Reviews can be incredibly useful. I never make a purchase without reading several (wether I’m buying a lipstick or a hoover). However when it comes to makeup, it’s sometimes hard to work out who to trust. I tend to read reviews on the product website. Before going off in search of independent reviews on blogs and social media. By reading a mixture of these, you can build up a picture and notice if there’s any disparity between consumers, smaller bloggers and big influencers.

Sadly this is often the case. Some products get praised by big influencers, only to leave many consumers disappointed after their purchase. I’m at the stage where I almost automatically distrust a product if it’s highly promoted by celebrities and influencers.

At what point do reviews stop being useful and become just another advertising tool for brands?

As a blogger -albeit a little one- how much am I a part of the problem? I know as a consumer, I’m no stranger to the annoyance of having to wade through and work out what is trustworthy or relevant. I hope that this post will go some way towards explaining how reviews on my blog work. My thoughts on the wider issues of disclosure and working with PR. And what factors I’m considering when I try a new makeup product.

We all have totally unique tastes when it comes to makeup.

Reviews Are Subjective

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Even the most honest, heartfelt review may not align with your expectations.

When looking for a review, it’s sometimes hard to see who is coming at it from a similar enough perspective, that their review will be useful to you.

We all have different skin types and tones. Different allergies. Varying beliefs, preferences and styles. Contrasting budgets. We all have totally unique tastes when it comes to makeup.

A huge factor I think -which is almost impossible to gather quickly- are the previous products a reviewer has used. What are they comparing this to? What may have tainted this, or drawn them to it? Do they have any pre-existing feelings towards the brand, negative or positive?

How knowledgable is the reviewer? Layering the wrong products can cause undesirable effects. Does the person writing the review know this? Are they using the product as intended?

How does the reviewer want to use this product? Are they creating heavy looks to work on camera? Or something natural to wear to work?

With so many factors possibly effecting even the most honest reviews, it’s vital to remember that they are at the end of the day, purely someone else’s opinion.

Spectrum must have mini Makeup brushes

Are we reviewing makeup against criteria we don’t even truly understand? Because it sounds more professional? I think so.

Reviews contain a lot of buzzwords

We’ve all seen the TV adverts for makeup and their ridiculous claims.

“Inspired by DNA”. “70% of 80 people surveyed agreed this thing works”. “Now infused with magic beans”.

But are we all a bit guilty of this? Words are constantly thrown around like: formula, longevity, colour payoff. But do we even know what we’re talking about? Some liquid lipsticks could survive a nuclear armageddon but that makes them hideously uncomfortable to wear. Some highlighters swatch like butter and have loads of colour payoff. Looks fab on your wrist but would look pretty ridiculous on your face.

One influencer whose makeup reviews I enjoy, is Stephanie Nicole. A YouTuber with a background in the production of makeup. If you want to know about the formula of a product, she’s your girl. Her reviews are often an hour long. And she dissects every detail of a product. She can tell you what you’re paying per gram. And if the formula is cheap. She will go on to tell you how they are to work with, but this is where she becomes more one of us. Her expertise is in the production, not necessarily application (although she’s great at it!). Whilst I personally find her reviews to be very useful across the board, you may prefer to hear what a makeup artist has to say. Said makeup artist might not have a clue what a product contains, but be better placed to say how it blends.

Do we know what we’re talking about?

My point is that these buzz words can be distracting. If you genuinely want to know what your makeup is made with, me saying “formula is great” isn’t exactly informative. We talk a lot about longevity but in all honesty, I’m a web developer not a model. I don’t need to be on set for 12 hours under the melting heat of lighting. How long do I really need my makeup to last?

Of course if it separates and comes off in an hour, I want to know. But are most of us reviewing makeup against criteria we don’t even truly understand? Because it sounds more professional? I think so.

Bobbi Brown Face makeup Base

Which is why I don’t need to follow her. I know her domain by heart.

Different kinds of bloggers

When looking for makeup related advice or recommendations, I go to different places. Some bloggers like Temptalia will have products before release. In every shade. With very consistent reviews. She’s my first stop. I know she’ll have the dates for release in different countries. Along with pricing and full details.

However I wouldn’t read her blog daily. I don’t follow her and read each post. I don’t believe they’re intended to be read like that.

