Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Whose Beauty Reviews Do You Trust?

Hi Meg,

I am a fellow art historian (uh...sadly I have to have a day job to support my research but what the heck) and since I love research here is a question I could probably figure out if I really wanted to. Many...if not all of the major magazine are full of "Must Haves". Real Simple (which is hardly real or simple) does reviews called Road Tests on products. I have always wondered whether there is a correlation between recommendations and the magazine's advertisers? Perhaps this is hard to answer because everyone gets free products to review. And there are sooo many advertisers in these magazines it would be hard to avoid a conflict of interest. Perhaps you have a take on this?


Hi Judy!

Glad to hear from a fellow art lover! Your question is a good one, and one I've thought about myself many times. It's funny that you brought up Real Simple, as it's one of my favorite magazines (my mom got me into it). When they do the road test reviews, it seems like they use regular people to try the products, which I give them credit for. But I think with every magazine there's reason to be suspicious that there's a lot of editing involved (these reviews aren't long anyway, usually just a couple of quotations) and editors are purposefully leaving out any negative information, since every brand is an advertiser or potential advertiser, and they don't want to hurt their relationships with the brands.

I honestly don't trust any product I've read about in a magazine. The line between editorials and advertising is way too thin, and the fact that no magazine is ever willing to really "trash" a product or brand makes me believe that they're not being totally honest. There are also so many cases where magazines hail certain products for years and years (*cough* Maybelline Great Lash *cough*) when there's a general consensus that the product sucks. This seems to be true for a lot of beauty blogs as well, many of whom have beauty brands as advertisers or are frequently getting free products or other goodies from P.R. agents. I still really enjoy reading these magazines and blogs, and I've been inspired to look into certain products as a result of their reviews, I just make sure that I've done my research and tried the product myself before purchasing.

When I'm looking for a product to try or want to learn more about it, I generally go to MakeupAlley and look through their reviews. The reviewers are (most likely) regular women with no connection to the industry and if you read through 20-30 short reviews, you get a good idea for the product and what type of people it works for. It's just another case where the more opinions you have, the more you'll know what to expect. I'll check The Beauty Brains or sometimes Paula Begoun if the product makes questionable claims, or to check that the product doesn't have any ingredients that might irritate my sensitive skin.

And if you can try a product before buying, definitely do it. Sephora and Nordstrom are two retailers with a great reputation for giving out generous samples, then accepting returns if you're unhappy with the product. It's always good to check your store's return policy on cosmetics before you buy something, especially if it's pricey.

I'm a really skeptical person, so I hope I haven't turned you off beauty mags or blogs, but I'll use their reviews as a jumping off point to do more research before I buy. I expect readers to do the same things in response to reading one of my product reviews. Every review is subjective and I can only speak to how well (or poorly) the product worked on my body, with my particular skin and hair type. What appeals to me in terms of texture, scent or packaging could be a major turn-off to another person. But as I've pointed out before, I make it a point to always state when I've gotten a product for free, so you never have to question whether I'm biased because it was a gift.

How do you guys approach beauty product reviews online and in magazines? Any other tips for researching products before buying?


Anonymous said...

You might want to read "Free Gift With Purchase," a short book by Jean Godfrey-June, a former Elle beauty editor and current Lucky editor. She dishes the dirt on how beauty editors are bombarded with free samples, lunches, and are wooed by cosmetic companies to get their products featured.

Anonymous said...

So funny. I've found that Great Lash on top of my other lash lengthening mascara, usually a loreal or estee lauder, is really long wearing and looks good. I first heard this from a stripper I went to high school with and then when I ended up with about 4 free tubes of the pink and green after some event, i tried it and it totally works!

-- lena

Brava97 said...

I worked in the newspaper biz (editorial side) for several years and can tell you that advertising salespeople often sell ad space by promising the business owner a "news feature" about his or her business. (Dance studios and martial arts studios are the worst offenders. I hate them with the fire of a thousand suns.) It only goes to reason that the same occurs in magazines. Look carefully. If you read an article touting Great Lash, for example, and then a couple of pages later there is a full-page ad for it, there's your answer. I rely on consumer-driven websites (like Makeup Alley) for the truth about products.

