Don’t Pitch Your Vulva Highlighter To Caroline Hirons And Other Things She Wants You To Know
Sorry beauty industry, but Caroline Hirons can’t support a lot of what you’re doing today. Thankfully for you and consumers, she’ll inform you about your issues and help you address them because she loves you. “It’s a great industry to work in,” says the no-holds-barred blogger. “If I’m raging, it’s because I want the industry to be taken seriously. We have a major problem being taken seriously by government. I want it to be taken seriously as a career option for people.” Hirons’ 30-plus years of professional experience spanning retail, aesthetics, social media and brand consultation shows a serious beauty career is possible. It may take healthy doses of British humor and colorful language to endure it, though. In a wide-ranging chat with Beauty Independent, Hirons sprinkled in plenty of words that are unlikely to be repeated in future profiles (we challenge upcoming interviewees to drop the word “fouf” into conversations) while offering her singular insights on everything from Amazon to ageism and anti-vaxxers to vajazzling.
How’s the beauty industry doing confronting ageism?
To be honest, I don’t know if it will ever be any different. I think we can make more noise and certain brands will always respond, but I think it’s lip service. A few big brands have responded by doing campaigns with older women on social media, but you’ve yet to see those women in the actual advertising campaigns. So, where we decide to spend our money is going to be at the forefront of it.
It’s the same as the fashion industry saying don’t use teenage underweight girls. That’s never going to change. You’re never going to see a 50-year-old woman on the runway unless she’s famous. The fuss that was made when the original supermodels all showed for Versace last year was insane. It was like, “Oh, wow, look, women old enough to have given birth on the runway.” Sorry, I don’t think [ageism is] going anywhere, but I won’t stop complaining about it, although I hate complaining, so I’d rather see it as mentioning that it could be better.
What do you think about the term anti-aging?
It depends on what you use as an alternative because some of the alternatives I’ve seen — “youth enhancing” — are not useful. I have no desire to be youthful. The bigger a hole we give these marketing departments to dig, the deeper they go. OK, we can’t say anti-aging, so we’ll go for youthful. I wouldn’t be in my 20s again if you paid me. I know it’s hard for a 20-year-old to think that someone who’s nearly 50 would say that, but I genuinely would never ever be in my 20s again. All we want to do is make the best of how we look now and stop being criticized for allowing ourselves to age because we’re all going to age.
I said years and years ago on YouTube, “Aging is a privilege that not everyone gets, so why would we be anti-aging?” That seemed to resonate with a lot of people. I still get people quoting it now, years later. I like the Nora Ephron quote where she says, “Honey, when you’re my age, if I could go back to being your age again, I’d walk around in a bikini all day long.” When I see people saying, “I’m thinking of having this bit Botoxed,” I look at them and go, “I have no idea what you see. I am telling you your skin is perfection. What are you doing?”
Women, and boys as well, but more so women, we’ve been taught to look in the mirror and find our faults. I’d much rather look in the mirror and go, not looking like complete shit today. Well done. Looks like you’ve had sleep. Your eyes don’t look like two piss holes in the snow. If I can say that, then, hopefully that will emanate through the blog and in the Skincare Freaks group on Facebook. We don’t have any negative chat. We won’t let anyone talk badly about themselves or tear apart celebrities. I’m just not here for it. We have a limited time on earth. Why are you going to use it with this bullshit?
There’s a brand that shall not be named that starts with a “D” and ends with an “m.” What can other brands and people working with brands learn from that situation?
I don’t know if the average normal person needs to learn anything because I don’t think it’s a way that normal people would behave. I don’t give it any time anymore. Once you started using your customers, where have you got left to go? If that’s the level of arrogance you operate at, then, that tells me quite clearly who you are and what you stand for. So, we’re done, and I mean that in as much of a respectful way as I can. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed anything quite like it. I don’t think there needs to be learnings because it’s such an extreme case.
