What do Brad Pitt, Scarlett Johansson, and Travis Barker all have in common? Aside from having two failed marriages behind them, all three have launched a skincare line this year.
Celebrity-endorsed brands are nothing new, especially when it comes to the multi-billion-dollar beauty industry. But rather than just lending their famous faces to an existing company, these celebs are launching their own—and they’re doing it in rapid succession. Seriously, it’s starting to seem like everyone who’s anyone is jumping on the bandwagon.
In the 2000s, it was all about the celebrity fragrance (Paris Hilton alone had over 20 different perfumes). In the 2010s, celebrity cosmetics were the big thing. And while those beauty ventures haven’t disappeared, the hottest trend right now is skin care.
According to Dr. Melanie Palm, board-certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon at Art of Skin MD, skincare has become “one of the most profitable sectors in the past few years” in large part due to social media and the pandemic.
Covid ushered in a new era in skin health. Zoom calls, “maskne“, and facial spas shutting down led to massive consumer interest in skincare. So, is it any small wonder that the rich and famous saw an opportunity and decided to get in on it?
Even now, three years into the pandemic, the skincare boom hasn’t slowed down one bit. If anything, it’s only grown larger. 2022 saw a tidal wave of star-powered skincare brands, including The Outset by Scarlett Johansson, Rhode by Hailey Bieber, SKKN by Kim Kardashian, S’ABLE Labs by Idris and Sabrina Elba, Stella by Stella McCartney, Barker Wellness by Travis Barker… and the list goes on.
In fact, Brad Pitt’s skincare line, Le Domaine, drew a lot of criticism when it launched in September. A group of six female beauty founders even penned “An open letter to Brad Pitt” on the (now defunct) website, notanothercelebritybrand.com where they write, in part, “Over the past few years, it seems that every celebrity feels like they can waltz into the industry that we have worked in our whole careers and gain the awareness overnight that we are so fighting for.”
They continue along this vein, making mention of the wealth, power, and privilege that allow these celebrities to “waltz into” an industry they have no business being in before signing off with a simple plea: “Please stop.”
It’s not just market competitors, though. Consumers are getting more and more fed up with every new launch. “Celebrity skincare is the new celebrity podcast,” one person tweeted. Another Twitter user wrote, “Ok first Travis Barker now Brad Pitt – is there a tax incentive for celebrity skincare lines?”
This celeb-skincare fatigue is hardly surprising considering how many there are. There’s certainly an eat-the-rich mentality at play—after all, it’s easy to see it as a disingenuous money-making scheme, especially when the celeb in question seems downright aloof about skincare (I’m looking at you, Jared Leto).
But much of the criticism stems from a more educated consumer base. Shoppers aren’t swayed by celebrity status alone; they’re interested in the fine print.
“Having a household name is not enough,” Dr. Palm says, explaining that for a skincare line to be worthwhile, it needs to be backed up by clinical trials and research proving its efficacy.
Dr. Michele Koo, board-certified plastic surgeon and founder of Dr. Koo Private Practice, agrees. “I’m extremely concerned about the quality and integrity of the ingredients and formulas,” says. “Where is the science, where is the know-how, why now?”
It’s a valid concern—so many of these celebrity founders fail to demonstrate even a basic understanding of skincare. For instance, Le Domaine was dragged on Twitter upon its release when users noticed the website boasted an ingredient list with “no conservatives” (what they meant, of course, was “preservatives”). It was also billed as a “genderless” skincare line, prompting even more eyerolls.
“What does Brad Pitt know about the physiology of skin?” Dr. Koo said. “The type of skin is important,” she explains, not gender. “The thickness, oiliness, pore structure, skin age (not chronological age), hair color, skin color are all factors that I consider when recommending a skin care regimen.”
Unfortunately, she added, the steady influx of celebrity brands only makes it harder for skincare founders like her. So, instead of well-researched products developed by experts, we get a gender-neutral serum for a cool $385 an ounce.
Celebrities have the means to launch their own brands, but more importantly, they have inherent marketability. We’re constantly inundated with images of air-brushed celebrities—on magazine covers, on TV, on social media. And whether they’re promoting their latest movie, album, or product, what they’re really selling is themselves. It’s the American dream for the TikTok age, an underlying message of, “You too can look like this!”
The problem is, it’s a lie.
To look the way they do, celebrities need “a combination of treatments, along with an effective skincare routine,” Dr. Palm says, citing medical-grade facials, peels, lasers, microdermabrasions, microneedling, and filler. PRP, stem cells, Botox, and vitamin IV infusions are also common according to Dr. Koo. In addition, she says, microneedling and peels help skincare products penetrate deeper, thus boosting their overall effectiveness.
And that’s just the half of it. When it comes to plastic surgery, Dr. Koo estimates that between 85 and 100% of A-list celebs have had work done… meaning you can use that $90 face cream all you want, but you’re still not going to look like Kim K.