When it comes to the world of beauty journalism , it can be extremely tricky for readers to know who to trust and just as tough for journalists to earn that trust in the first place. Few manage to overcome both hurdles with their integrity intact and a viable business to their name to boot. However, Sali Hughes is a stellar example of how it can be done; a fact clear from the success of her career, her unbiased writing style and reputation for being unafraid to say what really works and what doesn’t.
As Beauty Editor of the Guardian, Contributing Editor of Red Magazine and founder of the award-winning salihughesbeauty.com , Sali’s straight-talking attitude has struck a chord with the beauty masses, sifting through the marketing gimmicks and ploys to present a refreshingly truthful representation of what’s out there - ‘beauty without the BS’ so to speak, to borrow a quote from the writer herself.
One of the most trusted beauty experts in the country, we caught up with Sali to ask her about her book, Pretty Honest , as well as the beauty products that actually deliver, how to be a successful journalist in the digital era and about her journey from a makeup artist’s assistant to one of the most respected beauty authorities around.
GTG: Can you tell us more about your book, Pretty Honest? What was the inspiration behind it?
SH: I own lots of beauty books - beautiful coffee table things full of amazing artistry, great review books and so on. But what I’ve always been frustrated by is how no beauty books are written with real life in mind. Pretty Honest covers everything, from feminism, to post baby beauty, to chemotherapy, to Christmas shopping, to acne survival, to essential handbag supplies for a one night stand. Truthful advice on real life situations where looking and feeling good is helpful. It’s all there.
GTG: How has your background in the world of makeup artistry shaped the type of writer that you are today?
SH: Well, firstly, I was not a big deal makeup artist at all! I was an assistant to a successful one. So the biggest thing I learned was how important it is to work very hard, be honest, professional, and never a pain in the neck to have around. Those really are the most important things you can do in any job, and they translated to journalism very well. On a practical level, I learned an enormous amount about beauty. I was already obsessed with makeup but had no experience and suddenly I was being asked to make 40 extras look like Marilyn Monroe. You can’t panic and allow the client to lose confidence. You learn fast and get on with it.
GTG: What made you want to make the leap to journalism?
SH: I became a makeup assistant because I was a teenage runaway with no qualifications and beauty was something I knew how to do. I was too young to get a normal job but no one ever asked my age on video sets, and I was paid on invoice, so I could slip through the net. It was a matter of necessity. But I’d decided at age four that I wanted to be a journalist and never had any intention of doing anything else. As soon as I could make the transition, at 22, I did. My first job was as Fashion and Grooming Writer on Loaded magazine, which was quite the baptism of fire. Then I was a features writer and opinion columnist for well over a decade before I revisited beauty.
GTG: We think your ethos of beauty without the BS is very inspiring. Which 5 products do you think really deliver?
SH: Charlotte Tilbury Colour Chameleon Crayons , £19.
They say they’ll enhance your natural eye colour and that’s exactly what they do, brilliantly. They’re incredibly easy and fast to apply and they stay on until cleansing. I’m never without them.
Neutrogena Deep Moisture Body Lotion , £5.10.
If you have dry skin, this is simply the best body moisturiser at any price. Super rich but not at all greasy, the effects last all day.
L’Oréal Paris Elvive Fibrology range , from £2.99.
Does exactly as it promises - noticeably bulks up fine hair in one wash and allows it to hold style for longer. My favourite launch of 2014.
Sunday Riley Artemis Oil , £98.
If you think skincare should make you look better tomorrow than you do today, then this will not disappoint. A wonderful facial oil that immediately adds plumpness and glow.
Dior Glow Maximiser Light Boosting Primer , £28.50.
God, it’s so brilliant. An illuminating primer that locks down makeup while noticeably restoring glow to occasionally dull, 35+ skin like mine. It’s wonderful worn on its own too.
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GTG: What would you recommend for anyone looking to make their first steps into beauty journalism?
SH: Writers write, so start a blog and get going. I would also strongly encourage anyone to embrace digital, not just print, as modern journalists need to understand both and value them equally. Work out what it is you have to say about beauty - it’s great to be inspired by other writers or bloggers but you also need to know what makes your approach different in order to stand out. I get lots of submissions from potentially great writers who have tried to sound like me. I’m always more interested in people who write like themselves. Get your personality across.
