Maybe we’re bonkers. Maybe we’ll go down in history as the biggest fools known to (wo)mankind, but at Beauty Bible, we’ve always had a strict policy of not doing any paid-for content across the website or on our social media platforms. Over the past few years we have become really rather uncomfortable with the growing amount of sponsored content going on around us.
Both of us (Sarah and Jo) worked our way up in an industry where editorial coverage was strictly separate from advertising. (On the magazine Jo cut her teeth on, Woman’s World, the editorial team weren’t even allowed to speak to the ad sales people, lest they somehow taint them with their commerciality!).
That’s why on our own website, we’ve never taken an ad. Not one. Nor do we take money to feature something on our #Instagram, or for promoting anything at all. And we never will, as we proudly proclaim on the front page of beautybible.com. We figure: the minute somebody paid us specifically to mention something, our editorial integrity would be permanently compromised. (It’s like losing your virginity. Once it’s gone, it’s gone – and there ain’t no getting it back!).
We believe absolutely in unbiased beauty reporting. So everything we’ve ever written about has made it there on merit. For the past 23 years, our whole Beauty Bible ‘empire’ (a very small one!) has been built on the premise of steering women to products that really work, based on the opinions of other real women. Over the years, we’ve had 30,000 of those real women trying products for us, reporting in-depth via detailed forms on their experiences over several months trialling the products. We’ve written more than a dozen books based on those results (now featured on our website, beautybible.com, because we’ve had enough of doing books, for now.) But it matters to us deeply that the results are independent and unbiased.
“Big beauty” consists of companies setting aside literally hundreds of millions out of their budgets (which formerly went into print and online advertising) to pay influencers. And everywhere we look – on Insta, on beauty sites and blogs – there are paid posts. (The fees can be eye-watering.) Yes, it’s all supposed to be visible – using the hashtag #ad, #sponsored or ‘paid partnership’. But is it always? Hmm. To quote Dazed Beauty (part of the Dazed digital empire), there’s a widespread phenomenon called “Stealth Shilling”, which is ‘the failure in properly disclosing paid endorsements.’ Even though the authorities in both the UK and the US are seeking to crack down on it, it’s still happening.
You might counter: at Beauty Bible, do we actually pay for every product or supplement we write about? No – although we do still shop for beauty like regular people, on the high street, in department stores and online, and feature our own picks. But this is called ‘editing’. We’re sent probably ten times more product than we end up featuring, and if we don’t like something (or our testers don’t), it doesn’t make the page or the ‘gram. That’s as it always has been, and the PRs (public relations people) we deal with understand that, and deeply respect our choices.
An equally worrying phenomenon, though, is that some of the advice is downright dangerous. Case in point: an Instagrammer who shared a tip recently about how adding lavender oil to her mascara was making her eyelashes grow. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME, CHILDREN! Essential oils should never, ever be used anywhere near the eyes. But there’s plenty of this shocking misinformation out there, and it’s entirely unpoliced.
So personally, we’re sitting back and waiting for the backlash – when expertise, rather than the ability just to take a pretty picture or film a make-up tutorial comes back into style, and when products succeed or fail based purely on their performance and/or pleasure factor. Because as sure as hemlines rise and fall, it will happen.
Without wanting to blow our own trumpets too loudly, at Beauty Bible our expertise comes from literally decade upon decade of interviewing the world’s top make-up artists, skincare professionals, facialists, complementary therapists, doctors and other health practitioners – whose numbers we generally have on speed-dial, for fact-checking. That, and insights into make-up, skincare, haircare and other beauty categories that we’ve gleaned over the years from from reading the feedback from 30,000 Beauty Bible testers.
So: could this Beauty Bible duo sign up with one of the big-shot agencies who secure these lucrative deals for influencers? We could. But would we? Nope. Maybe the little men in white coats will indeed come and haul us away for missing out on the ‘opportunity of a lifetime’, but for us it comes down to one thing: trust. And as a beauty consumer, don’t you want to know if a product is being recommended to you because it’s quite simply a great product, based on the knowledge and longstanding expertise of the person who’s singing its praises – or because the person recommending it has had a jolly nice fee for saying so…?