That’s not a criticism either. I’ve actually followed her posts for over a decade, since the Livejournal days. I once bought some green MAC pigment from her on there, before she was uber famous. My claim to beauty blogging fame (when can I expect a Bora Bora invite?).

Her consistency and professionalism is incredible. Which is why I don’t need to follow her. I know her domain by heart. And I automatically go there frequently.

Personal Recommendations

But I wouldn’t say I enjoy reading her posts. This is where the smaller bloggers come in. I love it when a friend recommends me something. A personal recommendation carries so much weight. Even more so if I can see it on their face. Those are the kinds of recommendations which make me purchase something without hesitation.

I love it when bloggers replicate that. When you feel you know and admire a blogger’s style so much, their opinion means something. When you can tell that they’re genuinely excited about a product. And when you feel you ‘know’ them enough to work out if your preferences align.

When it comes to makeup reviews on my blog. That’s what I’m striving for.

highlighter makeup

A few words around makeup terminology

In magazines like Vogue, it’s really unclear how the products got featured. Did the beauty editor like them, so include them? Were they all sent for review? Or did the brands pay for coverage? I couldn’t tell you.

In the world of social media and blogging, on a positive note I think it’s largely clearer. But that’s not to say everyone is playing ball. The Advertising Standards Agency have a specific set of rules for bloggers and social media creators, which state we should be disclosing when a product is sent to us ‘for free’ (or rather, in the hope of us putting in a few hours worth of copywriting and photography). It’s pretty simple in theory but in practice can be a bit of a mine field.

When I talk about disclosure, I’m referring to this. The fact we should make it absolutely clear when something was sent to us for review, or if we were paid to include something in a post.

How do bloggers get ‘free’ stuff?

PR companies contact bloggers on behalf of brands. Offering to send products for review. With the hope of generating coverage and link building. For me, these products are usually offered for free. Although big influencers apparently charge to receive products to review. An example of a post I’ve written about a product given to me is this review of Spectrum Collection’s Must Have Mini’s brush set.

Occassionally PR companies also contact bloggers about sponsored posts. These are paid posts where you get money in exchange for writing SEO friendly content containing a specified link. An example of a sponsored post I’ve written is: Best Of Summer Beauty Gift Sets.

Bloggers typically disclose these kinds of posts by either straight up saying they were sent the item / it’s a sponsored post. Or with an asterix after the product name or link (like this*). I used to use an asterix but moved to just stating in the post that I had been sent the item, as I feel it flows better. Although I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Tarte eyeshadow palette - one of my favourite pieces of makeup

My disappointment comes through with every paragraph. I had practically nothing good to say about it.

Are my reviews bias?

Controversial but I’m going to say yes. The vast majority of blogger’s reviews are. Although I’m sure it’s usually not intentional.

I think my reviews are bias because I’m human. I can’t leave all my unique preferences at the door. And I can’t help but compare products to ones I love or hate. I don’t review enough things to be uniformed in my approach. If I got daily deliveries of every shade of tons of products, I would be more methodical. And it would be easier to be more clinical about it.

In addition, I think we have to be realistic about the fact that how you get an item plays a big part.

The most negative reviews on my blog are of products I’ve purchased. Using this review of Tarte Amazonian Clay foundation as an example. My disappointment comes through with every paragraph. I had practically nothing good to say about it. Because I’d wasted some of my hard earned cash on a product which didn’t live up to expectations.

Negative coverage of PR sent products

If I get a product sent by a PR company, which I really dislike, as a rule I wouldn’t share a negative post like that. I’m forever saying I won’t feature items I wouldn’t buy. So if I try something and it’s not for me, I won’t cover it. Coverage on my blog is reserved for products I can recommend or have strong feelings for either way. To take photos and write up a post about something I didn’t like feels like a waste of time. I’m not being paid and this isn’t my job. This does however make my reviews seem disproportionate. The PR reviews featured are always positive. I can see why that might look a bit suspect.

You may also ask, why I’d waste my time writing thousands of words about a makeup product I didn’t like, which I paid for? Simply put, because I’m annoyed. If I’ve bought it, it means I read the reviews. I bought into the hype. And I perhaps feel duped, ripped off, or let down. The consumer in me wants to add a different viewpoint to the collective voice, to stop someone else feeling that way.

Tarte Amazonian Clay Foundation

Negative reviews

A good example of me being potentially bias would be my review of the Too Faced Bon Bon Chocolate palette. Spoiler alert, I didn’t like this palette.

