How much risk a celebrity assumes by launching a skin-care line depends on how involved they even are. Starting the company from the ground up—as Lopez has done and Kylie Jenner notably did—can be the most lucrative course but has the highest risk. There are also licensing deals and hybrid licensing deals that give celebrities some equity. That’s Rihanna’s arrangement with Fenty Beauty; global conglomerate LVMH owns the majority, and she owns a reported 15%. Other celebrities have negotiated a guaranteed royalty by licensing their lines.
Stacy Jones, founder and CEO of Hollywood Branded, which brings celebrities and companies together for partnerships, thinks it’s more attractive than ever for celebrities to run their own brands—rather than just slapping their name on something via a licensing deal.
“Celebrities want an active stake in the action, where their time and energy, and association, can yield returns that far outlast a single endorsement campaign,” she told Glamour. “The sky is the limit now, thanks to social media and the massive footprint celebrities have online. From celebrities’ receiving C-suite titles to creating limited-edition lines to fully branded and owned product lines…it’s a potential financial windfall.”
How big a financial windfall are we talking about here? Many people point to Jenner’s success—selling 51% of her beauty line to Coty for $600 million—but there are other runaway success stories to point to, such as Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, which was valued at $250 million in 2018, and Jessica Alba’s Honest Company—now a $1 billion unicorn. Skin care is a core business for both these companies.
“A brand that is established and grows will, over time, yield more income than an endorsement or licensing deal that ends after a set number of years,” Jones points out.
Still, not everyone watching this space is convinced that most of these lines will ultimately be successful. Selling skin care isn’t exactly the same as convincing people that tangerine lipstick is a must-have. “Makeup is something that you can see. Skin care is something you can’t—it’s an invisible investment,” says Renée Chow, the founder of the skin-care-focused Instagram handle Gothamista. “Most of these celebrity lines are just not that appealing to me. I gravitate toward specially formulated skin care, and a lot of these products are just contract manufactured.”
Small amounts of blowback have already percolated. Kylie Jenner faced pushback because her walnut facial scrub was deemed too harsh—even harmful. Fenty fans took to Twitter to express disappointment that the line is fragranced, which irritates some people’s skin.
Skin care is invisible, which raises the question of whether shoppers will believe that celebrities use their own lines or that the products are responsible for their flawless skin. For example, Millie Bobby Brown was called out for not actually using her skin-care line in a promotional video. And critics of JLo Beauty have pointed out a somewhat obvious detail: J.Lo had amazing skin long before she created this line, even if the products do use ingredients she says she’s relied on throughout her career.
“These celebrities look so good because they have access to skin care and regular specialized treatments—things that are really a privilege,” says Chow. “My gut reaction is that the average consumer knows this to some degree, and realizes it’s not just olive oil that is making someone look a certain way. There may be interest from die-hard fans, but I’m not sure everyone is going to have an interest.”
While social media and access to a built-in fan base offer celebrities a massive leg up, success still comes down to sustained sales over time. “Some celebrities may be able to sell to high-end stores like Sephora and some may even end up in mass channels like CVS or Target,” Kodali said. “That usually can help drive success. It’s very hard to just build a massive brand that people buy over and over again with a few videos on YouTube. The biggest sign of success will likely be if any of them get acquired by a bigger company like Estée Lauder, L’Oréal, or Revlon.”
With so much money floating around and so many lines launched by celebrities, does it even matter if a line fails? What is their risk? Jones thinks failure will impact a celebrity’s ability to raise capital for another line in the future or their ability to partner with brands on licensing deals.
To the everyday shopper, though, a celebrity’s failure in the skin-care arena may hardly register. “Unless they fail spectacularly, they’re just going to be another statistic,” Weingarten says. “And J.Lo can always come out with kombucha next year.”
Leah Bourne is a writer in New York City. Follow her on Instagram @fromthefrontrow.