Ally said...

I always check out what Paula Begoun says...she's always on target and seems unbiased.

Rapunzel said...

I absolutely love both the makeup alley and the beauty brains as well. Wonderful resources.

Meg the Florida Bargain Queen said...

Honestly, I don't read beauty magazines very often. I stopped being a regular reader when I noticed that there were more pages of ads than pages of content. Unfortunately, it has only gotten worse. Even the content pages read like ads and the only original content seems to be sent in by other readers.

Mostly, I learn through trial and error and my makeup artist friend. He works at a Prescriptives counter but I trust his opinion because I know that his sense of integrity and our friendship mean more than the very modest commission he makes.

That said, I usually do go with the stuff from Prescriptives because he knows which are good products (having worked for other companies) and because I can test them at the counter. I've been very happy Prescriptives' products.

Of course, I do read other blogs, too, and that has some bearing on my choices. I don't have any problems with bloggers reviewing products that they receive for free so long as they disclose it fully (as I do) and I feel like they are giving their honest opinion.

I've done some reviews and I think I've given a good pro-con balance. If anything, the problem I have found in doing reviews is that companies that are willing to give away their products seem to always have good products. Maybe that's why they aren't worried about getting bad reviews. Sometimes it really is tough to say anything bad.

Parisjasmal said...

Magazines get me interested in products--no doubt, but I usually test and do some research before buying.

There are some beauty bloggers I totally trust, because I know them, and some beauty bloggers I totally do not trust *because I know them*. If you feel me.
I do not take makeup or fashion advice from anyone who I do not think has good taste in makeup and clothes. I have learned through blogging that you have to be careful who you choose to take advice from. Even the most unstylish cad can hide behind the veil of the internet and convince people they know something when in fact they are painfully unsavvy in total need of a makeover themselves.

I have learned a little about the "business" too and it is ALL ABOUT ADVERTISING and the almighty dollar.

I only blog about things I love and believe in. I have chosen to keep all advertisers off my blog for this very reason.

I loathe the pink and green tube mascara. It sucks.

Have a lovely day!

Princess Poochie said...

I work in Advertising and let me tell you - it's all totally "placed" and it bugs me too. It get's annoying when you see the same thing over and over!


BellaSugar said...

Of course magazine editorials correlate with advertisers. Do you really think that editors are buying their makeup at Duane Reade? Or that they use Cover Girl on the, uh, cover? Absolutely not.

I edit BellaSugar.com and it's important for me to give honest reviews. Here's our policy: I'm not allowed to have any publicist pay for meals. I'm not allowed to accept gifts. I do accept products for evaluation and review, since this is part of the job. If the product is worth more than $100, and it's been given to me for review, I disclose that in the review. I like to keep this policy transparent so that readers know that I'm not being "bought." And when we have advertorials, they're always very clearly marked as sponsored posts. I try to keep a tight ship! :)

MizzJ said...

haha why all the hating on the old pink and green? I use it all the time and find it to be a great mascara. I've also heard it recommended by many makeup artists (though that could be a paid endorsement as well). The only complaint I have with it is that it does tend to be a bit thick when you first start using a new tube, but it gives me thickness and volume.

Anonymous said...

Because I've always had very oily skin and acne, the conventional "wisdom" on beauty products has always brought me nothing but disaster, so I learned to ignore it from an early age. That's because, even when it's untouched by advertising bias, conventional "wisdom" is a) usually wrong and b) seemingly aimed at people with really dry skin.

I've always loved reading beauty magazines, but I've always seen them as primarily a source of entertainment, not as a source of advice, and certainly not as a source of product recommendations! Very often I have gotten valuable tips from them; for example, Allure had a great how-to on lipstick years ago and I've never looked back from it. But then lipstick has nothing to do with skincare and what works for one person's lips will probably work for someone else's.

If I really need to research something I go to Paula Begoun rather than make expensive mistakes. Even there, some of the products I use, she's not a fan of (PanOxyl IIRC), but I still use them because they give me the best results of any products available to me.

julie said...

Very interesting article and well written! Thank you