The internet has messed up make-up. Would Kylie Jenner’s range be as successful without her name behind it?
Heidi Yeung
Heidi Yeung

What has Instagram done to make-up? How it became intimidating and lost individuality as influencers and bad advice took over

  • The internet is full of make-up tutorials, so-so celebrity launches, influencers’ advice and ridiculous hacks
  • Complex, overdone make-up examples intimidate faithful followers, and homogenise our individuality

Let’s talk make-up.

Aside from being a lifelong beauty enthusiast, I also trained as a make-up artist, and had Rae Morris, the longest serving make-up director of L’Oreal Paris, as a guest instructor. The training gave me the confidence to do the make-up for my friends’ weddings and photoshoots, but it’s also made me critical when it comes to make-up I see online.

Robert Welsh, a professional make-up artist and YouTuber, says it best: “Individuality and creativity have no rules, but make-up most definitely has a theory.” And it’s this theory that’s being butchered online, along with the understanding of cosmetics.

The proliferation of bad advice on social media has resulted in a misunderstanding of how make-up works, and people have forgotten there’s a science to it. Sure, some of the beauty hacks will work, but many are click bait-y thumbnails. That’s about it.

Kylie Jenner with a heavy, complex make-up look.

Seriously, it’s hard to go on Instagram without seeing ridiculous hacks or tutorials. I particularly hate the ones that use way too much product, or unconventional tools as beauty aids. Sometimes it’s not only excessive, it’s unhygienic and harmful.

What I dislike even more is what some call “Instagram make-up”, and my problem with it is threefold.

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First, it promotes techniques that aren’t universal and makes it seem like it suits everyone. It also makes make-up seem intimidating.

Many friends have asked for tips on how to do a simple make-up look that enhances their features, and leave surprised at how manageable it is. I’m convinced it’s because they see overly complicated tutorials online, and think that’s what an everyday look entails.

Second, by doing make-up in exactly the same way, everyone ends up looking the same, and that’s a waste of our natural beauty. It also means we don’t see as much diversity online.


Third, “Instagram make-up” borrows so much from drag make-up, but without credit. People don’t realise the techniques are originating from a marginalised subculture.

A full beat with snatched contour, blinding highlight, flawless cut crease, perfectly arched ombre brows, razor sharp lip, and all baked to withstand any climate? You have the gorgeous queens to thank for that.

Then there are “hacks” that are complete nonsense, many of which render results that last only as long as the video you’re watching.

Rihanna’s Fenty is an incredibly popular inclusive beauty range.

Social media also gave rise to influencers – who aren’t the problem, by the way, they’re just making a living.

Having said that, many of them have no business offering make-up tips based on what works for them on camera as something universal, which creates misconceptions. You may think misunderstandings online aren’t a big deal, but when these notions drive sales, they generate huge deals.

Take review videos, for example, which created this expectation that everything should be super pigmented, and resulted in brands formulating products to meet those expectations.

There’s also the almost cult-like social media following of influencers and celebrities, which drives sales and is probably why so many have started their own brands, or collaborated with existing ones.
Selena Gomez created Rare Impact along with Rare Beauty to highlight the importance of mental health.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with jumping on an opportunity, but it does dilute the market somewhat when a new label launches every fortnight, and a new collection every week. Where a new launch was once exciting, nowadays it’s just Tuesday. Also, some celebrity brands just don’t make sense.

Having a love of make-up is great, but it isn’t reason enough to start your own line unless you can bring something new to the table, like Rihanna did, and that’s why I love Fenty. Because it forced the beauty industry to acknowledge it is possible to launch a diverse range and that consumers will buy it.

Similarly, I love that Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty features packaging that some with dexterity challenges have said makes it easier to use, and Rare Impact highlights the importance of mental health.

So it’s strange when someone like Lady Gaga launches a beauty brand. I adore her as a musician and actress, but did Haus Laboratories really make any waves? Then there is the relaunch of Kylie Cosmetics, but if you take away the Kylie Jenner factor, would the brand still be as coveted?

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The truth is, as long as online platforms sustain this relationship between content creators and followers, and followers continue to purchase out of devotion, and brands continue to pay attention to this cycle, the industry will continue to be diluted by excess and misconceptions.

Make-up is meant to be fun and individualistic, but it’s becoming intimidating and homogenous; and the joy of owning something special has been buried by an everlasting avalanche of new releases.

To be fair, most of these launches and collections are fine; but that’s it. They’re fine. Nothing wrong with them. They’re just fine. The beauty industry is inundated with things that are just fine, leaving very little room for things that are innovative and intentional, and that’s how social media has ruined make-up.