How Tiara Willis Became One of the Most Trusted Aestheticians on the Internet at Just 19

Tiara Willis — known on social media as Makeup For Women of Color — is a New York-based aesthetician, makeup artist, and influencer. For our column UNTOLD, she's sharing how she began her career in beauty as a high schooler and quickly became one of the most trusted voices in the skin-care industry. This story was told to Danielle Jackson and edited for length and clarity.

I started my platform when I was about 14, when I was a freshman in high school. That was the year that my mom started letting me wear makeup to school — I had always wanted to wear it before, but she hadn't let me. When I was finally allowed to wear makeup, I was so excited that I started watching a lot of YouTube videos and doing so much research. I would literally write things down on my phone and go to the store and buy all of the things I wrote down. I kind of became a source for makeup advice for all of my friends during that time, especially a lot of my friends on Twitter.

That's kind of why I wanted to create this platform. It was just a source for them to use. I would post my favorite foundations, different videos that I liked, and photos of other peoples' makeup that I was really inspired by — because, at the time, there wasn't really a platform like that on social media in general but especially on Twitter highlighting women of color in the makeup industry. I really wanted to be a voice in that and really highlight that niche. My career started to grow but I was also just a regular teenager in high school, so I graduated high school early at 16 and then, after high school, I decided to go to aesthetics school.

On Her Big Break and the Growth of Her Social Media Following

The first big brand that put me on their PR list was Anastasia Beverly Hills. I think I had only been doing this for a year or so, and I got my first affiliate commission after a year's time. That was when I realized that this could actually be a thing, and I had to tell my mom about it. The growth was insane; I remember within three months — by December — I had already gained like 10,000 followers on Twitter. It was just growing very quickly.

It was such a surreal experience. I got on the PR list because the president of Anastasia, Norvina, started messaging me. She would message my personal Twitter and my Makeup For WOC page and we would just talk regularly. And then she decided to start sending me products, so that was pretty crazy because she was like, "We talk about you in everyday life. We talk about how monumental you are as a figure in the Twitter community."

On Why She Made the Switch to Aesthetics and Skin Care

I had seen aestheticians on social media that I was already following on Twitter, and I had also been struggling with acne. I had acne first, and that's what really brought me into makeup because I wanted to be able to cover [my blemishes]. But then I started to realize that for me to clear my skin, I'd rather learn about it myself versus paying people to do it for me. Even though my career was growing and I was on PR lists at the time and had more access, I still didn't know my skin.

Before the pandemic, I was taking regular clients in New York and getting to help other people with their skin concerns, but I also like to post a lot of what I've learned from school, different classes, and what I've experienced on social media. I feel like when I was going through that, there wasn't a lot of information at the time, it was a lot of DIY skin care on YouTube. So I kind of wanted to be that voice for people, to share legit corrective skin-care advice that could actually be helpful, especially for people of color because our skin is so different compared to lighter skin tones.

On Common Reactions to Her Age

I've found that my audience is a lot older than me, mostly in their mid-20s, so I try to cater my information to everyone who can access it. People are often pretty surprised by how young I am. I'm not bothered by it, but I find it offensive when people try and talk down to me because they realize how old I am. Really, the information would be the same regardless of my age, and I don't think age necessarily indicates your knowledge in the field. I went to school with women who are much older than me; one woman was a grandmother and we had the exact same education, yet people would respect her more than me even though we're on the same playing field.

On the Importance of Being a Voice in Skin Care

Not everyone has access to dermatologists or aestheticians. One, they may not be able to afford it or they don't have insurance. If they're 13 years old, their parents might not be taking them to the dermatologist, my parents weren't! So I just think about what it would be like to be that person and not know. I think it's really important to share that information for those who wouldn't have access to it otherwise.

On How It Feels to Know Her Voice Is Valued

It's so rewarding to be able to help people even off of basic tips, because normally with aesthetics, especially in the age of COVID-19, you need a consultation before I curate a skin-care routine for you. And even without that, even with a simple skin-care tip — if you have oily skin, skip wearing moisturizer in the morning and just wear your sunscreen because it's probably emollient enough for you — I'll tweet something like that and then days later, I get tons of people saying that it's changed their skin completely.

Even just those small tips like wearing more sunscreen than you did before — all those small things. It's so rewarding to me for people to see results, because I know that your skin can have an impact on your self esteem.

On the Most Important Skin-Care Tip of Them All

Keep it simple. I think sometimes we can get a little overwhelmed or a little too excited about all the things that influencers recommend. And that's OK, I think skin care should definitely be fun and you should want to try new things. However, that can easily go wrong.

The best tip I can give anyone is that if something's wrong with your skin, just bring it back to the basics. Bring it back to using a cleanser, your moisturizer, and a sunscreen and your skin might just snap back that way. That's a tip that I think everyone can follow — just keep it minimal when you're feeling unsure about things.