Call it the age of expertise.
After years of celebrity- and influencer-driven brands, a demand for expert-led content is paving the way for makeup artists, hairstylists, aestheticians, dermatologists, plastic surgeons and more to enter — or in some cases reenter — the brand game.
While a crowded playing field rife with incumbent authorities and a slew of buzzy, celebrity- or influencer-backed competitors awaits them, it’s their backgrounds in their fields, though, that gives them their edge.
“Expert-driven brands are having a renewed moment,” said Lucie Greene, founder of Light Years Consulting. “This is partly driven by TikTok and Instagram culture, where we’re seeing more of the people that we follow and love crediting who they use — that could be everyone from plastic surgery to beauty to hair.”
Many of them boast robust social media followings. Dr. Jason Diamond, the plastic surgeon who launched a product line, Dr. Diamond’s Metacine, earlier this year, has 367,000 on Instagram alone. Makeup artist Katie Jane Hughes, whose clientele includes Ashley Graham, Karlie Kloss and Hailey Bieber, counts 884,000 followers on the platform, and she launched a makeup brand called KJH last month.
“We’re getting a sense of their expertise and a personal sense of connection to them,” Greene said. “There’s an element with these expert-driven brands where you feel they are actually innovating to create something new versus some of the influencer- or celebrity-incubated brands, where it feels somewhat outsourced.”
It’s strategy that is working well. Makeup artist Bobbi Brown’s second makeup brand, Jones Road, is said to surpass $120 million in sales this year, while Makeup by Mario, founded by makeup artist Mario Dedivanovic, topped $50 million in sales last year.
Such success has given more experts the confidence to become entrepreneurs, said Ilya Seglin, managing director of investment banking at Threadstone Advisors.
He attributes the resurgence of expert-driven brands to consumer confusion. “The consumer story continues — and they’re overstimulated. How do you try to sort through all of these products that are in all these categories? You need efficacy, and the natural reaction is to gravitate to somebody who actually has authority to speak about the product,” Seglin said.
“It’s a huge advantage because it allows you to break through the noise. The consumer resonates with founders that are living and working. Initially, it allows you to get that audience.”
Seglin said it’s not just consumers who are relying on résumés when deciding which brands to buy into. “Retailers are doing the same thing,” he said. “They know that they have the greatest success from somebody who has authority in whatever category they’re speaking to.”
Tracy Kline, head of merchandising, spa and supply chain, Bluemercury, agreed. “I don’t even think it’s important — it’s essential. The beauty industry has exploded, the client now questions much more than they used to,” she said. “‘Why is this brand important and why is it different from other brands? What will it do for me?’ The client is seeking to understand that, and authenticate it. The expertise is essential.”
That’s especially true in skin care, where consumers are becoming more savvy than ever over ingredients and doctor-based brands are surging in popularity. At its newly refurbished New Canaan, Conn., location, Bluemercury has a wall dedicated to derm-backed brands.
Kline added the caveat that that expertise can’t be too esoteric in marketing and communications. “It has to be digestible. We’re not scientists. When you’re training the beauty expert to educate the client, you’ve got to put it in terms that they will understand. That’s something the science-backed brands have learned,” she said.
When she evaluates Bluemercury’s brand matrix, Kline noted that the retailer takes its time launching brands. “We pause and learn about these brands before we launch them. If you launch a brand too quickly without understanding how they fit within the portfolio, or how the client is going to resonate with them, it backfires.”
In addition to Bluemercury testing each brand, the company has also assembled a team of industry professionals. That includes Dr. Elyse Love, the company’s first dermatologist adviser, who joined in 2022. “We are forming what we call our Beauty Council, and these are experts in their fields who bring amazing knowledge and are with us to help advise and educate,” Kline said.
Diamond, a celebrity plastic surgeon, founded his brand to offer a complement to his in-office procedure, the InstaFacial. In terms of building brand awareness, playing to his medical background has moved the needle the most. “When he speaks about the brand and the authority with which he’s built it, that’s what’s resonating with people and where we’re seeing the most engagement,” said Dr. Jessica Combs, Diamond’s wife and Metacine cofounder.
“He talks about different topics like how he developed the products, how he became a physician — that has been engaging for the consumer and that’s where we’re seeing a lot of people really interested in that kind of content.”
“I’ve been in the trenches for 20 years with skin, I see the ins and outs of every which way the skin works,” Diamond added. “And we incorporate the products with real procedures. We see people back all the time who offer direct, immediate feedback. We’re still actively in the trenches.”
It’s also given his brand a built-in consumer base. “He’s so trusted doing what he does — the consumer makes the correct assumption that he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to working with formulas and what goes on the body,” said Mark Ferdman, Metacine’s brand president. “All of these ingredients mimic things that happen in the body, and he’s very familiar with what’s happening biologically.”
