It’s 7am in Hawaii and Hyram Yarbro hasn’t slept a wink. The skincare whizz has been up all night editing a collaboration video for his YouTube channel, Hyram, that he’s “really, really excited about”. A true grafter, all-nighters such as these are mere child’s play for Yarbro, who grew up labouring on a cattle ranch deep in Arizona, US, and used to work upwards of 85 hours a week at various service jobs. Now, at just 24 years old, he’s at the helm of a disruptive skincare subculture revolutionising the beauty industry.
Despite having zero qualifications in dermatology, Yarbro has held a magnifying glass to all things skincare ever since he started creating viral YouTube content back in 2018 and more recently via his Skincare by Hyram TikTok account. From his bedroom in Honolulu, he lifts the veil on impenetrable ingredient lists, ineffective celebrity regimes, overhyped brands and overpriced products, repeatedly reminding his viewers, in his signature straight-shooting style, that “ingredients don’t lie, bitch.” It’s an unfiltered approach, but it’s one that won the trust of more than 11 million (mostly gen-Z) followers across his socials and positioned him as the de facto authority on skincare for young people around the world.
What is a skinfluencer?
Yarbro represents the burgeoning phenomenon of skincare gurus, dubbed ‘skinfluencers’, who use social media to push accessibility within skincare. Be it amateur aficionados such as Susan Yara, Liah Yoo and James Welsh or trained professionals Michelle Wong, Dr Dray and Dr Shah, these people are leading the skinfluencer movement “through the offer of open advice and content around ingredients, efficacy and the use of particular products,” says Kathryn Bishop, foresight editor at trend consultancy, The Future Laboratory.
The movement first gained traction on YouTube, but now, with more than 2bn downloads since the beginning of lockdown, TikTok has amplified the conversation to a whole new level. “Skincare can be so intimidating, but on TikTok, we can keep it accessible,” says Yarbro, whose follower count has risen from 100,000 to 7 million since March. The perfect platform for educational titbits (think 15-second explainers on the benefits of bakuchiol, how to layer serums and pharmacy must-haves), TikTok has given skinfluencers a “vehicle to simplify science and empower a younger generation to make healthier skin choices,” says Caitlin King, marketing director of skinfluencer favourite, CeraVe.
“It’s definitely changed my approach to skincare,” says 16-year-old Ellie Thorne, a disciple of Yarbro’s, who is based in the UK. “I’m so much more aware of the ingredients in products and how they might affect my skin.” She’s not the only one—the hashtag #skincarebyhyram has 1.9bn hits on TikTok (which, to contextualise, is about a quarter of the world’s population).
“It feels good to understand the science. There’s no gatekeeping anymore,” says 19-year-old aesthetician-turned-skinfluencer Tiara Willis. “I like to be the kind of girlfriend who can sit you down and teach you about corrective skincare.”
Of course, much of the skinfluencer phenomenon owes its boom to the pandemic. As our anxieties surrounding wellness harden, health has never been so important. People want to know exactly what they’re buying and how it works. “That’s why there’s been such an explosion in the attention given to skinfluencers,” says Yarbro. “With good health comes skin health, and people are really navigating that journey.”
Cutting through marketing fluff
Another reason skinfluencers strike such a chord with their fans is that they aren’t fazed by the corporate skincare giants. “People often trust these skinfluencers because they see them as their peers—just like them, not out to ‘sell’ a particular product,” says Bishop.
“You don’t need to spend a lot of money to have good skin,” Yarbro points out. “It’s funny because so many luxury brands have positioned themselves in total opposition to what gen-Z are looking for, which is to know what the ingredients are and how they work.” Meanwhile, there’s no fee that could convince Willis to partner with them either. “If you want a good moisturiser, you can just go to the drugstore,” she says.
Ultimately, Yarbro, Willis and their contemporaries represent a fresh new attitude that cuts through the industry’s traditional marketing fluff, signalling a shift in the influencer economy, which is “undergoing a period of change built on realism and rawness,” as Livvy Houghton, a researcher at The Future Laboratory, puts it.
Just look at newcomers @WhatsOnVisFace, @YayayaYoung and @BenNeiley, whose lo-fi skincare content is driven by relatability, honesty, and humour. It’s a backlash against standard influencer practice, which seems to feign familiarity despite being just as commercially driven as the brands they’re paid to represent. With this comes a rejection of what Houghton calls “the varnished Insta-look”, sounding the death knell for millennial ‘shelfie’ culture and the social cachet of having a bathroom brimming with the glossiest products du jour (which gen-Z think are performative, wasteful, and counterintuitive to good skin health).
A shift in our relationship with skincare
However, the nature of this kind of content is that it talks to thousands, if not millions, of people at once and so tends to neglect the nuanced needs of an individual’s skin. It’s what happens when specialist knowledge is condensed into bite-sized videos, flattening the complexity of skin science and making it increasingly difficult to discern fact from fiction. According to Houghton, though, scepticism surrounding skinfluencers remains low. Unlike traditional beauty influencers, skinfluencers have won our trust as industry whistleblowers, who prioritise skin health with their mindful and minimalist approach to skincare, via low cost, ingredient-aware regimes.
As a result, there’s been a shift in industry marketing, too. “Where a product used to be marketed as a ‘brightening solution’, it’s probably labelled as a ‘tranexamic acid’ now,” says Willis. Of course, this type of no-frills marketing has been gaining momentum for a while, but the rise of the skinfluencer has turbocharged a demand for authenticity and transparency. As long as Yarbro and his peers remain authentic spokespersons, forever holding the beauty industry to account, they will transform our approach to skincare indefinitely.
In the future, they could even help us become “self-sufficient, equipped with the knowledge to make skincare and health decisions independently of brands,” Houghton predicts. And so, as our reliance on the influencer-industrial complex rages on, there will no doubt be many more all-nighters in store for Yarbro—and we’ll be better off for it.