If Ancient Greeks wanted to catch a glimmer of what the future might hold, they’d take an arduous trek to the oracle of Delphi. But modern trend forecasters need only look to Tiktok, where a wave of Gen Z’s front-facing camera can blow up small business overnight and send entire cities flocking to the best cheap spaghetti spots. The thing is, for all of older folks’ trying, they often get it pretty wrong. “It” being what Gen Z is actually like, that is—because a real teenager is not the same thing as a 26-year-old who plays one on TV. ITG sat down with three current college students to figure out how what we’ve been told about Gen Z measures up to what’s really happening in the group chats. Below, our conversation.
Ali Oshinsky, Associate Editor: The first thing we want to know is, where do you guys look for beauty inspiration?
Hannah Burnstein: Usually Tiktok, because it’s less of a commitment than a YouTube video. Those cannot hold my attention. I follow some makeup artists to keep track of their videos, but usually I just search for specific things I want to try. Like, I’ve been hearing a lot about eye contouring and wanted to learn about it, so I searched ‘eye contour tutorial.’
Fiona Lu: I don’t even need to search for what I’m looking for. Tiktok just knows me and shows me things I didn’t even know I wanted to see. If I am looking specifically for tutorials, I’ll mostly go to YouTube. I subscribe to IamKarenO, and for skincare… you guys probably already know Hyram. He saved my life.
AO: Tell me more please. What do you like about him? Why do you trust Hyram?
Ashley Weatherford, Senior Editor: And why do you see him as an authority? I find this whole thing so curious because he’s not an aesthetician, he’s not a derm, but he has such a strong following. Is it because you feel like he’s your skincare nerd friend who’s constantly doing research? Because I get that.
FL: When I just started watching Hyram, he wasn’t as big of an influencer. He was just trying out a bunch of different skincare brands and spending his own money to do it. He made a point to tell people that he wasn’t sponsored. And he actually just puts a lot of research and time into explaining why he likes the products and why each chemical works for different skin types. I feel like I’ve learned a lot from him, the most important thing being that niacinamide, retinol, and hyaluronic acid are your three best friends. He also put me onto Youth to the People—I really like their cleanser and two moisturizers.
HB: The reason I trust Hyram is because I was already loyal to a few of the products he recommends. He also doesn’t care if something is cheap—he recommends drugstore brands if he genuinely thinks they’re the best. I get the feeling that when Hyram sponsors something, that’s really what he uses. He ranked [Kylie Skin] as “throw in the trash” or something, which I respect.
AO: What do you guys think about celebrity beauty lines in general?
FL: I personally would never buy from a brand just because I’m a fan of the celebrity behind it.
HB: If I am a fan that doesn’t mean that I’ll buy it, and if I’m not a fan, that means that I’m probably not going to buy it.
Charlie Kolodziej: I’m skeptical of anybody who already has a fanbase and then says ‘Okay, here’s a thing I’m going to sell you.’ I don’t know. It feels weird.
AW: But so, who does the celebrity beauty line work for then? Everybody’s doing it.
CK: I follow a lot of drag queens, and when they partner with people to make palettes, those are often really fun to look at and use.
AO: What are things that would make you buy a product? Are you guys interested in the ‘clean’ beauty label? Sustainability? Shade range?
FL: I’ve recently been trying to buy products that don’t have any added perfumes in them, and if they do, all natural ones. But really, I’m a huge sucker for pretty packaging, even though it doesn’t have anything to do with the product itself. I love the feel of glass bottles, and colorful things that would fit in on my beauty shelf.
AO: I notice this real tension with Gen Z, where everyone seems very concerned with sustainability—
HB: And then we make $500 fast fashion haul videos?
AO: Right! How do you guys balance sustainability and wanting things to look good on social media?
CK: I care about sustainability, but beauty is a bit of an exception in my brain. Buying a slightly more sustainable version of a product is not going to have an impact on our climate—no hate to people who want to buy the most sustainable products, by the way. I just think an individual’s consumerist response to climate change is useless. That’s my take.
AW: I totally see the whole thinking of, ‘If I do one product over another that’s slightly more sustainable, big whoop,’ but what about things that are blatantly bad for the environment?
CK: Glitter is a good example. I don’t buy cosmetic glitter unless it’s biodegradable anymore.
HB: I actually connote eco-friendly stuff with being less effective. I think that I was just burned when I was young…
AO: When you were young! [Laughs]
HB: Younger. Natural deodorant never works for me, and I’m still recovering from this one time a few years ago when I tried a Lush shampoo bar. My hair was matted… It was so disgusting. Now I don’t really buy products specifically marketed as sustainable, but I do try to use the products I do buy in such a way that feels sustainable. I can recycle it, or get every last drop, or repurpose it, or give it away.
FL: I feel like even when a product is sustainable in one way, it’s probably bad for the environment in some other way. I know I’m being a bit cynical, but it’s like sustainability has turned into a new marketing fad for brands.
AW: Question about this, for the Hyram fans. His line has some sort of sustainability element—does that factor into your decision to try his stuff?
HB: They’re probably donating money to good causes, but it’s just so irrelevant to the product itself that it seems gimmicky. I bought his Centella & Green Tea Hydrating Gel Cleanser and the Niacinamide & Maracuja Daily Support Moisturizer and they’re good quality, but on the back of the bottle, it says, “Supporting health equality,” without saying anything else about how they’re going to do that. Honestly, the most important thing to me is that a product is cheap.
AW: I respect that.
HB: We’re broke college students!
FL: I love The Ordinary.
HB: And The Inkey List.