Symphonic M.D., a skin care brand that launched this week with a retinol and vitamin C hybrid serum as well as a gluconic acid cleanser, also relies on a robust network of medical experts in product development and marketing. That includes a chief medical officer, Dr. David Chernoff, and an accompanying dermatologist advisory board. The business is helmed by general manager and founder Cherry Robinson, who has worked at DCL Skincare, Maison Berger Paris and Schwarzkopf Professional.
“We’re a collective of medical physicians,” Robinson said. “We have other researchers and scientists who are on board, and we’re a collective of people from different disciplines. Each of us looks at this through a different lens, and each of us bring our bandwidth and knowledge and experience together to start with that creative wish list.”
Dr. Ryan Turner, the dermatologist behind Trnr Skincare, which launched direct-to-consumer this month with a cleanser, serum and moisturizer, also said his patients informed his brand’s development. “I was hearing from patients that they couldn’t quite find what they wanted on the market. I looked to the natural world, which I had a lot of interest in, and took my medical training and the science of botanicals, and I made my brand about the right percentages. It was a very thoughtful application,” Turner said.
Added his CEO, Carrie Pickett, “You’re really talking to a very educated consumer, even the 12-year-old and 14-year-old. They know a lot about ingredients, they know about the product in general. The byproduct of these brands launching is the consumer driving the need for knowledge.”
Hughes’ own brand, KJH, also tapped into its community when ideating products. “Two years ago, we did a little panel when my highlighter shades were finalized, and I did a casting call on Instagram just saying I would love to try the product on peoples’ complexion,” she said. “We had 20 or 30 people come up, and I wanted to eyeball how it looked. That will be something that I will do with each product — it’s a nice way to give a sneak peek for the community.”
KJH debuted direct-to-consumer this month with a highlighter kit, which entails four shades and accompanies an illuminating serum and a brush, for $75. “I intend to release products that allow for people to become their own makeup artists,” Hughes said. “Beauty is overwhelming, and there is so much to learn. I just want them to focus on technique, and my community loves product development, they love behind-the-scenes, they love product development.”
Ivan Pol, a radiofrequency expert who introduced his brand, The Beauty Sandwich, with one stock keeping unit earlier this year — a facial oil-serum called The Secret Sauce — said he drew on his own clientele as a facialist when creating his products. “No matter what, whether it was a celebrity client or a woman I met 20 years ago at a makeup counter, they all wanted to look glowy and dewy,” he said. “I wanted to create a product that would make you look that way without makeup.”
And formulas are front and center for Ciele, the makeup-SPF hybrid brand cofounded by makeup artist Nikki DeRoest and Cerre Francis, which launched with Sephora earlier this year.
“People appreciate that we’re an artistry brand and that we have a lot of industry experience,” Francis said. “We’ve worked with other brands; we’ve seen the consumer now wants that authenticity. There’s great brands that are backed by celebrities, but we’re moving in a direction where the formulas have to really stand the test of time.”
Despite DeRoest’s social presence — on Instagram, she has 259,000 followers — it’s facts about the products that convert the most. “Nikki and I want to put out these crazy beautiful visuals, but it’s the five-star ratings, SPF ratings, artist-testing — those are the details that are driving back to our site and converting into a sale,” Francis said. “It’s the straight, to-the-point product photos with facts.”
It’s informed how DeRoest interacts with the brand’s lab partners, too. “I had a formula that I knew there was a pore clogger in,” she said. “I told the chemist they needed to dig deeper for something else, I couldn’t accept the formula this way. The biggest advantage is pushing the chemists.”
“Taking myself out of it as a brand owner and also being a consumer, the brands that I’m consuming are from other artists,” DeRoest added. “There’s something about that that I believe in what they’re doing. I want to buy hair products from Rōz because I know [founder] Mara Roszak has worked in the industry for a long time.”
Roszak’s hair care brand, Rōz, gained funding earlier this year, and that brand is estimated to reach $5 million in retail sales this year, per industry sources. Prices for her products, which count treatment, styling and cleansing products, range in price from $39 to $42, and are sold at Credo Beauty and Moda Operandi.
“If I know anything, it’s about hair. I live and breathe it every day,” she said. “It’s informed everything about my product development, what I want to create, how I want it to respond and what I need it to do. These products need to exist because of that experience.”
Roszak started developing her products three years ago when trying to find performance-driven products that were safe for pregnant consumers. From her time in the salon, she knew she wasn’t alone. “My clients in my chairs — the women and men who are out there looking for products that are working and struggling to do their own hair, I talk to them and understand what they’re looking for. I can clearly see a lot of opportunity out there.”
And though Roszak closed her funding round earlier this year, which included celebrity clientele like Daisy Ridley and Mila Kunis, Seglin contended that the key to building and scaling an expert-driven business starts with building a team.
“Every company goes through three stages. First, you’re a product, then you’re a brand, and then you’re a business,” he said. “As you grow and whether you do a private equity deal or you ultimately sell to a strategic, you need to make sure there’s a marketing team in place that’s working around a founder, a product development team that’s working around a founder. You need to make sure the execution isn’t dependent on the founder.”