Influencers have been a regular part of social media for the better part of a decade now, and there is no indication of the category slowing down—especially in the beauty space.
The natural hair movement arguably has pioneered what we now consider beauty influencers, with a handful of women paving the way, sharing product reviews and partnering with beauty brands on social media. Many of these early influencers with platforms on YouTube and Instagram have gone on to build larger audiences, professional careers in the beauty space, and even launch their own brands.
Felicia Dickerson is one of those influencers who has been part of the curly community for almost a decade, with over 300k followers across her YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. She's worked with some of the biggest brands on the market and has forged a successful career giving product reviews, tips, and advice on her natural hair journey. Dickerson was recently featured in the HBO Max Original series Not So Pretty, which takes a deeper look at the beauty industry's impact. We spoke to Dickerson about her hair journey, full-time influencer work, and the lessons she's learned testing beauty products for a living.
What was your natural hair journey like growing up? Talk to us about your relationship with your hair.
Growing up, I knew nothing about how to take care of curly hair, and neither did my mom, so she couldn't pass down any tips for me to learn. I mainly wore ponytails or tight braids that helped me "manage" my curls instead of embracing them. My sister started embracing her natural hair in high school, inspiring me to find ways to love my hair. I would ask her to teach me how to do the more tedious parts, like blow-drying. In 2014, I finally started my natural hair journey after years of using boxed relaxers, straightening tools, and wearing my hair in a bun.
When did you become a full-time influencer, and what brands did you work with?
I officially became a full-time influencer in 2015 and worked with brands like DevaCurl, Olaplex, Bounce Curl, Innersense Organic Beauty, and Briogeo.
What inspired this career track?
I was already investing a lot of time in the entire process and embracing my natural curls transformed into a self-love journey. I lost my sister during this time, and those initial years were therapeutic to me because they helped me cope. I never aspired to be an influencer, but it all happened organically.
You are a licensed cosmetologist. How did this inform the way you chose products to review and brands to work with?
I started my cosmetology journey in 2021 because I wanted to know more about the beauty market. I started school before I realized that I was losing my hair and the challenges that led to the HBO Max special. I wanted to be more hands-on with people instead of just giving them advice over the internet. I wanted to be a stylist who could educate clients and have them walk out feeling happy. During that time, I learned a lot about ingredients and tried to get to the root of my hair loss.
Influencers balance giving authentic reviews while pursuing brand opportunities. Did you have a different review process for paid versus unpaid hair care products?
I do not. It makes it challenging to turn down reasonable offers from brands who want a great review, but having the trust of my supporters is more valuable than having a paycheck. During my process, I ask myself questions like: Is this something I'm going to use? If I recommend something to friends and family, I will promote it, and I will only endorse the product if my review can answer those questions. I also pay close attention to ingredients and test everything on myself first. If the experience is something other than what I was looking for (or my community can't benefit from), I kindly tell the brand I can't create valuable content using those products.
No matter how big a company is, its reputation, or its brand, it is up to us as consumers to look out for ourselves so we can look and feel our best.
You recently spoke about your struggles with contact dermatitis after using DevaCurl products. Why was it important for you to discuss your experience?
I realized physical signs resulting from some DevaCurl products around October 2018. I did a video exclusively using the brand and developed hives around my scalp and face (these pictures are shown in the HBO special). I went to my doctor I was diagnosed with contact dermatitis, which means that you came into contact with products that irritate the skin.
I noticed my hair was losing shine and definition, and I started to look introspectively: Is it my diet? Am I not taking enough vitamins? Is it stress? I never once thought it was product-related because I had been using them, but I neglected to see changes were happening.
Did you have any hesitation in sharing your hair struggles with your audience?
When I first noticed the decline in my hair health, so did my followers. Comments about my hair not looking the same made me feel insecure. Despite noticing changes in my hair, I also had a contract with Devacurl, so I feared speaking out and facing legal challenges.
How long did it take for your hair to recover from damage, and how did it impact your vetting process moving forward?
Getting my hair back to optimal health was a process. I started with many DIY recipes like aloe vera masks and tea rinses, and I opted for organic products and did a big chop. I noticed improvements in roughly four months and eventually saw substantial progress after a year. My hair density was never truly the same, but my curl definition slowly returned, and the headaches I experienced after using certain products subsided.
What is your relationship with your hair like now?
Over the years, I've developed an intimate connection with my hair. Looking back and seeing what my hair used to look like can feel disheartening, and I'm more critical of what my hair looks like now. Still, I love having curls and being involved in this community. The ups and downs have taught me a lot.
What advice would you give to influencers who are hesitant to speak out against brands or products?
Always do what you feel is right and what will bring you peace. However, because of legalities, it's vital to seek out a lawyer and make sure you aren't making statements that could bring trouble. Be honest, but don't bash brands. Use your experience to help or inform someone else.
How do you approach products and brand deals after your personal experience?
I am more hesitant to fall in love with a product or brand and use organic formulas with easy-to-read and understandable ingredients. I used to love trying different products, but now I use a smaller selection of products, so if I do run into any challenges, it's easier to identify what's causing the problem.
Why is transparency important in beauty influencer marketing? How can we make the relationships between brands, influencers, and consumers more transparent?
Our physical appearance is important to all of us in some capacity, and transparency about the products we use is important so we can use them safely. Brands should continue to put effort and resources into sharing ingredients and processes to develop products so consumers can make informed choices.
What advice would you give to beauty influencers who may go through similar experiences?
Do not be scared to speak your truth and advocate for yourself and your community. No matter how big a company is, its reputation, or its brand, it is up to us as consumers to look out for ourselves so we can look and feel our best.