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‘Instagram Face’: Is It the End of Good Makeup?

The day before the Rebecca Minkoff fashion show in September, the makeup artist Gato Zamora and the 17-year-old YouTube blogger Amanda Steele sat side by side examining Mr. Zamora’s work. He had transformed a model’s fair-with-some-redness complexion into glowing and even. The foundation was imperceptible. He applied a pinkish nude lipstick. Ms. Steele and Mr. Zamora leaned in, heads nearly touching. They agreed: A balm would be better. “Maybe she’ll look more like a teenager,” he said.

Ms. Steele started her YouTube channel when she was 10. She has since amassed nearly three million subscribers and 2.7 million Instagram followers with a mix of engaging beauty tutorials and lifestyle updates. Her style is relaxed and genuine, and she is undeniably talented at connecting with an audience by doing her own makeup.

“Maybelline asked if I’d be interested in working with them on some shows,” she said. “It’s exciting that they value my opinion.”

Mr. Zamora began his career in his early 20s, right around the time Ms. Steele was born. Maybelline thrust the two together to lead the makeup team for Rebecca Minkoff. The pairing was a first. Makeup at fashion shows is always a team sport, but never one with two head coaches.

The Maybelline experiment comes at a time of tension in the makeup business. Some professionals who have followed a traditional path of assisting senior artists and building their portfolios over years, sometimes decades, are bristling at bloggers, YouTube stars and Instagram gurus who have unconventional and more visible roads to success. But this shake-up in makeup goes beyond issues of taste and tenure. It’s about an industry being forced by technology to mature, one that is experiencing the frustration, fear and introspection characteristic of a major transition.

The first area of criticism is the prevalence of “Instagram makeup.” The aesthetic is familiar: eyebrows constructed by powder, pencil and concealer; faces heavily contoured and highlighted. Social media makeup enthusiasts become facsimiles of one another — all some version of Kim Kardashian West.

Social media “absolutely perpetuates one aesthetic,” said Kevin James Bennett, a longtime makeup artist and advocate for his professional peers. “It’s like looking at a bunch of clones. They’re Botoxed, filled and surgeried to look like Kim. I love how they all say, ‘Just be you,’ when they all look the same. And they have legions of fans who follow them like Stepford wives but who cannot afford to alter themselves the way these people do.”

Certainly there are talented self-taught artists on social media. And trends change. Ms. Kardashian West has moved toward a more natural makeup look. Nonetheless, “Instagram face” is representative of a bigger creative threat: waning individuality.

“It’s so rare in fashion today that people are eccentric,” said the makeup artist Nick Barose, whose social media feeds are a mix of posts showing his work on celebrity clients (Lupita Nyong’o, Alicia Vikander, Jane Fonda) and tongue-in-cheek commentary on the industry. His outspoken online persona works; it’s helped him get big jobs. But, he added, “Social media can kill authenticity, especially the more followers you have.”
Nika Kislak, a professional makeup artist based in Moscow, is known for work that is both imaginative and elegant. She was the chief makeup artist for L’Oréal Paris, Russia for three years but came to international attention last spring when her work was reposted on Instagram by Pat McGrath, the doyenne of runway makeup artists. Her career marries old and new traditions.

“Instagram provides the opportunity to make your dreams come true faster and make money faster,” Ms. Kislak said. “I dreamt of this kind of freedom as a child. But as we know, freedom is not free.” She was referring to the toll that social media can take on creativity. “It was much easier for me as a beginning makeup artist 14 years ago, without Instagram, because no one influenced my sense of beauty,” she said.

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