If you want to know why, read the post. But there were some external factors I feel may have influenced my annoyance. I hobbled into town in pain to purchase that as a treat for myself. I didn’t know it at the time but I had a kidney stone which was the route of my pain and discomfort. Days after buying the palette, I ended up in hospital, very unwell and utterly fed up.

I didn’t intend to buy Bon Bon. Originally I had wanted the chocolate palette which was a lot more neutral. I don’t wear a lot of bright pink makeup generally and it’s fair to say during kidney-stone-gate I was feeling less adventurous than normal. Not more.

Admittedly none of these factors are Too Faced’s fault. So in that sense, my review was perhaps a little bias. And someone like Temptalia would almost certainly have done a better job at weighing up the pros and cons from a mutual standpoint.

However it cost £40 and I have felt for a while that Too Faced are overpriced. I had read lots of reviews of both this palette and the chocolate colour way which stated it was amazing. I didn’t read anywhere that it was dry and patchy. So when I took a chance and found just that, I felt extra annoyed. Had I fallen for biased reviews from big influencers? Either way, I was 40 quid down.

If you hated this palette too, you may trust my future reviews more. If you absolutely love it, you might wonder what I’m on about.

Emotion

So you can see, many negative factors went into my review. Including my mood at the time. I know a lot of people adore this palette, so why did I hate it? Can you trust my review? Or was I being unreasonable?

Only you can decide if you would have felt the same. If you like this palette or not. And if you think Too Faced are over-rated or not. As a rule I try to be more diplomatic when reviewing. But on the whole I’m always going to inject more opinion than someone bigger. Just as I imagine a friend would if they were talking about it in passing.

What this review does do well, is serve as a benchmark for me. My tastes and expectations. A bit of background. If you hated this palette too, you may trust my future reviews more. If you absolutely love it, you might wonder what I’m on about.

Had this been sent to me for free, I honestly have no doubt I wouldn’t have been as harsh. That lost £40 added insult to injury at a time when I had little patience. I wouldn’t ever intentionally give a PR sent product an easier ride, but I think we have to be honest. Emotions wouldn’t have played such a part. I lost the time taken to go and buy this. The money. The trust I had placed in the influencers who reviewed it. And the disappointment was entirely mine.

Duty Free makeup - Benefit eyebrow range

Would it be different if it were PR sent?

So had this just turned up in the mail, I would have definitely pointed out the same performance issues, but the emotion wouldn’t have been there. I wouldn’t have sought out the product. Or made an emotional connection with it. So my review may have been more balanced.

What I can assure you, with certainty, is that I would never review something positively because it was sent to me. Or because I was paid. Being sent an item for free doesn’t change my tastes, expectations or likelihood of liking something. I just think it’s really important to know when something was sent VS bought. Because as you can see from the above, it does have an effect on the tone used in reviews (wether most bloggers want to admit it, or not!).

ABH

Makeup On My Blog

I’ve talked about the issues surrounding reviews. How they are largely one person’s opinion. And should be taken with a pinch of salt (and plenty of your own research). But what exactly goes into forming my opinion? It’s no secret that I love makeup. I get excited about new launches and adore my collection. But what factors sway me, when it comes to rating or slating a product?

Quality

If it’s an eyeshadow, does it blend well or look like a mess? Does it have loads of fallout. Is it creamy, or dry? Of course the upmost factor in any review, is if the product itself is any good. Makeup can be innovative, exciting and come in amazing packaging. But if it’s rubbish, it’s rubbish.

Packaging

Whilst the most important aspect is obviously what’s contained within, packaging makes a big difference. Does it look nice in the drawer? Is it practical? Does it excite me? Does it inspire me?

Value For Money

I’m not going to hold a £10 eyeshadow palette to the same standards as a £40 one. But with that said, sometimes the drugstore / cheaper products can outshine the supposed high end ones. I love finding a product which feels like great value for money.

Emotional Connection

As I’ve stated above, sometimes a particular product makes an impression on us. Was it a present? Did you buy it at a particular time or place? Did it exceed your expectations or disappoint? I notice some of my favourite makeup is associated with a memory. Or a place or phase. Anything which reminds me of something instantly stands out. Sometimes makeup reminds me of a certain person whose style I admire. Or a season like Autumn. Emotion plays a big part in our purchasing and also how we view something, even a material object like a piece of makeup.

