This year has been a year of explosive growth for 24-year-old content creator and skinfluencer, Hyram Yarbro. Known for demystifying skin care science through product reviews; ingredient break downs; and brand critiques, his nearly three-year-old YouTube channel stood around 1 million followers just before lockdown. But in March, TikTok completely shifted his trajectory when Gen Z and Millennials flocked to his fun yet no-nonsense videos, where he often reacts – no holds-barred – to the skin care routines of celebrities, fellow creators and followers. In less than six months, Hyram’s TikTok platform swelled to 5.8 million followers with more than 1 billion total views. His YouTube channel has seen a 240 percent increase, and now boasts 3.4 million followers with more than 220 million total views. It’s no surprise then that Hyram’s endorsements mean serious business for brands. CeraVe, for example, experienced a significant sales boost with their Renewing SA Cleanser and Daily Moisturizing Lotion when Hyram gave his seal of approval on TikTok. A major champion of the brand, his recommendations often cause sellouts at Target and other mass retailers. CEW Beauty News recently spoke with Hyram about how he positions himself in the skincare community, how brands can be more authentic with their audiences, and what would happen if TikTok gets banned.

Beauty News: In three words, why do you think people watch your content?
Hyram Yarbro: I’d probably say entertainment, minimalism and digestibility.

BN: What do you mean by minimalism?
HY: It’s an all-encompassing word in the sense of my skin care philosophy and what I preach, which is skin care minimalism. I’m not the type of person who says you need 10 to 15 products, or you need all these ingredients, or you need to spend a lot of money. I’m also not the person to include an overabundance of information, or hard-to-understand information in my videos. I try to keep my videos very simplistic and minimalistic in philosophy. The way I’ve wanted to position myself in the industry is not as the go-to resource for all skin care information. I’m growing every day in knowledge, but there are incredible resources—dermatologists, chemists, estheticians—who have far more education than me. My position is to intercept people who are brand new to skin care and teach them a few simple philosophies that will set them in the right direction to curate a skin care routine. The industry is very hyper-consumeristic, confusing and saturated, so I hope my position is refreshing for a lot of people who are new to the space.

BN: Are you primarily self-taught?
HY: To an extent. There’s a lot of pseudo-science out there. And people are reading it on their own, dissecting information incorrectly and spreading false information. I’m self-taught in a sense where I love to do my own research, but I very heavily rely on the research that dermatologists and chemists have done. I either see and engage with their content, or reach out to them personally to be able to get my information. That’s my primary resource. My goal is to take the very complex world of skin care, of which dermatologists and chemists debate about every single day, and make it very easy to understand for an audience that’s brand new to it.

When I started on YouTube, there were incredible resources online but it was hard to find people who were speaking to beginners. I make sure my resources are well-educated so I’m not coming to incorrect conclusions.

BN: Did you start creating content with the goal of establishing a personal brand?
HY: At first what really inspired my content was seeing products offered for more than $1,000. I thought here must be something incredible backing up these price points to make them worth it. I started looking at ingredient lists and realized that they were not only not worth the price tag, but that the products contained ingredients that could be irritating to skin. So I wanted to share that base level of information.

When I first started on YouTube I thought it was, at most, a side passion, because I truly believed that the industry was already extremely saturated. I very passively uploaded for the first year; it was just a hobby and to share information that I had learned about basic ingredients to watch out for. I never anticipated it to be my career ; I thought at most if I get 10,000 followers that I’m set for life.

BN: Do you think brands value the role that influencers play?
HY: I see working with brands as a business, and it’s important to see it that way. I keep that in mind to keep a sense of professionalism, but also to make sure my standards are set when working with a brand. I’ve declined working with some brands because of their ethics or their formulations, for instance. When I do work with one, it’s always based on the assumption that I will be brutally honest. I anticipate that they’ve engaged with my content enough to understand that if there’s an ingredient I don’t like I’m going to call it out. There has to be a fundamental level of trust. Creators have built their audiences; they know them best and what will appeal to them. Thankfully we’re at a point where I think most brands understand that.