It also shows that people will do anything for cheap product, sadly, and they’ve been funny on that, [claiming,] “This product is as good as something else.” I think most of the industry would say it isn’t. That’s the frustration because, if you speak out against it, you’re a troll, which is the biggest gaslighting irony of all. Most of the people I speak to, we’ve all moved on already, but the business is still there. Who knows what will happen, but I won’t give it any more credence or coverage.
What about the use of terms such as natural, organic and clean? What do you think of them?
I still have frustrations. I think it’s a lot of marketing. If I could delete one phrase from the entire dictionary, it would be “nontoxic” because nothing in skincare that you put on your face is going to be toxic. We’re talking as if we have lead in lipsticks. Stop lying to people. Stop marketing to people. People are very intelligent. You’re making yourself look foolish by saying things like “nontoxic” and “doesn’t cause cancer.” To be fair, though, the U.S. is behind Europe and the U.K. We went through the paraben phase years ago and, now, the U.S. is on board, and we’re kind of, well, maybe we should use parabens again.
There’s a reason that a lot of American brands can’t come over here because they won’t get passed by the EU because their labeling is skewed, and it’s skewed to read better for them. The EU is like, no, you have to do it this way. You can’t say aqueous extracts. That should be water. Of course, the irony is there is no cleaner product than a synthetically-led product because there is no scope for anything to grow in it at all. That in itself makes me laugh. “We’re a clean product,” right, but you actually could have some bacterial growth because your parabens have gone. You’re using preservatives that haven’t been tested for 20 years. I bet you, if we did a patch test in some kind of petri dish, the synthetic product would be cleaner, technically, if you’re using the word the way it should be used.
If you want to call yourself organic, knock yourself out, but just make sure you’re organic. If you want to call yourself natural, I would err on the side of caution. It’s too easy to say, “We’re 95% natural.” What if 5% is a synthetic fragrance or a paraben? Then, you’ve negated your whole formula to people expecting you to walk the walk. Someone like Josh Rosebrook, I would trust implicitly. There are other brands I’m less inclined to.
Also, this is going to maybe sting some people, but putting your product in a fridge does not fill me with security that your product is stable. If it’s stable, why is it in a fridge? Did you not do stability testing? Did you not do compatibility testing? Did you make it in your kitchen and just bring it in the back of your car? I’m not the biggest fan of that. I think it’s just marketing and hype.
Let’s talk about the boxes you’ve done with Cult Beauty and Space NK.
I think I’ve done nine in total with Cult Beauty. The latest one with Space NK was a Clean Decoded box. When they said they were doing a clean campaign, I kind of guffawed. When they said, “Actually it’s more Clean Decoded. What does the word ‘clean’ mean? What does ‘vegan’ mean? What does ‘animal testing’ mean?” Then, I was more interested. If I’m able to challenge the brands, then I’m all for it. We had great conversations with brand owners. It shows you which brand owners really believe what they’re saying.
It was really successful, and I thought they were quite brave to ask me to do it. There are 100 other more traditional wellness people. [Space NK] said, “That’s exactly what we don’t want because who’s going to pay attention to it? No one new is going to pay attention to it because they’re probably already following that person, whereas if you come along and go, ‘Well, actually, please don’t say nontoxic. What do you mean? Give us more info than that,’ we’re much more likely to engage in conversation.”
What’s your take on the controversy over influencer pay?
You’ve got it harder in the U.S. than over here. There was a sort of meltdown amongst big YouTubers over there recently, and we don’t really have that over here. We’re far too British to have that sort of thing. If anyone over here has a spat, it’s like a half a day spat on Instagram or Twitter. Then, everyone moves on.
I hate the word influencer. I won’t sign any paperwork that calls me an influencer. It’s a marketing term. I’m not here to market your brand. Yes, I can influence if I recommend something, but I don’t do it for the brand’s benefit. I do it to benefit my readers. To be called an influencer dismisses my qualifications. This is how I see it.
One of my friends is working with a brand that wants her to have a clause in the contract that says she will delete any negative comments about the product. That’s really common. She refused, and they are at a standoff because she will not sign the contract saying I will take out any negative comments about the product. What makes me laugh is a lot of attention is focused on bloggers, influencers and YouTubers, when actually there are brands who behave really, really badly.