Is It Inspiring?

I have more than enough makeup. And whilst I reserve purchases for things which are really special -or refills- I am still buying more. The key reason for this, is because something inspires me. I loved the Naked Heat palette and instantly thought about the looks I could create with it. I probably do have similar eyeshadows and could have just bought extra singles. However the palette as a collective inspires looks.

How Does It Make You Feel?

For my birthday I got the Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Bronze and Glow palette. Containing a powder highlight and contour. The product itself is lovely and suits my skintone well. But my love for it goes deeper than that. I love the solid gold packaging and how special it feels. I love that it reminds me of the makeup consoles my Mum would keep in her makeup bag. And I love the simplicity of it. It feels like something I can pull out on even the busiest of new Mum days. To make myself feel more human. Yes, it’s just a palette but it makes me feel nice. And that makes it one of my favourites.

Is It Memorable?

Do you reach for it again? I have bought some makeup which was fine, good even. But then proceeded to forget I have it. The formula for being memorable is a combination of the above points. It stands to reason that products which make us use them frequently are the ones most worth buying.

Authentic Brands

Anastasia Beverly Hills are one of my favourite makeup brands. I love the quality of their products. But I also love the whole story and ethos behind their brand. Norvina is so passionate about makeup and it shows. She would sooner put a project on hold than release something sub par. They push the boundaries and are passionate. I haven’t loved every ABH product I’ve tried. But I have loved most. And I enjoy supporting them as a company.

Then you compare Norvina to say Kylie Jenner. I’m a massive unashamed Kardashians fan, so no shade here. But her makeup line is problematic for me. They white-label products, create huge hype through ‘limited’ restocks and charge an inordinate amount to have the word ‘Kylie’ stamped on. Whilst I pat their brand manager on the back, I have only ever ordered one Kylie product (so I could confirm my views and review). And I won’t be buying anymore.

Ethical Brands

My makeup collection contains a lot of MAC and so is not cruelty free or vegan. However I do favour these products when buying new makeup. I love it when a brand goes out of their way to be ethical. To do things right, the first time around. I was so disappointed in NARS’ recent decision to sell in China. And I’ll never purchase a Jeffree Star product again.

If a brand doesn’t create shades for all skintones, why? When the brand is centred around one person and their behaviour is bad, why should we support them? And if you’re creating an entirely new product and have the option to be vegan and cruelty free, why wouldn’t you?

Urban Decay Alice palette

I hope that by understanding more about how I review products on this blog, they will be of more use. To help rather than hinder if you’re looking for information. And to give you a bit of background about what I look for in makeup. If I love a product, I’m going to rave about it on my blog. It may not work for everyone. And you might not form the same opinion of it. But it will always be my honest opinion.

  • Shelise Saddul

    I love the way your aiming for others admiring your review of a product and seeing if it aligns with them, I defo agree reviews can depend on whats good for you but I do still look up reviews usually when I buy something x

    S x
    SHELISES WORLD

    • Amy

      Thank you Shelise! They are really useful, I always rely on them before making a purchase X

  • This is such a great and insightful post, and it really makes me ponder about how I review products. I typically review more skincare products than makeup, and I think there’s an even bigger pressure (or should I say expectation) for us to sound professional when it comes to ingredients and formula, except very few of us are. In the end, beauty products are very subjective and personal, so it really comes down to documenting my own experiences in the most honest way possible – pictures always help!

    Jenny | Geeky Posh

    • Amy

      Thank you Jenny! I actually would say your skincare reviews are some of my favourites because of the way you review. Your posts remind me of Stephanie Nicole’s in that you do drill down into a lot of information about the ingredients, which I find so useful. I like that you don’t make unsubstantiated claims about those ingredients too. It’s just very handy to be able to see what is contained within something, as there are certain ingredients I look out for. X

  • This is such an in-depth honest post and I was absolutely captivated. You put into words exactly how I view these little aspects of the blogging community and all the things that come along with it. I especially relate to the fact that you don’t waste time making negative reviews – it really is something you shouldn’t focus on and rather you should migrate your attention to things you genuinely feel strongly about.

    I also agree with the way you state where a product was sent to you – I feel more honest and personal with my readers this way as well.

    Much love and please, keep up the fantastic work!