BN: What are your criteria for working with brands?
HY: I always have to look at the ingredient list first, so if the brand does not supply one I will not work with them. That usually filters 99 percent of requests I get. If the product is really expensive or has a formula that I’m just not impressed by, then I won’t have interest. For example, a serum priced at $200 with ingredients that I know I can find elsewhere at $30. I’m OK with more expensive products as long as they are innovative or offer something truly unique. I also consider ethics; I look at how the products are marketed, the inclusivity of the brand, the seriousness of the brand. Also, has the brand taken the time to engage with my content?

BN: You mentioned price. Do you think anything justifies a $100-plus price tag in skin care?
HY: For me it’s definitely a balance. Some of the products I use on my face are more expensive. For example, I use the Foreo UFO mask treatment. It has a more luxury price point, but it’s super innovative and really unique. But the reason I focus so much on affordability on my channel is accessibility; I never want anyone to feel excluded by a price tag in skin care. Since my goal is to intercept people who are new to the industry, most of them are young adults or people in college who don’t have a lot of money to spend on products. But I’m not trying to find the cheapest of the cheap either, especially with formulas. I’m OK spending a higher price point on a product that shows a good ingredient list, something well-rounded and active-focused.

BN: How can brands be more authentic with their customers? Is it customer service-driven, substantiated product claims, social media interaction, all of the above?
HY: At some level I think it’s all of it. Any brand lacking in those areas is really missing out on a connection with their customer base. Social media has been, particularly during quarantine, the primary platform for interacting with customers and getting feedback. It’s very unadulterated, and very clear what your customer wants through their comments, likes and DMs. Any brand that’s not interactive is just not going to be sustainable. I think a great example of this was the #PullUpForChange campaign on Instagram where companies shared their percentage of diversity.

BN: What spurred you to start creating content on TikTok this year?
HY: I was very hesitant initially. Before March of this year I had done about three TikToks and had not taken it seriously. During quarantine I was on YouTube five times a week. There’s usually around 10 hours of work behind one video, so I was already working a good amount in addition to other social media. I didn’t know if it was really worth it to try to grow on TikTok, particularly because the monetization structure of YouTube vs. TikTok is different. But I started to really enjoy being on the platform and was very entertained. I was actually appalled at how many views that the videos immediately got, and how quickly it ramped up. Even at this point, I don’t consider myself a TikTok-er because it’s not my primary platform, but it’s presented a unique opportunity to connect more with my subscribers. I’m able to see their skin care routines, react to them and engage in a way that’s just not possible on YouTube. I think that connection really ignited my rapid growth, and that’s what took me by surprise. For instance, when I got 600,000 subscribers on YouTube in a month it blew my mind, but on TikTok I got 800,000 in one day! But still I’ve been putting most of my energy into YouTube; it’s where my personality is best translated, plus TikTok is currently a big question mark.

BN: What would it mean for you if TikTok gets banned?
HY: It wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world for me because I have a YouTube platform built up. I feel bad for creators whose only platform is TikTok. It would be sad because it’s such a fun platform.

BN: What do you think of the new features YouTube and Instagram are rolling out to directly compete with TikTok? [Shorts on YouTube, which is scheduled to debut later this year; Reels on Instagram.]
HY: I’m skeptical because I think the entire appeal of TikTok wasn’t necessarily in the visual structure but more the algorithmic structure. The algorithm on TikTok is so superior to what you find on a lot of other platforms. It does a really good job of pairing you with entertaining content that matches your interests specifically. I’d say it also has superior editing capabilities. You have an endless supply of creative styles to work with from effects, timing, jump-cuts and visuals. On Instagram and YouTube, it’s all up to what the creator can do on their own essentially. Plus, their algorithms are just not at the same level as TikTok.

BN: If you had every brand gathered together in one room, what would you say to them?
HY: I’d probably say something to the essence of, celebrate the ability to disagree with someone while simultaneously respecting them. There’s a lot of heated debate online regarding skin care, brands and formulas to the point where it breeds a lot of very intense negativity; people debate it like it’s human rights issues. I’ve seen this in the comments section of my videos, I’ve seen this at the retail level, at the corporate level.