CK: I love that The Inkey List products are so simple. I like getting one thing, knowing exactly what it’s supposed to do, and then seeing how my skin reacts to it. When I started using hyaluronic acid, for instance, it was obvious that it was a super helpful moisturizer. But if I get something that just says, “This is your multi-cream that will do a billion things, put it on at night and wake up like a baby,” it’s too many variables and I don’t know what’s going on.
AO: Is there one category that if you were going to splurge, you would?
AO: Why sunscreen?
CK: Sunscreen is very important because I’m so fair skinned, but most of them break me out. I really like the Shiseido one.
AW: This is so fascinating to me because I’d totally rather splurge on a mask or something. I feel like when I was your age, all of the drugstore brands were dominating sunscreen and the luxury brands had not really broken into that market yet. As a follow-up to Ali’s question, I’m curious: in the future, when you have your entry level job and some money, would you still want to stick with things that are cheap like The Inkey List? Or are you itching to break out of that price range and go to some other, more expensive beauty brand?
HB: Even if I can somehow afford more expensive stuff later on, I’ll still be thinking, ‘Well, the $8 version works just as well!’
AO: Do you guys shop at beauty stores? I’m asking because I feel like it’s so much easier to overdo it and spend a lot impulsively if you walk into a store, rather than just going online and going straight for a recommendation you know is good and cheap.
FL: I find new products on YouTube, or when Sephora sends a birthday package or free samples. But I usually shop online, because then I don’t have the pressure of six different sales associates coming up to me.’
AO: Pivoting completely, do you guys use the word cheugy? Do you know what that means?
FL: Doesn’t it mean so ugly it’s good?
AW: Who uses this term? I feel like millennials are told that Gen Z uses it, and now they’re literally asking us what the definition is.
CK: Who’s Gen Z? I’m not saying that!
AO: Are there any trends or products that you guys absolutely would never go for?
HB: You can’t catch me dead with Estée Lauder or Lancôme. The packaging doesn’t speak to me, and it just seems like the products are stuck in the ‘80s. Sorry if anybody uses that stuff. I just feel like it’s for older people.
CK: I pretty much only use lip gloss or tinted lip products, and see way fewer matte lipsticks on Gen Z—
FL: Matte lipsticks, I would say, are cheugy. I also don’t like Too Faced. I used to buy their chocolate bronzer but their co-founder’s sister was revealed to be transphobic, and bashed NikkieTutorials.
HB: I don’t buy Kat Von D because she’s anti-vax.
AW: So it’s not sustainability—it’s more so these other values and issues that you look at.
AO: How old were you guys when you got on social media?
FL: I think I was in fifth grade when I first got Instagram, but I only used it to repost iFunny memes because I didn’t understand how it worked.
CK: Social media has given me the idea that it’s more important to have a quirk or something weird going on with your look. I’m thinking about how I and all my friends have dyed our hair several times…
FL: It’s been a huge source of inspiration when I want to do more artistic makeup looks instead of my average day look. There are a lot of good, small name makeup artists that I’ve found through Instagram, like @Kickiyangz and @sweetmutuals.
HB: One trend that spread purely because of social media was the money pieces. You saw those on Tiktok, and then you went and got them. You can really just whip up an eye look, post it, and people will start copying it. It’s a much easier vehicle to spread ideas. Beauty wouldn’t be what it is today without social media, because trends wouldn’t circulate the way that they do.
AW: Hannah that is fascinating because A, it’s very true, and B, we got all of our trends from movies or TV shows not too long ago. The reason I like “Euphoria” is because it had such a strong and quick and direct influence on beauty, which is how it used to be all the time for so many different shows and movies. I remember when Clueless came out, and everybody wanted to dress like Cher.
HB: The Rachel!
AW: Yeah, the Rachel, from “Friends.” It was fun because it felt like more of a community. You would not only coalesce around the look, but also the content behind the look. Now, on social, it’s purely about the look. You lose a little something there.
AO: Have any of you guys watched the new “Gossip Girl” reboot?
CK: I’ve seen maybe a season of the original, and I was like, “What is this show?” when the reboot came out. I skate, so I had already been following the skater with the pink hair. His look has always been very Gen Z to me, and is one that I’ve copied in some ways over the years. I thought their clothes were pretty on-brand—that wasn’t my problem with the show, to be honest. It’s more so the vibe and the way they act.
AW: You don’t think they’re authentic to your generation?
CK: I just felt like the show is not meant for our generation. The “Gossip Girl” reboot is for older people that want to see something about younger people.
FL: I love “Euphoria” though.
CK: I love “Euphoria” too, but I think the show that has captured our generation best is “Genera+tion” on HBO. It definitely captures Gen Z to a tee.
AO: What’s it about?
CK: It’s about a group of queer teens in southern California. They’re all doing their thing and navigating life. It’s a little bit like “Euphoria” in the way that it’s not really about anything—problems and drama just come up. The whole flow of it felt kind of like Tiktok or Instagram to me.
FL: Bella Poarch is a prime example of a Tiktoker who completely and drastically changed their aesthetic to quickly amass a bunch of followers on Tiktok. She basically got famous on Tiktok for childish mannerisms and facial expressions. It’s a cute, “baby” aesthetic. But if you scroll down far enough, she was in the military and was super tough and badass, a very different “core.” She has a bunch of tattoos that she tried to cover up more to appeal to her fanbase.
CK: Right. “Cores,” like cottagecore… we’re being siloed into particular looks by social media algorithms and things like that. There’s not “the Rachel,” but there are definitely categories. It really feels like an algorithm thing.
This conversation has been edited and condensed.
Photo via ITG