    Imogen, http://www.faux-silk.com

    • Amy

      Thank you Imogen! It’s a tricky subject, there are some negative aspects to what we do for sure. I completely agree about the negative PR reviews. If I had a particularly bad experience -where I felt I was almost complicit by not writing about it- I would always post but thankfully it hasn’t happened yet. Some products aren’t going to appeal to everyone or work for us all. I think it’s so important to disclose properly, the way some of the larger YouTuber’s carry on is ridiculous in my opinion. Thanks so much X

  • OMG this palette looks absolutely stunning I have been wanting to try Tarte or Too Faced palette for a really long time – but having to ship them from US is a mission and pricey

    Beauty Candy Loves

    • Amy

      Re: the Too Faced palette you might want to read the review before going to the effort, I hated it! But as I’ve said above, it’s so subjective, don’t let me put you off! I was lucky with Tarte and got it bought back from the US by a friend, although QVC here occassionally stock them which is handy X

  • I enjoyed reading this post Amy! I kept nodding my head at what you wrote. I have a hard time trusting big influencers. They’re usually bound by a contract stating that they will only talk positive about a product. Well everything can’t be perfect! That’s why I enjoyed working 3 years with Aveeno. When I didn’t like something, they did not penalize me. I always say why when I don’t like something. I believe in bad reviews, because it may save another person money. I’m very cutthroat when it comes to reviewing products. I don’t care how the brand feels. My blog has always been for the benefit of the consumer. My readers. That’s who comes first.

    http://www.averysweetblog.com/

    • Amy

      Thank you! I’m so glad. Same here, it’s just so unethical! I get that everyone wants to make their $$$ but when all honesty goes out the window, it feels like dodgy ground to me. They sound like a brilliant brand to work with. I think bad reviews are important as you say. And I love how honestly you review products, I find your reviews very useful X

  • Woah, really impressed by this post! Of course it’s almost impossible to give a completely unbiased review, but I definitely trust bloggers who seem to keep it real! I love Makeup Magpie/Gemma etc’s posts because I 100% trust her opinion. She makes me part with all my cash.

    We always turn down products but I must admit we fall into the ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’ when it comes to PR reviews we do accept . There are countless products I haven’t written about because they were crap. I had an awful festival experience last year which I never wrote about, I won the tickets but I’m sure the PR guys wanted a feature… It was so bad that I couldn’t bring myself to even rant about it. Ha!

    T x
    P.S I miss the Livejournal days – that’s how J & I met!

    • Amy

      Thanks Tara! Those are the bloggers who get it right IMO, the ones who make you want to buy something not because they’ve banged on about it so much, but because you can trust them.

      I think it’s the best way to be. I’m a hell of a lot less experienced than you guys but I don’t think you get to where you are, by slating things you’ve been given an opportunity to try. It’s someone’s business at the end of the day and almost all things we hate may be absolutely loved by the next person. If something was really bad, like unethical somehow or a total rip off and I felt almost complicit by not speaking out, I would give it a bad review. But thankfully that hasn’t happened yet! I remember ages ago seeing that you opted to only post one review of a product because it didn’t work for one of you. I loved that. It builds instant trust.

      Ahh no! I think that’s the thing, to rant about something not only takes energy, you have to edit your photos, write a load of content. It’s just not worth it! I don’t think anyone would consider that unethical.

      Ah amazing! It was a simpler time haha. X

  • This post is too real! I stopped reading and following some “big influencers” especially vloggers because they often exaggerate their explanation. They set the bar too high and when you got the product, it’s actually just mediocre 🙁 I’ve mentioned this on my blog before when I finally tried a product I stayed away from for so long because it has so much hype. And yes, reviews are subjective. That’s why when there’s a really negative comment about my review whether I like the product or not I always say, “We all have different skin types, skin tones, and we live in places with different weather so what may works on me may not work on you, and what doesn’t work on me may work with you”

    xx Alyssa // STYLE VANITY

    • Amy

      Totally! It’s so disappointing when that happens. I think reviews like that are so much more meaningful. Nothing is perfect so when people are raving about a different product each day it makes me suspicious. Thanks for your comment Alyssa X

  • Thanks for being honest Amy, I learnt from this post. As a small, new blogger I always tell the truth about the products I review but I know this is so subjective… I stopped buying highly raved products unless I check them out and love them too. Hype and quality don’t always match… thanks for this post!
    http://www.rougenapples.com

    • Amy

      “Hype and quality don’t always match” – This is SO true! X