TikTok’s beauty influencers are known for driving major sales spikes — but not necessarily with their own brands.
As beauty YouTubers became embroiled in money-losing drama over the past several years, brands shifted their sights to TikTokers. Comparatively wholesome with a proven ability to set off viral product trends, TikTok influencers emerged as the obvious new guard of collab partners. But in the past week, TikToker-affiliated beauty collabs and sub-brands have had their fair share of setbacks. Following a pivot from YouTube influencer to TikTok influencer collabs in recent years, Morphe shuttered all its U.S. stores last week, and its parent company Forma Brands announced its bankruptcy filing on Thursday. It was also revealed last week that Selfless by Hyram and Addison Rae’s Item Beauty are exiting Sephora.
“TikTok’s algorithm has driven users to explore new content via the ‘For You’ page, rather than solely invest in a handful of influencers,” said Jesse Rubinstein, founder of social media production agency Hello There Collective. “[This] is starkly dissimilar from influencer interaction on Instagram and YouTube.”
After cutting ties with Jeffree Star in 2020 and James Charles in 2021 following multiple controversies, Morphe brought its collab model to TikTok’s biggest influencers. It enlisted the D’Amelio sisters for its Morphe 2 launch in 2020 and currently sells the Born Dreamer fragrance by Charli D’Amelio. Other TikTok influencer collabs have included those with Avani Gregg in 2021, Meredith Duxbury in March 2022 and Abby Roberts in October 2022. Meanwhile, Addison Rae’s Item Beauty was launched by Ipsy in 2020 and made its way into Sephora the following year. Skinfluencer Hyram Yarbro’s Selfless by Hyram brand was introduced in 2021 by The Inkey List as a Sephora exclusive.
Yarbro confirmed to Glossy via email that, “due to changes in direction and retail adjustments, Selfless by Hyram products have been winding down at Sephora,” with plans to “expand into new retailers that allow the product line to be more accessible to consumers.” While Sephora and Ipsy did not comment on Item Beauty, a Business Insider report stated that an industry source had confirmed it was being pulled from Sephora. All Item Beauty products on Sephora.com are discounted at more than 50%, as of Thursday.
Currently, the D’Amelios are no longer involved with Morphe 2. Yarbro’s Instagram and TikTok profiles only promote his new coffee brand. Rae’s bios do not feature Item Beauty, but her TikTok profile links to her fragrance brand.
The wave of new TikTok brands and collabs came at a time when many YouTuber collabs and beauty brands saw stark declines. Morphe’s decision to cut ties with Charles and Star led to a 66% revenue decline in the first 10 months of 2021 for products related to Star, Charles and Jaclyn Hill, according to a Bloomberg report citing a Morphe company presentation. Tati Westbrook, who was known for sparking beauty YouTube’s first “Dramageddon” crisis, shut down her beauty line Tati Beauty in November 2021. Makeup Geek, founded by beauty YouTuber Marlena Stell, closed in April 2022.
“Collaborations with influencers like Jaclyn Hill and James Charles [catered to] a very specific demographic because of their loyal fanbases. As those influencers lose relevancy in the beauty industry and the market becomes heavily saturated with others, authenticity gets lost,” said Adam Heitzman, co-founder of digital marketing agency Higher Visibility.
According to some experts, the influx of both influencer and celebrity beauty brands over recent years has made the market more competitive as a whole.
“The space is already crowded and there is rising consumer fatigue and skepticism with each new influencer brand launched,” said Ryan Nelson, co-founder and celebrity brand expert at VC studio and brand incubator Jobi. “Gone are the days where you can launch a mediocre product and gain success by pairing it with whatever influencer you happen to strike a deal with.” But he certainly doesn’t feel that the celebrity brand model is dead. Jobi was behind the launch of Courteney Cox’s Homecourt and invested in Kate Hudson’s Inbloom.
Experts have noted that the traditional YouTube influencer brand model may not always work with TikTok influencers. There’s no doubt that TikTok influencers have had a significant impact on sales through viral trends. MAC Cosmetics’ viral MacStack mascara, for example, was called out as a sales driver in Estée Lauder Companies’ fiscal third-quarter financial report, thanks to viral posts by Duxbury and Mikayla Nogueira.
The TikToker brands have also seen their viral product moments. Item Beauty’s Lip Quip lip gloss saw a sales boost from a viral trend started by Rae in July this year, but that couldn’t keep the brand in Sephora.
“Due to TikTok’s fast-paced nature, it’s hard to create a stable sense of loyal fans,” said Heitzman. “Videos are posted to be engaged quickly before moving onto the next. The algorithm is made to showcase the videos to a new wave of users with each refresh, so followers tend to engage with creators less. In comparison to other platforms where it takes much longer to accumulate followers and you have to nurture relationships more, TikTok is primed for fast accumulation of followers, where less of a connection has to be made.”
While Morphe did not provide comments for this article, its executives have acknowledged the platforms’ differences in the past. In a 2021 interview with Glossy, Forma Brands’ then-CEO Myles McCormick stated that “TikTok tends to be much more disruptive content, and the content creators are different.” He left the company in January 2022.
Experts recommend brands think through their strategies before jumping into a TikTok influencer collab. According to Nelson, many influencer brands have been “lacking in a point of differentiation and sometimes only executed halfway.” Companies should make sure they have this point of differentiation, as well as an “authentic brand fit” and “strong execution” with new brands, he said. Otherwise, brands can work with TikTok influencers in other ways.
“Due to TikTok’s algorithm that pushes content to the ‘For You’ page, a micro-influencer strategy yields the best returns for TikTok,” said Rubinstein. “This algorithmic shift from YouTube has allowed beauty brands to take a wide approach and drive reach at scale with a diverse group of creators.”