Tiara Willis / Design by Tiana Crispino

Tiara Willis Is One of the Most Influential (and Youngest) Beauty Creators

Next Gen

Welcome to Byrdie's new series, Next Gen, where we profile Gen Z celebrities, influencers, and entrepreneurs. As a collective, members of Gen Z are dynamic trendsetters and culture shifters. And when it comes to beauty and wellness, they have ushered more creativity, inclusivity, and transparency into the industry. In this column, we're stepping into the minds of some of the most notable Gen Z'ers to learn more about how they are redefining beauty, the products they swear by, and their plans for the future.

Many women of color (myself included) consider Tiara Willis to be their beauty BFF. The 20-year-old influencer and esthetician started her mega-popular Instagram and Twitter accounts in high school as a way to share makeup tips tailored to Black and Brown skin. "I watched tons of YouTube videos but finding girls who looked like me in the beauty space was hard," she says while reflecting on why she started her page. 

The New York-based entrepreneur beautifully blends doses of beauty inspiration, education, and conversation on her platform. If you need sunscreen recommendations, Willis can quickly fill you in on melanin-friendly options. If you're looking for a new foundation, she can instantly rattle off tried-and-true favorites. And if you're looking for someone to provide unfiltered insight into what it's like being a Black beauty creator, Willis is definitely your girl. 

Her ability to make beauty feel approachable and empowering has allowed her to become one of the most influential (and beloved) creators. Over the past seven years, she's amassed hundreds of thousands of followers across her social platforms and landed partnerships with some of the most trusted brands (from CeraVe to Paula's Choice). 

Needless to say, Willis' stacked resume undoubtedly rivals those twice her age. However, in conversation, it's apparent it's not the professional achievements that make her the proudest. Instead, she's most appreciative of the impact she's been able to make within her community. "My page has become a safe space for girls that look like me," she says. "Making them feel more confident and beautiful is so rewarding."

Ahead, Willis discusses her passion for makeup and skincare, her experience as a Black creator, and learning how to detach from hustle culture. 

You launched your social accounts when you were 14. What inspired you to get on social media and talk about makeup?

I had always been interested in makeup. I would sneak into my mom's bathroom and use her makeup. At 14, my mom finally let me wear makeup. I watched tons of YouTube videos but finding girls who looked like me in the beauty space was hard. At beauty stores, it was also a struggle to find my shade. At that time, brands would have like six light shades and one dark shade. 

My saving grace was Jackie Aina. I would watch her videos and buy everything she used.  And one thing about me is that I love to research. I am the queen of Google, so I gained a lot of knowledge about makeup and became the go-to girl for all my friends. So, that's why I created my account. I wanted to create a space where I could answer questions from girls that look like me. I also wanted to provide education and representation. 

Tiara Willis / Design by Tiana Crispino

Tiara Willis / Design by Tiana Crispino

You're also passionate about skincare and went to esthetics school right after high school. What prompted that decision?

I started my platform during my freshman year, and it was growing so much. I wanted to graduate as fast as possible to explore this opportunity. I ended up graduating at 16. I wanted to pursue beauty as a career and opted not to go to college. However, I still wanted to do something that would contribute to my business. I decided to attend esthetics school to get a professional makeup license and educate myself on skin. Now not only can I help people with makeup, but I can also help them with their skincare.

Was there any emphasis on skin of color during your time in esthetics school?

I like to tell people esthetic school is meant for you to pass the state board, which is very outdated. There's not much education about skin of color. They basically tell you that skin of color is dangerous to work on. If you want to learn about skin of color, you have to take advanced classes. But still, even when taking classes, you're not going to find a lot of models with Black skin. I recently took a class with an innovative brand—they showed a bunch of before and after photos and only had one black model. So, it's still an issue. 

You've cultivated your largest audience on Twitter. Why do you think Twitter is a good forum for beauty content?

I'm very grateful for Twitter seeing my value on the platform, and doing what they can to support me. I love that the platform is not about visual content but your voice. I appreciate that I can speak to people and create a massive open forum. When I was in esthetics school, if I learned something interesting in class, I would tweet about it. I also like that I can ask a random question like, "Did you wear sunscreen today?" and get 200 responses with everyone's sunscreen recommendations. That's how you build a community.

Tiara Willis / Design by Tiana Crispino

Tiara Willis / Design by Tiana Crispino

You recently shared on Twitter that you quit your job at the spa due to stress and wanting to "act more your age." What has it been like navigating the responsibilities of being an esthetician and in-demand influencer at 20?

Because I started this business so young, I lose hindsight on my age and what most people my age are doing. On social media, you can get caught up in hustle culture. You can feel left out or lesser than when you see people your age or younger accomplishing more than you. While I always applaud young entrepreneurs, I think keeping in touch with your quality of life is important. Someone recently told me, "Tiara, you don't have to say yes to every deal you're given." That was such a "wow" moment for me. I'm unmarried and have no kids, so why am I hustling this hard? I have the rest of my life to work hard. I want to make sure I'm spending my 20s having fun, traveling, and building relationships with others.

Your platform has helped celebrate diversity in beauty. How have you seen the industry evolve? From a Black creator's POV, what work still needs to be done? 

Within the past seven years, I have seen a positive change when it comes to representation. It's common for brands to have at least 30 shades when they're launching a product. I also see more of us being represented in media and social media. But from a creator's perspective, work still needs to be done behind the scenes. Often, we're not included in brand campaigns. And if we are, we're not compensated as well as other creators. A lot of that comes down to systemic racism. We often struggle with financial literacy and knowing how to read contracts. Brands take advantage of that and have no problem paying us unfairly because it saves them money. That's why I try to share as much as possible and be transparent about being a Black creator.

Another thing I have found is Black creators tend not to have management. A lot of influencer management companies don't have a lot of Black clients. Even though I had a massive platform, I didn't have management companies approaching me. I had to go and find help. Having representation is so important. You need someone to support you and advocate for you. 

That's why I encourage Black creators to do their research and ask questions. Money is very taboo in the creator industry. But if you don't have proper management, you have to put yourself out there and ask people, "How much did you charge for this deal? How much do you think I should get paid?"

Tiara Willis / Design by Tiana Crispino

Tiara Willis / Design by Tiana Crispino

What's been the most rewarding part of your career thus far?

The most rewarding thing is meeting my followers in person. When I was working at a spa, all of my clients were people that followed me on social media. I've even had people send flowers to my job to congratulate me on a campaign I did. I also love when I get messages from people telling me I helped them with their skin. Seeing the impact I've made on people's lives is very humbling.

I have to ask about summer skincare. What are some of your favorite products right now?

As an esthetician, we get access to a lot of professional brands. They are often more innovative than department store products. One brand I've been loving is Skin Better Science—anyone can access it online; you just have to create an account with them. Their products are so well thought out, especially when it comes to the skin barrier. My favorite product is the Skin Better Clearing Skin Serum ($130). Most of my acne clients use this serum. It's formulated with retinoic acid, salicylic acid, niacinamide, and zinc PCA. Another brand I like is Topicals. I've enjoyed their body care complements, including the Like Butter Soothing Body Mist ($30). Sunscreen is another summer must-have. I recommend getting drugstore sunscreen from a brand like Neutrogena because you need to apply it liberally, which can get expensive. I also love the Olay Regenerist Mineral Sunscreen Hydrating Moisturizer SPF 30 ($40). It doesn't leave a white cast and is safe for sensitive skin. 

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