Beauty bloggers turn entrepreneurs

02/24/2014 12:00 AM

02/24/2014 5:53 AM

On her popular blog,, Cara Brook, 28, sings the praises of highlighting and contouring one’s facial features, a process she refers to as HAC’ing (pronounced “hacking”). She gleaned the technique, in which a color a few shades darker than the skin is used to create shadows on the edges and in the hollows of the face while a slightly lighter one plays up the high planes of the cheekbones, nose, forehead and chin, from books by the makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin, which she pored over as a teenager obsessed with the beauty business. “It’s a magical thing,” she effused in a how-to video.

Last Black Friday at midnight, Brook, who lives in Las Vegas, began selling her own Maskcara-branded IIID Foundation through her blog (a “HAC pack” is $47, a foundation, $26). The line, Brook said, is the fulfillment of a childhood dream that would not be possible without the support of her readers. “They’re so intelligent, down to earth and sweet,” she said.

In what some may call the ultimate vanity project, a new generation of beauty bloggers is parlaying social-media success into entrepreneurship.

The most famous of these is Michelle Phan, 28, a former illustration student who began posting makeup tutorials on YouTube in 2007 and now has over 5 million subscribers there. After collaborating with Lancome in 2010, Phan this year introduced a makeup line called Em Cosmetics, backed by L’Oreal, Lancome’s parent corporation, recruiting her followers as models and crowdsourcing some of the color names. The products include a contour and highlighter stick called Chiaroscuro ($24); collections of eye shadow, blush and lipstick laid out like artists’ palettes; and skinny eyeliners called Waterliners ($18 apiece). “That’s such a YouTube term,” Phan said, referring to the strip of skin between the eyeball and the lower eyelid that makeup artists like to shade for a smoky look or lighten for a big-eyed effect.

Less known is Maria Morrison, 39, of Melbourne, Fla., who began a nail-polish blog featuring color swatches and reviews of various polish brands while her husband, John, was deployed with the Air Force to Greenland for a year in 2010. A quest for the perfect shade of purple nail polish led her to create her own, which she called My Kind of Cool Aid and sells along with other shades for $12 through her online business, Cult Nails. The line is, she said, “as organically made as possible,” and is vegan and cruelty-free, based on the input of a teenage daughter (she has three) who is a vegetarian. “That’s not something you hear about in nail polishes,” Morrison said. “It’s a void we’ve been filling.”

Brook, named Allure magazine’s Beauty Blogger of the Year in 2013, said her innovation came from frustration with the highlighting and contouring products on the market, which “baffled” her. She ordered some raw ingredients with the idea that she would create her own makeup. “That didn’t work,” she said wryly. “But it taught me a lot.”

Morrison said that she had slipped business cards to potential customers in dressing rooms at Target and once sent polish to someone who complimented her own nails in a line at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla. Until this year, when she began displaying her polishes at trade shows, she spent no money marketing Cult Nails, relying instead on online word of mouth. Instagram, she said, had become her best marketing tool beyond the blog, leading her to a customer base interested in getting to know the face behind her company. “I post outfits, photos of my dog, plus nail polish,” she said. “You get a little bit of everything.”

Brook has done no traditional advertising for her line, either, relying instead on a question-and-answer blog post, an accompanying video she made demonstrating her products on her own face, and posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. When Brook recently wrote a series about HAC’ing for different face shapes, she realized quickly from the comments on the posts that her readers had no clue what shape faces they actually had. So she asked them to post photos to Instagram using the hashtag #spotmyshape and allow other readers to weigh in.

Karri Moss, 41, of Joliet, Ill., avidly reads beauty blogs and watches YouTube makeup tutorials. She said that any line in which you see the face behind the product seemed more accessible. “As a consumer,” she said, “it makes me think, ‘She knows what I want, because she wants it herself.’ ”

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