GTG: What have you found to be the most important part in staying atop the digital journalism wave?
SH: I think it’s essential to embrace the changes in the digital sphere and not be scared or sit around moaning about them. Bloggers and journalists have equally important, if different, roles to play and anyone engaging in hierarchical hissy fits is a fool. Things have changed - you need to be in or left behind.
I am also very strict with myself about commercial partnerships. If I don’t genuinely love something, I will never say otherwise because I know full well it will end up costing me. You really have nothing long-term in this industry except your reputation and integrity. When you realise that, it’s extremely easy to say no to otherwise tempting offers of business. Professionalism has also been extremely important to me. Slating PRs, brands and readers on Twitter is a really, really bad look and I would never do it in a million years.
GTG: You recently won this year’s #TheVlogger Award at the P&G Beauty Awards – congratulations! You always have such great confidence in your videos. What are your tips?
SH: Just be yourself. Imagine you’re talking to your best girlfriends and not a camera (put a friend behind the camera if that helps!). It’s fine to fluff your lines, it’s fine to cough, laugh, drop a product or mess up. You’re just a human being talking to other human beings. Who cares? Just be passionate about your subject and know your stuff. People will pick up on it.
GTG: What’s your advice for succeeding as a beauty journalist?
SH: Be honest and transparent. Work really hard and be nice to people - you will always, always work with them again, or need their help. Don’t get sucked into industry gossip and feuds - keep your nose clean. And love beauty unashamedly.
GTG: What motivates you?
SH: My first instinct is ‘mortgage’ but in all honesty, I think I’d work just as hard if I wasn’t a single mum with bills to pay. I’ve been looking after myself since I was 14 and my work ethic has kept me going. I am extremely lucky to be able to pay the bills with the job I always wanted to do. I never take that for granted.
GTG: Who do you look up to in the industry and why?
SH: I mainly admire industry people who have remained lovely despite huge success. The Pixiwoo girls are thoroughly decent and nice, makeup artist Val Garland, perfume guru Roja Dove, editors with integrity like Sam Baker - all work hard and treat people with kindness. I also admire PRs who do their jobs brilliantly, mainly because I know how thoroughly useless I’d be in their position.
GTG: Which do you prefer – hard copy or online journalism? Is there a place for both in your opinion?
SH: There is absolutely room for both and I love them in different ways. There’s nothing like the creativity and sheer gorgeousness of a glossy beauty shoot in something like Glamour, or the usefulness of a video tutorial online, and we’d be lost without the honesty afforded by newspapers and blogs. As a writer who straddles print and digital, I find the press vs blogger stuff really tedious. People who really love this industry don’t engage in the nonsense and get on with their jobs.
GTG: We love your honesty and how truthful you are in your writing and videos. What (if anything) do you think is lacking in the beauty industry at the moment?
SH: Women of colour are not served adequately in print beauty journalism - the internet is putting it to shame. Magazine covers need to represent a wider and more inclusive set of beauty ideals. We need larger women, older women, women of all skin tones. And crucially, advertisers need to support editors in these decisions.
GTG: What does a day in your life consist of?
Honestly, my life has so little structure. Some days I run from studio to radio station to PR appointment to beauty event, and other days I sit in my pyjamas all day writing. I don’t do breakfast meetings because they mean not seeing my children before school and I avoid evening dos unless they’re really important. But within those boundaries anything can happen, frankly. Sitting in an office all day would drive me crazy.
GTG: If you had to pick just 3 pieces of makeup to use for the rest of your life, what would you choose and why?
SH: Clarins Instant Concealer , £21.
Nothing makes me look as instantly better as this. Covers and brightens dark circles with no cake or crepe, just a silky, moist, long-lasting finish.
I love red so much that I devoted a whole chapter to it in the book. Nothing makes you feel stronger, sexier, more instantly dressed up. I am loathe to choose just one but it would probably be by Chanel, NARS, MAC or Lipstick Queen.
NARS Orgasm blush , £22.50.
I’m obsessed with blusher and am forever chopping and changing, but this beauty classic is never far away. It flatters everyone, from palest white to darkest brown, and goes on perfectly.
Pretty Honest: The Straight Talking Beauty Companion by Sali Hughes, RRP £22. Available from www.amazon.co.uk .
Images: Jake Walters