It’s no longer enough for a famous face to front a campaign for a major beauty company. Celebrities now want a larger stake in the action – and, at this point, it would be easier to name the actress/model/influencer who doesn’t have her own beauty range going. Recently, New York Times declared that it’s starting to feel like satire, and issued a plea to celebrities: please just stop.
What’s behind the deluge? The general consensus is that the rise of A-list beauty brands is the natural evolution of the celebrity/beauty industrial complex; in the ‘00s celebrity fragrance was the big thing; now, it’s fully-fledged beauty brands.
It’s also probably a byproduct of the pandemic, which led to the cancellation of red-carpet premieres and award shows – and significantly reduced visibility for celebrities and fewer opportunities to spruik endorsements. Enter beauty brands: a new way to diversify their income streams.
With no sign of this bubble bursting anytime soon (Scarlett Johansson and Hailey Bieber are just two of the celebrities rumoured to be launching brands this year) we went ahead and trialled two skincare and two makeup lines, to see if they live up to the hype.
Rare Beauty by Selena Gomez
Twenty-nine-year-old Selena Gomez released the cruelty-free and vegan Rare Beauty in the US and Australia last year (and the UK this month) with the intention of ‘helping everyone celebrate their individuality’.
Unsurprisingly given Gomez’s enormous fanbase, it has been massively successful, with many products sold out at Sephora. The brand is also charitable — Gomez, who has been open about her struggles with mental health, has also set up the Rare Impact Fund, which aims to deliver $100m to mental health organisations — and (bonus) everything is under $50.
However, the first clue that Rare Beauty isn’t targeted at me (or, er, my age group) came when I tried to read the labels on the products.
Try as hard as I might – squinting with first one eye and then the other – I simply could not make out any of the words on the bottom of the packaging. Which is how I came to find myself wearing Stay Vulnerable Melting Blush in Nearly Neutral on my lips instead of my cheeks. When applied to the correct part of your face, it’s actually great – a creamy, neutral blush with just the right amount of colour.
I really liked Positive Light Liquid Luminizer, which I tried in Mesmerize, which has a pinky tint. The oversized doe-foot applicator is fun and makes it easy to dot on your face. It is quite shimmery – which I liked – but some might find too shimmery especially when applied to non-Gen-Z skin.
I also liked Lip Soufflé Matte Lip Cream in Brave (not drying at all) and the aforementioned blush. Everything is pretty, lightweight and sheer.
Fenty Skin by Rihanna
Without question, this has been a big month for Rihanna. Not only has she announced her pregnancy in an immaculately styled photo op in Harlem, but I’ve finally completed my epic, six-week trial of her skincare line, Fenty Skin. Thanks to PRIMER’s extended break, Fenty’s four hero products accompanied me through the rain, hail and wilting humidity of a Victorian summer – and they handled it pretty well.
Take the Total Cleans’r Remove-It-All Cleanser, encased in the range’s signature violet-grey packaging. Like the other Fenty Skin products, this cream cleanser is light pink in colour with a subtle, sweet scent, which I didn’t love initially but will now forever associate with summer. (This was Rihanna’s intention – “to connect emotion to experience through fragrance” – so, well done.) After a double-cleanse, it removed every last scrap of sunscreen and make-up, leaving my skin clean but not tight.
Just as good was the Hydra Vizor Invisible Broad Spectrum SPF 15 Sunscreen Moisturizer, which also comes in a nifty, twisty, refillable bottle. Usually, I avoid SPF moisturisers as they’re too heavy, but this one is lightweight with a dewy finish.
(PRIMER beauty editors’ note: A friendly reminder that SPF 15 is too low, way too low, to be used as daily sun protection. Anything below SPF 30 is useless. Fliss should know this by now. Layer this Fenty Skin moisturiser over the top of your regular SPF.)
The only product I didn’t use up was the Fat Water Pore-Refining Toner Serum, a mid-weight combined toner and serum. But I don’t generally use a toner and I’m lazy on holidays, so that’s my personality issue rather than the product, which was perfectly fine.
The best of all? Flash Nap Instant Revival Eye Gel-Cream, with its tiny massage tool. To be honest, I initially dismissed this little massage-thing as gimmicky, but the cool metal rolling round my puffy eyes each night was a revelation. So soothing – like a cool G&T after a day in the sun, which has nothing to do with why they were puffy in the first place.
Rose Inc by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley
I won’t pretend I didn’t raise an eyebrow when I saw this was a “clean” brand (the term is problematic) offering “no-makeup makeup” products in “sustainable” packaging (talk about hitting all the buzzwords). But I put my skepticism aside for Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who I admire for both her truly fabulous brows, and willingness to talk openly about her struggles with chronic adult acne. This last point provided the impetus for these skin-first, science-led, noncomedogenic formulas, that combine botanical and synthetic ingredients. Locally, there are eight products readily available, and I tried three of the makeup items.
The tinted Brow Renew Enriched Eyebrow Shaping Gel did a nice job camouflaging my grey hairs but didn’t deposit so much colour that my brows looked drawn on. The vitamin E and squalane kept hairs soft and flexible (no crunchiness!) but this also meant it never really “set”, so the colour smudged and it wasn’t strong enough to tame my old-man unruly strands.
I had better results with Softlight Luminous Hydrating Concealer, a hybrid concealer/foundation with a fluffy-but-thick texture that actually gives light coverage (so maybe not best for super dark under-eye circles or dark acne marks). I dotted this on discoloured areas—under my eyes, around my nostrils, chin crease—and blended out, and was impressed with its evening and brightening powers. Tip: I found this gave a more natural result when I used a brush (and not my fingers) to buff it in.
For me, the star of the show is Blush Divine Radiant Lip & Cheek Color (I tried Dahlia). Rosie HW has said she didn’t want a cream blush that dried down powdery, so she magicked up this creamy formula that applies nicely over base products or bare skin, and delivers all-day dewiness. It feels balm-y on cheeks, looks lovely on hydrated lips (the colour catches if lips are flaky), and works on eyelids, too.
Olivia Palermo Beauty
Olivia Palermo (OP) was an influencer before influencing was even a thing, and her signature New York, Upper East Side style (and hot husband) have made her a global icon.
Little surprise, then, that this multi-hyphenated celeb has made her foray into the beauty world. OP describes the range, which consists of just four products (for now) split evenly across makeup and skincare, as a “punctuation of style”, rather than a complete makeup wardrobe, which I really like!
The Prime Time Illuminating Serum was my standout, and maybe the secret to her enviable skin. The lilac-coloured elixir is packed with peptides and can be used as a colour-correcting primer (solo or under make-up), as well as an overall glow-giver. I often skip primer, but this is almost too luxe not to want to use, and thanks to the vegan-friendly and toxic-free formula, it managed to keep my sensitive skin calm yet glowy. (FYI the other skincare product is a face mist.)
OP’s signature smokey eye is encapsulated in the Soiree Eyeshadow Palette. Before we get to the shades themselves, let’s take a moment for the packaging: inspired by OP’s favourite vintage bracelet, the weighty, crosshatched gold case is so chic it’s almost too much. The colours offer a perfect mix of matte and metallic shades (the bronze was my personal fave) and applied beautifully, but did have a bit of fall out (beauty biz speak for powder falling on to your cheeks) so perhaps not suited to a smokey eye application in a hurry.
And although the Matte Lipstick in Chianti was a little deep for my skin tone, it was easy to apply and super hydrating (thanks to castor seed oil and carnauba wax), and the packaging, again, was stunning, giving it the OP ‘IT’ factor.