There are those of us at the forefront of blogging for nearly 10 years like me who are saying, “If you want me to talk about your product, that’s a conversation.” It can’t be a one-way street. I am not going to have a comment thread that’s just praise if the reality is, for example, your packaging doesn’t work. I’ve done that before where I’ve blogged about something and said I’ve had this a couple of weeks, it seems great, and people have said, “Oh God, I’ve had it a month, and it’s clogged up. Yours might do the same.” It does and, then, I give the feedback and, eventually, you get the product changed. That’s how you progress.
The big ones are the worst. The bigger the company, the more clauses they want. That’s why I don’t do a lot of big deals. There’s a reason I don’t work in corporate. When I’m sitting there reading a contract, it makes me itchy.
How do you like to work with brands?
If I find a brand that I like and I’ve mentioned it on a blog or a YouTube video, they’ll generally email and say, “Thank you,” or send me more product. We start talking and, then, sometimes it’ll be a product that isn’t available in the U.K. yet, and I’ll say, “Are you coming to the U.K.? Because when I blog about you, U.K. retailers are going want you. If you want any advice about where to go and where not to go, by all means drop me a line.”
I like working with indie brands. Corporate [brands] always think they know better, whereas a niche independent brand really takes value in what people like me have to say, and more from the consulting side, which is my day job, rather than the blog side, although they do appreciate that as well. I like the passion of brands who are really keen, really fresh. I love the consulting side of it as much, if not more than, the blog side of it some days, because the work is fun and interesting, and it is my industry. I’ve been working in the industry longer than I’ve been writing about it. It just so happened that writing about it became this other revenue stream.
What brands have you worked with to launch in the U.K.?
May Lindstrom had pulled herself out [of the U.K.] because she was worried that the retailers weren’t rotating stock and keeping it fresh. May’s thing is everything has to be used up by certain point, and she just wasn’t happy that the customer service she gives was being replicated. So, she pulled all of our retailers in the U.K. with the exception of one, but now she’s launched in Space NK in five doors, which is great for her and great for our industry. What May brings to the table is passion and standards. That can only have a good effect on other people and brands.
We’re working with Max and Me. That’s very new. We’re going to Indie Beauty Expo in London with them. That was a recommendation of Josh Rosebrook, a mutual friend. What a great mutual friend to have. Ilia is another smaller brand that we’re about to start helping in Space NK, which will be fun. It’s nice to work with color. It’s fun to be with people from the beginning of the journey and, then, send them on their way. It’s a bit like we get them in kindergarten, and we help them get through school and graduate.
Who are other brands you love?
Kate Somerville, I’ve used for years. Zelens is at the top of its game in terms of ingredients and clinical trials. I love Josh [Rosebrook]. I love Jordan Samuel. I like DCL. I’ve worked with Pixi for numerous years now, and that’s really great affordable skincare. I’m really fortunate in that I’ve got myself into a position where I don’t have to work with people I don’t want to work with. Being able to say no is wonderful. I love the fact that, if people want to work with me, that gives them a certain amount of bravery in my eyes because they know I’m not going lie to them to keep them happy.
What are relatively inexpensive products that you think give the best bang for the buck?
I would look at brands like Garden of Wisdom. They’re on Victoria Health. The Inkey List is a new one that’s just launched here. All the formulas are under 10 pounds. For me, it doesn’t matter how much anything costs, it has to work. Beauty Pie is a great brand, and that’s available in America. It’s a membership club, but the benefit you get back far outweighs the monthly fee. If people want really good affordable body products, I’m likely to send them to a CVS for CeraVe and Aveeno. I love a pharmacy shop when I’m in the States.
What are other products you make sure to pick up at U.S. pharmacies?
Oh God, everything. The first thing we do is hit Duane Reade, Target, Walgreens, CVS, anything. When I get Americans coming over to the U.K., it’s the same thing. They all want to go to Boots and we’re all like, “Why do you want to go to Boots or Superdrug? It’s just where we get our shave cream.” We’re all the same. If you’re a beauty junkie, you’re a beauty junkie. And you guys have great over-the-counter stuff that we don’t have over here. We also have things over here that you can’t buy over there. When I go and see friends over there, I go shopping for my stash to bring back. We’re all insane. That’s the moral of the story.
