist without them. So, I do think a degree of respect is needed. I'm not a fan of the Beatles, but a lot of musicians I am a fan of have been inspired by them, so I can't just dismiss their significance entirely. For me, the great thing about skincare is that you can pick and choose: I prefer the Inkey List's PHA to the Ordinary's glycolic, so I use that, I prefer the Ordinary's Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate to Inkey's Vitamin C, so I use that. I don't like the 'pick a team' tribalism that seems to come with skincare brands: I see my role here as telling you which product might be better for your skin, not as pushing x-brand or y-brand.

Clean beauty feels like another tribe, where one brand will demonise the formulas of other brands to get you to buy their often-much-more-expensive formulas. But, even then: it's not black and white to me, whilst I don't agree with this marketing strategy and never discuss it as a reason to buy a product, some of these brands do good stuff that I enjoy. I'm also not going to dismiss a product line that's efficacious and impressed me because it's 'clean' or 'natural'.

I've even seen people acting as though their baby was called 'ugly' because someone said CeraVe didn't work for them. I personally really get on with CeraVe, but there's no such thing as universal skincare, and it's really not personal if someone doesn't like something you do. We can all express our opinions in a way that isn't belittling or confrontational. I can't relate to that sort of insecurity; if you've found something that works for you then just enjoy it instead of telling people they're wrong and giving them grief on the internet because they had a different experience. It's just bizarre. 

I think some of this comes from the fact that maybe I'm seeing comments from and interacting with people who are a lot younger than me. I was fanatical about a lot of stuff as a teenager and would consider people 'stupid' if they didn't agree with me, but I guess there were far fewer outlets for me to express that flawed thinking. Maybe I'm making excuses and some of them aren't kids, but there are a lot of these people around so it does skew my perspective of the beauty world. For example, Hyram definitely has a lot of very young fans on TikTok, and I personally think he's a perfectly decent creator in himself. He's not really my cup of tea because I'm a lot older than his audience and he does sometimes get things wrong (as we all do) and misses important nuance whilst simultaneously presenting himself as an expert, which I find a bit problematic. At the same time, call me naive, but I don't think he has bad intentions. However, his fans really do make it hard work to be part of the beauty community sometimes, often commenting on content from dermatologists saying they're 'wrong' because 'Hyram said x' and hanging onto this idea of if a product is 'Hyram-approved' and it's obviously very cult-like to totally idolise one person and take their word as gospel. Critical thinking is incredibly important and we need a range of voices to understand what 'consensus' looks like. For example, I often check out the Paula's Choice website for information on ingredients; I don't necessarily take the 'good' or 'bad' ingredients as gospel but it's just another tool to use in order to make a decision on what I want to use.

I also feel brands can cultivate an environment where you're part of 'the family' or you're not. For example, Drunk Elephant is notorious for throwing people off their PR list for a single negative write-up. I was booted ages ago, but I have to say, I was really shocked to see some creators who are almost synonymous with the brand having that relationship severed because one product didn't do it for them. I honestly get a bit twitchy when brands try to cultivate these very close personal relationships with creators. Don't get me wrong, I love working with brands and getting to know their people and feeling that connection, but for me there has to be a line so my ability to honestly review products isn't compromised. I sometimes feel as though indie / small brands act in a way that may have good intentions but could be seen as emotionally manipulative, creating an environment where their 'chosen' inner circle of influencers can't share their genuine experiences with their audience, and I find that problematic.

That leads into another area. I won't dive into the Naturium / Susan Yara or Krave Beauty / Liah Yoo drama here (search those phrases on Reddit, if you don't know what's gone on) but we've seen some real controversies around brands started up by beauty creators. Naturally, many people in the community have personal relationships with them, which creates this sort of cult of silence where people are having to bend over backwards to justify what was said and done. I get that you might not want to roast your friend publicly to your followers, but I think we can be friends with people without saying they must be always right. A short 'I won't get into details but although I don't condone what has happened, I have a personal relationship with X, so I don't want to contribute towards a very stressful situation when other people have already put forward some valid criticisms - I hope you can respect my decision to step away from this topic' or words to those effect would be better. Ultimately, friends should be able to tell friends when they've messed up, though I appreciate we don't know what conversations have gone on offline I don't think rushing to someone's defence is the right thing to do. You can defend the person against excessive attacks on the internet without defending what they've done if they've behaved dishonestly or unfavourably

In summary, ultimately this isn't my job, so maybe I'm a little more comfortable not aligning myself too strongly with any one brand and just speaking my truth. If a brand doesn't want to pay me; I can pay my bills, if a brand doesn't want to send me stuff; I can buy it. It's really not that deep to me. It's more flattering than anything else to connect with brands and it feels like recognition, and obviously ensures I have plenty of stuff to review and compare for you guys, however I don't feel reliant on this and don't want to be forced to 'pick a side' in some of these situations.

Have you had similar experiences to me in the skincare community? Is there anything else you find problematic, that you'd add to this?


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