by Michelle Bateman
06 April 2018
It’s easy to spot the beauty writer on a magazine, newspaper supplement or website: they’ll be the one on a first-name basis with the mailroom guys, thanks to daily (sometimes hourly) deliveries from companies like Clinique, Dior and Lancôme. As you stroll by their (very fragrant) desks piled high with said deliveries, it can be tempting to think you might like to turn your hand to this beauty writing lark.
But do you really have what it takes? From the outside, it all looks like perfume and parties – and yes, there are an awful lot of both – but being a beauty writer is about more than perfecting Kardashian-level facial contouring. Here are a few other skills you’ll need to have up your sleeve.
Do you know what telomeres are and why they’re worth saving? The various merits of encapsulated versus lipid delivery systems? Or why you’d want to “promote optimum stimulation of hyaluronic acid synthesis”?*
That last one is a direct quote from a beauty press release, by the way, and the language is not unusual for this industry. You won’t be expected to know this stuff when you’re starting out, but you will need an interest in understanding how the skin works. Beauty writers and editors are exposed to a fair amount of biology and have the chance to interview leading R&D scientists; I’ve even visited a few laboratories in my time.
It’s our job to decode what it all means and interpret it in a way that’s interesting and useful for our audience. When this is done poorly, or when (horror!) a journo simply copy-pastes from the press release, readers understandably roll their eyes and think it’s all a bit hocus-pocus, when good science is actually behind a lot of the products.
Fortunately I became a beauty ed PYT (pre-YouTube), a time when it was acceptable for us to interview makeup artists, rather than actually being one.
These days, however, a beauty writer or editor is expected to have some of the same skills as beauty vloggers, including the ability to demonstrate their makeup or hairstyling know-how on camera. As with many other industries, video has encroached on beauty journalism and it’s now no longer enough to simply write about the topic. Even print publications have websites and the beauty editor is often front-and-centre in their videos.
No matter how grandiose the claims made in a presentation or media kit, a beauty writer needs to know how far they’re allowed to take it in an article. And this isn’t just common sense – it’s the law. The TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) has firm rules about the kind of claims that can be made relating to cosmetic products, even when it’s included in editorial. A product might “diminish the look of lines”, but it certainly can’t “erase wrinkles”. It’s a subtle but significant difference and getting it wrong can mean falling foul of the TGA, which can see a publication slapped with a fine and forced to print a large retraction. Needless to say, making this mistake won’t win you any favours with editors, publishers and colleagues.
As in many other corners of journalism, beauty writers and editors tend to have a close relationship with the brands and PRs that they regularly work with. The difference is that in beauty, this isn’t just about scoring an exclusive interview or the scoop on a hot new launch. For many years, beauty brands have been among the biggest advertisers in traditional media, so there’s a commercial aspect to these relationships, too. Savvy beauty editors are brand champions for their publications, ensuring that the right message is always delivered to the key decision makers. At the same time, no one wants editorial to sound like a sales pitch, so you’ll need a knack for the extracting information that’s most meaningful to your audience.
So if you can marry science with sales and lipstick with law, a career as a beauty writer or editor could be for you. Not surprisingly, it can be a competitive field to break into and most start out as interns before working their way up through the ranks. But those of us who love it couldn’t imagine a better job.
*For the record: telomeres are the tips at the end of each strand of DNA; they naturally fray as we age, stopping cells from reproducing properly and leading to signs of ageing. Delivery systems help the active ingredients in skincare to penetrate the skin to get to where they can do the most work. Lipid delivery is thought to better penetrate a skin cell’s membrane, while encapsulated delivery gives a slower and more sustained release of an ingredient. And hyaluronic acid makes skin look hydrated and plumped-up so really, who wouldn’t want to stimulate more of that?
Have you cracked the beauty writing market? Or is it something you’d love to do?