In the States, when I’m in Target, because I don’t need to buy Pixi, I look at things like Pacifica. You used to be able to get Pacifica over here in the supermarket, and it’s harder to find now. And it’s always half the price in the States. Of course, that’s the big thing. American brands are at least half of the price. And, once Brexit happens, God knows how much it will be.
What beauty bloggers do you respect?
I’m friends with Stephanie Nicole in LA. She’s very similar to me. There is no way any bullshit gets past her. I love Jackie Aina. I met Jackie I think on my first trip to LA, and we’ve been in contact ever since. Like attracts like. I wouldn’t be able to socialize with someone who I know is just actively bullshitting people on social media.
You’ve been outspoken about anti-vaxxers. What responsibility do you feel you have to use your platform to speak out about matters like vaccines?
I generally say live and let live, but, if it’s something that I feel really strongly about or I’ve been affected by, I’m much more likely to be passionate about it and vocal about it online. Our son was deathly ill last year with mumps. He’d had the inoculation. He was supposed to have his boosters. He was hospitalized for a week in critical care. He’s 23-years-old, built like a big stocky footballer. If he had been a small child, he wouldn’t be here. So, when Kat Von D put a post up saying she was going to raise a vegan child [with] no inoculations, it sent me through the roof. I was apoplectic just because [of] the ignorance. When you know better, you do better, and I definitely come from that place. As a mother, I would be ranting on social media about getting your kids inoculated if I had a following of 10 people or half million.
What do you think about the latest feminine hygiene movement and all the fanny products?
We’ve always had a feminine hygiene movement. It’s called showering. It’s a self-cleaning oven. You don’t want to be using too strong of a shower gel because no one likes thrush. In general, you can just let it be. You don’t need to spray things up it. Just stop. What else could they possibly tell us we need to fix as women? What else do we possibly have to take care of?
Someone sent me a screen grab from a brand on Instagram talking about highlighter for the vulva. I was like, if a dude or a woman is down there, and they think it could be a little lighter, you’re with the wrong person. A highlighter, what am I going to do with it? You want me to vajazzle my fouf? There aren’t many words for how that makes me feel, to be honest. I wouldn’t even know where to begin, but I’m not going to be highlighting my fanny. This is why our great grandmothers fought in the streets [as] suffragettes, so we can put a fucking highlighter on our vulva?
What are your thoughts on Amazon?
It’s huge here, but it’s not huge in beauty, and I think it will take a lot longer to penetrate. We’re much snobbier about it. Over here, Amazon is seen as an American company that doesn’t pay its taxes, but we all still use it. We’re all hypocrites. We’ll use it, but we’ll all rage that they don’t pay their taxes.
For beauty, I don’t think it’s going to happen in a hurry. When you find Chanel and Estée Lauder with their own stores on Amazon, then I’ll take it seriously. I actually say to small indie brands that are coming over from the States, “If you’re on Amazon, it’s going to be harder for me to put you in a good website in the U.K.” It’s as close to frowned upon as you can get. It’s still seen as online with no speciality [and] no voice about beauty. If a brand can sell somewhere like Cult Beauty, spacenk.com or net-a-porter.com, they offer free shipping [and] ship worldwide. They don’t need Amazon. They’re on a site that takes beauty seriously.
I also don’t like the way they blackmail brands, which is absolutely what they do. [Amazon says,] “If you have your own store on Amazon, we can control all the third-party sellers.” Well, why can’t you control the third-party sellers when we just advised you [about them]? What you’re telling me is it’s not worth your while doing it unless you want to use it as a tool to blackmail me to get onto your site. I know it sounds bad, but I secretly like that there’s one part of our economy that it hasn’t been able to penetrate. I like that we’re quite snobbish about it because it is a speciality. You want to talk to experts. So, until they get that bit and until they treat brands with respect, I will still be saying no.