One of the obvious downsides to buying makeup online is that you have to do some legwork. In theory, it's more convenient to place an order online than to actually go into a Sephora store. But you have to do your research: try to decode the swatches that appear to be on a model's arm, read reviews, and decide for yourself whether or not you trust everything. The trust factor is tricky, because many people are finding that brands mine their reviews, incentivizing certain photos, and so they have to be taken with a grain of salt.
Luckily there's a resource to help, but only about 25,000 know about it: It's a Reddit forum called r/swatchitforme, where Redditors help each other navigate through the universal challenges we all face when trying to understand how makeup actually looks in real life. Here, Refinery29 chats with two beauty-passionate Redditors (who wish to maintain their anonymity) about how the forum functions as a resource — and why, if you buy a lot of makeup, you should consider joining, too.
Refinery29: I'm new to Reddit. I'm curious, how did you find this r/swatchitforme forum?
u/evelyn_nanette: When the pandemic started and everything shut down, in March of 2020, I decided to start a Reddit account. I had already been reading subreddit community called r/BeautyGuruChatter, which talks about beauty influencers. But once the pandemic happened and I was at home, on furlough and super bored, I decided to start an account so I could interact with other people. Through that, I eventually found r/swatchitforme; I use it primarily to learn more about beauty products.
u/NiaNeuman: I [was] trying to find non-brand photos of makeup swatches. I wanted to find real people who had a similar skin tone to me, in the medium to dark range. When I found Reddit r/swatchitforme, I found this community of people who were looking for the same kind of thing.
Refinery29: What makes these makeup swatches so helpful?
u/evelyn_nanette: There are a bunch of rules for posting: You have to share your skin tone and your undertones. Then you have to say what kind of lighting you used, and whether you used a primer or not. All of this is to tell someone, this is exactly how I got this photo.
Refinery29: What makes these Reddit's r/swatchitforme reviews different from what you see on a brand's website or on Sephora or Amazon?
u/evelyn_nanette: I don't know that this community is consciously trying to challenge makeup brands or retailers. But there are a number of reasons to use Reddit. First, the photo is bigger, as compared to Sephora where you're only seeing this tiny-little picture. Also there's a sense of honesty. Marketing teams go through brand's reviews, we know this. So with Reddit, you know that it's authentic. It's a community, it's a forum. You don't really get that kind of feeling from website reviews.
u/NiaNeuman: When I swatch something and someone asks me how I feel about it, I'm honest. Like, I'll say, 'It's just okay.' Sometimes a product is fine and cheap and easy to find. That's not a review that a brand is going to run with. But I would hate to give someone the wrong impression of something just so that a brand likes me.
Refinery29: So there's a sense of transparency. But why post on Reddit instead of your Instagram or TikTok?
u/evelyn_nanette: My Instagram is associated with my identity. My Reddit name is the name of a fan-fiction character. I don't post my face on Reddit because I don't want people to know about my life. I've built this community of followers and I can't really translate that to Instagram. Or, I'd have to start all over. I also feel like that market is way oversaturated and everyone and their mother wants to be an influencer.
u/NiaNeuman: I'm not super trendy with makeup. I'm really looking for solid reviews from people who use and actually like makeup. One of the issues today is that there are many uber consumers, influencers who have a lot of products, but don't really use them. Some of the influencers have a fast-food mentality when it comes to makeup. They want to try it immediately and share it — even if it's not providing meaningful information.
Refinery29: What are the most common problems you find when shopping for makeup online?
u/NiaNeuman: There have been so many times that I've been like, I'm almost positive that this is my shade, and then it arrives and it's way more rich and red than it looks online. Sometimes brands will just put a drop of pigment on a white background and that's very unhelpful because there's no context to lighting conditions. Sometimes it looks like a brand photoshopped the model's skin tone just to show more representation. Swatches can sometimes feel performative without being a helpful guide.
u/evelyn_nanette: I'm African American and there aren't a ton of dark-skinned beauty influencers in general. I noticed that there are a lot of makeup palettes out there that really look different on my skin than they do on a caucasian person. I've been trying to post my palettes so that someone else who has my skin tone will be able to get a really good idea about what it looks like. I like the idea that I can be a resource fo another person who's doing their research. It's a frustrating thing because I'm always trying to look up review before I buy something. Obviously I want to see how it looks on someone who looks similar to me first. But there's a lack of that unfortunately.
Refinery29: How do you post on this forum? Are you swatching all your makeup as a resource for others?
u/NiaNeuman: I'm trying to. Like if I get a foundation in a bunch of shades because I don't know what will be the best for me, I swatch all of them and post it so that someone else who's shopping can see the nuances and determine if something's a good fit for them. I'm going through everything so that people who are also Googling and trying to find the right concealer shade for them will have a resource.
u/evelyn_nanette: I primarily do eyeshadow swatches. But I also did a post swatching all of my foundations. I bought a ton of foundations this past year, which made no sense. I've also done a post on all my lipsticks. I got a bunch of Gucci makeup for free because I work in fashion, so I did a swatch post of all of those. I did a swatch of my entire lipstick collections, then all my liners, and I just did all my lip glosses. It's fun for me.
Refinery29: How do you search for reviews of specific makeup products on Reddit?
u/NiaNeuman: Typically I search Google wide before I dive into Reddit, just to see what's out there. I also use Instagram and YouTube. There are particular influencers I follow who have skin tones similar to mine. Then I search Reddit. R/swatchitforme [is] a small community, just 25k members, but it's pretty active so I can usually find someone who has tried what I'm looking for.
Refinery29: So the hope would be that if people use this community then there would be a whole array of swatches of popular products across all skin tones?
u/evelyn_nanette: I would love that. Eventually, maybe we'll get there. The more people who join, the better.