Considering a career as a beauty influencer? Talk like one first.
How many lipsticks can you sell in five minutes? 15,000 was the record for Li Jiaqi, formerly one of China’s top 美妆博主 (měizhuāng bózhǔ), or beauty influencers.
Li, with 30 million followers on microblogging platform Weibo, became a household name soon after he started sharing creative makeup tutorials (美妆教程 měizhuāng jiàochéng) and beauty product reviews (美妆测评 měizhuāng cèpíng) in 2016. But he is not the only beauty influencer making waves. A makeup tutorial from last year, in which blogger Ruby Youxi recreates the look of actress Zhao Lusi in The Long Ballad, a 2021 TV show set in the Tang dynasty (618–907), has attracted almost 27 million views at the time of writing.
In 2021 alone, Chinese consumers spent over 400 billion yuan on cosmetics according to the National Bureau of Statistics, and China has become the second largest consumer market for cosmetics in the world. Li alone raked in 8 billion yuan in just one night on November 11 last year, during Alibaba’s annual “Singles’ Day” shopping festival.
Tempted to try your hand at selling some cosmetics? Anyone can set up accounts on Weibo, lifestyle app Xiaohongshu (or RED), or other social media platforms, and start sharing daily makeup looks, skincare tips, makeup techniques, and trendy cosmetic product insights, or even holler at viewers to click on the product purchase links embedded in posts or livestreaming sessions.
But before you rush to buy tripods or fancy spotlights, you might want to first get familiar with the lingo required to be successful in this highly competitive market.
Making your pitch
Skilled makeup influencers can transform their face into virtually anyone’s, winning them praise from followers: 一人就是半个娱乐圈 (yì rén jiùshì bàn gè yúlèquān, one person can stand in for half of the celebrity world). And even if you don’t yet have the makeup skills, you can at least talk the talk:
Today we’re creating a Liu Yifei look that even she herself would be amazed to see.
But sometimes, rather than becoming a celebrity, viewers are more interested in learning to use makeup to create more personalized characters, or 氛围感 (fēnwéi gǎn, atmosphere):
Get ready for this viral, sophisticated rich girl look!
If you want to be simultaneously sultry and girl-next-door, learn this peachy makeup to get that young maiden vibe.
If you talk yourself up too much, you might run the risk of failing to deliver—but that’s OK! You can save the day with a bit of self-deprecating humor:
That was a huge fail. I’m just demonstrating what not to do.
You understand it as soon as you watch, and fail as soon as you try.
Many makeup artists start simple, so as not to 劝退 (quàntuì, discourage) beginners. A look that anyone can achieve in 10 minutes before they rush off to work is a sure path to popularity:
Today I’m going to teach you a 10-minute everyday makeup look that’s easy for everyone, even the clumsy.
This contouring tutorial takes care of all your needs. If you still can’t do it, maybe I’ll have to mail you my hand, or you mail me your head?
Raking in profits
To boost sales numbers through their online shops or embedded links, many influencers try their best to make viewers feel like if they don’t hit that “buy now” button, they’ll be missing out big time.
Skincare is a lucrative field. After all, everyone needs a little help discovering the next perfect product for their skin type. Here’s how a beauty blogger might advise you to add products to your shopping cart:
This facial cleanser takes care of sensitive skin, easy breezy.
This liquid foundation cares for oily skin like a mother cares for her child.
This moisturizing mask is the one and only savior for your desert-like dry skin, keeping it calm as the seasons change. Buy it without a second thought!
A must-have for acne-prone skin, this concealer makes your skin as fresh as a newborn baby’s.
Lost in lipstick color options like 烂番茄色 (lànfānqiésè, “rotten tomato color”), 豆沙色 (dòushāsè, “bean paste color,” or dusty rose), or even 死亡芭比粉 (sǐwáng bābǐfěn, “deadly Barbie pink”)? Beauty influencers can make your choice easier in just minutes:
Rotten tomato is the best shade to make your skin look fairer. A must-have for those with yellowish or dark skin.
This classic dusty rose doesn’t discriminate against skin tone, including olive-toned skin, and makes lips look sweet and charming.
And how about some love for your hair? Beauty bloggers always offer inspiration for a range of hairstyles—from strikingly modern to arrestingly cute—much sought after by stressed out young workers worried about their receding hairlines:
Compensate for your hair loss: This three-minute look will make your crown fluffy and luxurious.
In the ecosystem of beauty influencing, to grow a liking for a product is called 种草 (zhòngcǎo, literally “planting grass”), to finally place the order is to 拔草 (bácǎo, “pull up the grass”), and when you 踩雷 (cǎiléi, “step on a mine”), you have fallen prey to bad products (and will hopefully learn from the experience). A seasoned influencer is always able to plant the right seeds in the right hearts.
I’ve got a hankering for this mascara. It’s dirt cheap—perfect for students.
This super moisturizing liquid foundation does not crease or cake off. You’ll use it all up in no time!
Products from highly coveted brands like Chanel, Dior, and La Mer have at least one thing in common: They hurt your wallet. But beauty influencers claim fans of luxury beauty products can find alternatives that work just as well—at least for those who are not obsessed with filling their social media with logos.
All five of these facial creams are inexpensive substitutes for luxury options. For less than 300 yuan, your face will stay just as moisturized as if you are using top-notch brands.
While it may seem like influencing is a business that’s solely focused on revenue, more conscientious influencers do their best to look out for their impulsive beauty product buyers and try to steer them away from wasteful purchases:
Do your research before purchasing. Grow grass rationally.
Although this product is popular online, I find it far from cost-effective. I don’t recommend it.
But of course, there are still plenty of influencers out there who are driven purely by sales numbers and don’t hesitate to push their viewers to pull the trigger on buying an item they may not really need:
Divide the price by 365 days, and you’ll be looking at only a few yuan a day. It’s basically free!
Pretty Talks: Talk Like a Chinese Beauty Influencer is a story from our issue, “Public Affairs.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.