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DB Anti-Haul

How ‘anti-excess’ content is saving beauty YouTube

TextNellie GayleIllustrationCallum Abbott

As beauty collections expand and influencer collaborations skyrocket, certain beauty YouTubers are actively decreasing their product hauls

Beauty YouTubers live in a genre dominated by excess, with key names in the beauty space dedicating entire rooms to more make-up than any one person could possibly use in a lifetime. Their channels are full of videos cataloguing the hundreds of new products released every week.  It’s easy for YouTubers to get caught in a hamster wheel content cycle that hinges almost entirely on new product launches. Most influencers are expected to swiftly transition from ‘hauls’, where they catalogue the newest releases, to verdicts on value-for-money in a matter of minutes. 

Beauty has grown to a $532 billion industry in 2019, and the overall amount of communications between beauty brands and consumers has grown by 58 per cent. As many beauty creators are scrambling to keep pace, a new well of ‘anti-excess’ content has sprung up as a visual juxtaposition to the dizzying number of videos dedicated to the releases. 

But recently, there’s been a discernible pull back from the never ending loop of make-up consumption. The days of showcasing thousand dollar hauls on camera seem to be limited, replaced by influencers who politely ask brands to send a max of three foundation shades, not 30, or those like veteran YouTuber Samantha Ravndahl who asked to be removed from PR lists altogether.

Ravndahl’s announcement that she was rejecting all future PR was met with positive sentiments by audiences who are experiencing product fatigue. “Thank you SO much for this. Unfortunately the beauty community thrives on buying more, more, more and it's not a healthy trend,” one viewer exclaimed. The current level of releases can be either aspirational or anxiety-provoking – and many influencers are catering to the viewers who fall into the latter category. 

“Influencers are certainly able to push products in a way that keeps sales coming, but over the past couple years, I do genuinely believe that the general population has slowed down with their spending,” Ravndahl explains. Now that she’s eliminated new product reviews from her weekly uploads of content, she’s hedging her bets on audiences who “look around at some point and think: ‘What the hell am I going to do with all this?’” 

Ravndahl thinks beauty consumers are not only slowing their purchasing overall but also looking to “curate their subscription lists” with influencers who are producing more targeted and specific content. Her decision to no longer receive hundreds of products in the mail every month is a reflection of this move away from limitless make-up collections. 

Kristi, known to her 743K YouTube subscribers as RawBeautyKristi, is a purveyor of ‘anti-excess’ videos. While she still reviews new collections, Kristi has decidedly taken a step backwards from the interminable loop of releases. She is an early adopter of the ‘anti-haul’ genre, which focuses on what influencers are deciding to exclude from their purchases.

Along a similar vein, influencers like Ravndahl and Kristi are opting to feature ‘declutters,’ purging their makeup collection of anything no longer considered necessary or exciting, and ‘no-buys,’ which sees them swearing off new purchases for months on end. “I think it’s good to note that not everything is going to be interesting to everybody. We don’t have to buy everything,” Kristi says.

“The same influencers who are now showcasing expensive beauty collections were originally advising a generation of teenagers on how to tame their acne for the lowest cost possible, based on personal experience. The relatability factor was not considered a ‘USP’ of the original beauty YouTuber – framing it as such would be as awkward as calling your older, cooler friend who’s good at winged eyeliner ‘relatable’”

Influencers seem most aligned with the audience at the humble beginnings of their YouTube careers. As they grow in channel size, their access to a sheer volume of product that 90 per cent of their audience will never attain makes them less ‘authentic’ to most viewers. The beauty space is ironic in its quest for ‘relatability’, which seemingly every influencer would aspire to, and commercial success at the same time. 

YouTube was never intended to be a voyeuristic space for displays of wealth generated from ad revenue. In the beginning, beauty vloggers served a utilitarian purpose: showing a generation of viewers how to apply make-up and get the most for their money. Ravndahl notes that the founding mindset for her channel was to educate viewers on the techniques she learned from working and studying in the beauty industry. 

In some ways the proliferation of the beauty influencer industry has created positive trends, with forces like Jackie Aina, Alissa Ashley, and Nyma Tang not only advocating for more diverse shade ranges, but also directly collaborating with brands to bring this wildly overdue vision to reality. But it’s also safe to assume the influencer marketing industrial complex has contributed to a massive wave of new products that has fed a ‘more is more’ mentality in content creators. One of Jeffree Starr’s most recent videos involves him losing a Birkin bag while ‘hauling’ $60k worth of Ulta makeup, and Tati Westbrook published a total of 12 makeup line reviews and PR hauls within the last month alone. Companies too aid this with the likes of Revolution Beauty producing an average of one collab a month, while Colourpop just launched its 59th product to date in association with KathleenLights

While others might not share that level of expertise, the same influencers who are now showcasing expensive beauty collections were originally advising a generation of teenagers on how to tame their acne for the lowest cost possible, based on personal experience. The relatability factor was not considered a ‘USP’ of the original beauty YouTuber – framing it as such would be as awkward as calling your older, cooler friend who’s good at winged eyeliner ‘relatable.’

Arguably, the biggest contribution beauty influencers have brought to the industry is a more educated consumer, taught everything from shade matching to false eyelash application by digital authorities. Brands have piggybacked off the beauty YouTube viewer’s breadth of knowledge and generated more make-up than ever before to suit every single preference, from demi-matte foundations to upwards of five different eyeshadow finishes. 

Most YouTubers will continue to review new releases as it’s the most reliable way to generate views and capitalise on the industry’s overall growth. But the more strategic among them will also continue to court a status of ‘authenticity’ over ‘aspirationality’, decluttering as many products as they can along the way. 

What’s best about this change in tone is that it feels as though influencers are connecting to their more restrained roots as middle-class beauty consumers and revitalizing a saturated genre while they’re at it. As the beauty and influencer industries alike continue to swell, there is an inevitable question of the bubble bursting – after all, how much eyeshadow and how many influencer partnerships can a wheezing economy realistically support? 

But the indispensable value of the beauty YouTuber as a consumer educator and curator, not collector, of products could ultimately be what keeps this genre alive and kicking. The way for beauty influencers to prevail is ironically to reach back into their roots as self-taught enthusiasts with limited budget but exacting expectations. It won’t be the rising tide of products that revives beauty YouTube ultimately, but the utilitarian connection between the viewers and the creators that started it all.

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