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Why TikTok’s Biggest Stars Are Struggling to Sell Beauty Products

Sephora has dropped Addison Rae’s Item Beauty and Hyram Yarbro’s Selfless by Hyram, which launched at the retailer to much fanfare in 2021. Both influencers failed to develop brands that resonated with their followers.
Sephora ended its relationship with Selfless by Hyram at the end of 2022.
Hyram Yarbro’s ascension to Gen Z skin care authority coincided with the beginning of Covid-19.

Key insights

  • Gen Z has moved on from the first wave of TikTokers-turned-beauty founders.
  • Content creators are struggling to prove that having millions of followers can translate to sales.
  • A poorly conceived line can deal a blow to a founder’s authenticity in the eyes of fans.

Sephora has lost confidence in some of its most famous faces.

The retailer removed Hyram Yarbro’s skin care line, Selfless by Hyram, from its stores and website at the end of 2022, just a year after it introduced the products to hundreds of stores in 29 countries. Addison Rae’s Item Beauty, once carried in every Sephora store, is only available on Sephora’s site – and deeply discounted. Sephora confirmed to BoF it had dropped both brands. The news was first reported by Business Insider.

Yarbro, 26, and Rae, 22, are both TikTokers who rose to internet superstardom during the platform’s stratospheric rise in 2020. Like a previous wave of Instagram and YouTube influencers before them, they hoped to quickly turn their viral videos into beauty products in the real world. Rae’s makeup and skin care, made with Madeby Collective, and Yarbro’s Selfless, a joint venture with The Inkey List co-founders Colette Laxton and Mark Curry, both debuted at Sephora in 2021.

Partly, Yarbro and Rae’s beauty misfortunes stem from TikTok’s accelerated fame-cycles – and by extension, quicker brand lifecycles. Today, followings that bloggers and influencers spent years cultivating on YouTube and Instagram could be gained in a week or a few months on TikTok. A single video on the platform could take a non-influencer from obscurity to having millions of views in days.

Unfortunately, Gen Z moves on just as fast.

“I haven’t heard anyone talk about Hyram in years,” said Anya Dua, the 18-year-old founder of Gen Z Identity Lab and a freshman at Stanford University.

Today’s content creators also struggle to prove that having millions of followers doesn’t necessarily mean those followers will buy what they’re selling. Just as often, an influencer’s beauty line can be seen even by supporters as deviating from what made them popular in the first place. At worst, a poorly conceived line can deal a blow to its founder’s authenticity in the eyes of fans.

“It comes down to how much you’re buying into a concept, and it relies on the consumer ultimately being a fan versus a beauty lover. It’s separate – being interested in beauty and ‘I’m going to buy whatever this celebrity creates,’” said Lucie Greene, a futurist and founder of Light Years, a consultancy.

Quicker to Rise, Quicker to Fall

Yarbro’s ascension to Gen Z skin care authority coincided with early Covid days. Lockdowns and quarantines fuelled a surge in skin care, both in sales and piqued interest in ingredients and what they do among consumers of all ages. Yarbro, better known as Skincare by Hyram at the time, saw his TikTok following explode from approximately 100,000 followers to over six million between March and September of 2020.

Dua recalled a period in 2020 when “skin care seemed very complicated to a lot of people.”

“A lot of the routines he recommended were quite simple and accessible and affordable, which I think was really appealing to people,” she explained.

Quickly, Yarbro set his sights on something bigger: his own beauty line.

Selfless by Hyram launched in June of 2021 with five products, including a $24 Mandelic Acid & Rice Bran Gentle Exfoliating Serum and a $30 Retinol & Rainbow Algae Repair Serum.

But founding a skin care brand undermined Yarbro’s personal brand. The reason he initially became so beloved amongst Gen Z was because of his unfiltered take on products, no matter how famous the founder or company. He could talk about a brand with adulation one moment and critique its products the next, scoring points with teens who grew weary of influencers talking about a face wash just because they were paid to do so. His value was being impartial.

At the peak of his fame in 2020, the majority of Yarbro’s earnings came from affiliate sales and advertising from Google’s AdSense network.

Revenue from sponsored content, at least in the early days, was secondary. At the time, Yarbro said he didn’t “like any more than one video per week to be sponsored, at maximum.” He was getting, on average, 30 to 50 sponsorship requests from brands per day.

Within months of Selfless’ June 2021 Sephora rollout, sales were said to be underwhelming. Yarbro’s fanbase dropped off, too. The nearly seven million TikTok followers he had around the time Selfless launched dwindled to a current 6.1 million followers.

Diminishing Returns

Rae’s trajectory follows the more traditional celebrity beauty route. Early on, Rae broke through on TikTok with dance videos. Her mom, Sheri Easterling is a makeup artist, but Rae herself hadn’t shown a particular affinity or expertise for beauty when, in August 2020, she introduced Item Beauty.

Item was a “clean” beauty brand designed for Gen Z in partnership with incubator Madeby Collective (Madeby Collective’s parent company, Beauty For All Industries, or BFAI, also owns beauty subscription services Ipsy and BoxyCharm). An initial makeup collection included $12 “Lip Quip” lip oil, bronzer, mascara, eyeshadow, a brow definer and brightening powder, which at $22, was the most expensive product in the lineup. Skin care followed several months later.

The brand launched in all Sephora doors in the US and Canada in August 2021, around the time Rae was promoting her first movie, He’s All That. In November of 2021, Rae introduced a “moon enhancing” fragrance. But like Yarbro, there were already rumblings among senior employees that Item was struggling.

“Just because you know what people want doesn’t mean you can create it. There has been an association that if you have an authority or a media footprint then you’ll be able to do that, but they’re two separate things,” Greene said.

Repositioning

On Jan. 12, Rae posted an Instagram Story with an update on the future of Item Beauty. In conjunction with its departure from Sephora, the brand is “taking a hiatus while I reimagine my journey in beauty to make sure it reflects who I am today,” the post read.

Rae said products will be available on her brand’s own site through February and included a 40 percent off code. Sephora marked down the remainder of its Item inventory online, too: a blurring powder costs $9 (from $22) and a concealer and mascara are now priced at just $7 (from $18).

It’s unknown what Item Beauty’s future plans are, but the reduced prices are more in line with what Gen Z consumers are willing to spend on beauty. Selfless by Hyram is re-thinking its positioning, too, hoping that lower prices will lead to better traction.

Curry, who co-owns parent company of The Inkey List and Selfless by Hyram, Be for Beauty, said that Yarbro’s skin care will next month relaunch at a US-based retailer (he declined to say where). Selfless’ six products will all return – but with one key difference: cheaper prices.

“It’s a jump and it’s an ask of consumers,” Laxton said of Selfless’ products, which initially cost $20 to $30, nearly triple that of The Inkey List’s approximately $6 to $15 skin care.

Partly, higher pricing was due to the brand’s social impact (hence the name “Selfless”). Ten percent of each purchase’s net sales are donated to nonprofits, including Rainforest Trust, an organisation that works to protect endangered species and rainforests.

While still affordable compared to Sephora’s mostly prestige assortment, Selfless was largely out of reach for many of Yarbro’s young fans.

”We’re so excited to expand into new retailers that allow the product line to be more accessible to consumers,” Yarbro said.

Seeing as how Yarbro’s Gen Z fans are moving on, and many to Alix Earle’s “get ready with me” (or GRWM) TikToks, Selfless will need more than lower prices to win back fans.

”Staying relevant is the key and being true to what consumers are following you [for],” Curry said.

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