Monday, March 25, 2013

How to tell when beauty "blogs" are just trying to sell you shit (even if it's terrible)

Has anyone checked out xoJane's new spin-off, xoVain? (No links, because I try not to link to things I don't really like, but you've heard about googling, I presume.) I was interested to see what it was like, because, although I'm not a big fan of xoJane, it seems like a tell-it-like-it-is sort of site, and so I thought maybe their beauty blog would be low-bullshit.

It's basically a massive L'Oreal/Maybelline advertorial. And by L'Oreal, and I mean ALL OF THESE COMPANIES that they also own.

To be fair, they do have one post pointing out that they are sponsored by Maybelline, and telling you to expect reviews from them. (I think? It's not easy to find specific old posts on that site. It was way early on and hasn't been repeated.) And there's a half-assed argument for why "natural" is meaningless (and not better) when it comes to beauty products.

But really: they have an entire post to recommend this shit (Garnier=L'Oreal)! Okay, I'll link to it, but just because I want you to read carefully to see how they manage to avoid really telling you anything about it and saying anything bad: a) she doesn't tell you what happened when she tried to use it on her hair, of course, and b) she says it absorbed quickly when she sprayed it on her legs, but there was excess to wipe on to her face? Yeah. Didn't absorb, and she didn't want to put a whole spritz's-worth on her face. It left a glow on her legs, because they were still greasy. So she's not lying but . . .

If you intrigued by reviews and recommendations you read on large, magazine-style beauty and fashion blogs like this (and there are other similar ones - Refinery29 comes to mind), it's good practice also to seek out reviews elsewhere. I have seen xoVain shilling crap that has been given bad reviews by reliable independent bloggers, so google "[product name] review" and see what you find. Some blogs that I generally find reliable and honest are Musings of a Muse, Temptalia, Nouveau Cheap, Project Swatch, and Vampy Varnish. By reliable and honest, I mean that they are upfront about where they are getting their products for review, and that they regularly post negative (or even scathing) reviews of products they've been sent for free. That is a good sign. It's also useful to browse reviews on sites like Amazon,, or Beautypedia, to get a sense of how a product might work for someone with similar concerns to your own. You're not necessarily going to have the exact same results as any one individual blogger. Consensus and variety will tell you more.

Did you know that bloggers are required by the FDA to disclose clearly when they have received products for free to review and when they are using affiliate links? But magazines are not! Fucked up, right? So you should just assume that not only major fashion magazine's websites, but also other sites like xoVain and Ref29 are trying to sell you shit, constantly, above all else.

I use affiliate links in some posts, but not all of them. If it doesn't say so, I didn't use them. I'm very happy for both of us when readers click on one of my links and buy something I've recommended - you're getting good shit and I'm making 13 cents commission. So far I have made exactly $0 from affilate links, because you have to reach a $50 threshold to get paid, and at this rate, that will take me several more years. But whatever, if I'm going to link to stuff anyway for informational purposes, I might as well make a few cents. I would also disclose to you if a brand sent me something for free to review, but as I've said before, with the exception of BzzAgent programs, no one is going to send stuff to a blog with the word "fuck" right in the title. LOFT and and Sephora (among others) won't even let me put their affiliate links up in here. Too scandalous! Apparently.

But those big fashion/beauty sites also make bank from the things they link you to. At least xoVain is sort of upfront about their shilling, with the "shoppable items" list at the bottom of every post. What a generous service, golly gee, because how else would you find things for sale on the internets? But how do you know if something is an affiliate link, otherwise? Well, hover over the link and check out the url. If it has "affiliate" or "referral" in it anywhere, there you go. Probably. The other way to tell is if it contains a bunch of nonsense that tells you nothing about where it's directing you. That's what most of mine look like. If you end up at or something, but the link did not have "sephora" anywhere in it, then it's probably an affiliate link.

I don't think there's anything wrong with affiliate links - as I said, I use them. I actually try to remember to buy something through a blogger's affiliate link if that's where I found out about it. Professional courtesy, or whatever, but I don't really care if you do that here or not. I also don't think there's anything wrong with getting free samples to review - I'd do it, if I got any. What I do think is shitty is not being clear about your relationship with a brand and not being honest in reviews or recommendations.

So just . . . trust no one, basically. Expect me, of course.


  1. I though I added you to my reader a while back, but apparently I didn't, but now I finally have, and I'm so glad because you're awesome. And not just because you link to me!

    This is a great post, and so true. I get so frustrated with the blogs that try to disguise their disclosure statements and those that seem to give EVERYTHING positive reviews.

    A blogger once suggested that I not give products negative reviews ever because it would make brands less likely to send things to me. I've read her reviews with a laaaaarge grain of salt ever since.

    1. Hooray, thanks! You're one of the good ones!

      I can sort of understand the urge to not give bad reviews for that reason, in that I have had very momentary doubts myself. I mean, I like cheap stuff, and free is even cheaper than cheap . . . Luckily, since I started this blog with no hopes of anyone ever really reading it, much less getting free shit or money from it, I gave it an unappealing name that the people and/or robots who look for advertising spaces think is porn or otherwise unattractive. Keeps me honest! That and the fact that I would just get really bored and disgusted with myself praising garbage. If I can't complain, what's the point?

  2. That review is a non review basically. Pretty funny to read between the lines. I live for bad reviews sometimes, I prefer OH HELL NO to people trying to gentle about their disappointment. But maybe it's easier to be nice when you get free shit whereas if I pay for something and it sucks it's like a million times more shitty because I COULDA USED THAT $5 ON SOME SNICKERS etc. And I enjoy your Bzzagent stuff because it's honest, and they don't cut you off when your reviews aren't all puppy dogs and rainbows lol

    I would love to see them nonreview that garnier hair blow out mess.


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