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.
This is going to be a long one! You can skip to the following sections:
- Some Of My Favourite Products, I’ve Reviewed
- How Do Bloggers Get ‘Free’ Stuff?
- Are my reviews bias?
- Makeup On My Blog
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.
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.
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.
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.
Some Of My Favourite Products, I’ve Reviewed:
- Anastasia Beverly Hills Modern Renaissance Palette
- Tarte In Bloom Palette
- Bobbi Brown Face Base
- Master Palette By Mario For Anastasia Beverly Hills
- Urban Decay Naked Heat Palette
- Anastasia Beverly Hills Cream Contour Palette
- Sleek Precious Metals Highlight Palette
- Makeup Geek Single Eyeshadows
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.