Camila Coelho Is Refinery29’s Beauty Influencer Of The Year
After a decade in the public eye, 2020 was the year she found her light.
When she was a senior in high school, while college tours and admissions processes consumed the lives of her peers, Camila Coelho had a different dilemma: "How do I tell my mom I don't want to go to college?" After immigrating to the United States from Brazil five years earlier, Coelho knew something else was in the cards for her. "In my heart, I knew that I didn't want to go to college for something I wasn't passionate about," she says.
Coelho asked her mom for a six-month break to figure out her life, in a conversation she says was one of her most difficult to date. It ended up being her greatest decision. "I got a job at a Dior sales counter in Macy’s,” she recalls. “I learned that I loved connecting with people, and that I loved makeup even more."
In 2010, during the beauty vlogging community’s early peak, Coelho started a YouTube channel. Her first video, a summer night makeup tutorial, currently has over 600 thousand views, a small fraction of the millions Coelho has amassed since blowing up over the last decade. "It started as a way for me to connect with my friends and family," the blogger-turned-CEO says. "I had no idea people were going to watch me." Since posting that fateful video, Coelho has built a community of over one million YouTube subscribers and over 8 million Instagram followers. She's also worked on multiple successful collaborations, including a lipstick launch with Lancôme, before turning her passion for beauty and fashion into two powerhouse brands: Camila Coelho Collection, a trendy line of ready-to-wear clothing, and Elaluz, the clean beauty line that launched in August and solidified Coelho’s stake as an influential player in the cosmetics market.
Elaluz, which translates to "she is light" in Portuguese, is a natural result of Coelho's lifelong passion for makeup as well as an ode to her Brazilian culture, which plays a significant role in her life. “I wanted this brand to have pieces of my heritage throughout, down to the packaging, product names, and ingredients,” she explains. The brand also symbolizes a more vulnerable side of Coelho, who has lived with epilepsy since she was diagnosed at age nine. "I struggled with believing that I could achieve my dreams at a young age after being diagnosed," she says of her experience with the neurological condition, which causes seizures. "The moment I realized I was strong and had this beautiful light inside me, it truly transformed me."
Despite sharing so much of her life on the internet, Coelho didn’t open up about having epilepsy until earlier this year. Behind the scenes, she didn’t always feel like the confident, upbeat person her millions of fans saw on YouTube. “I didn't feel like it was something I needed to share on social media, even though I had my struggles and insecurities about it," she says. But she turned her insecurities into an opportunity to inform. "For a while, I didn't see the bigger picture, but I realized that sharing my story could possibly change or save someone's life." Coelho became an ambassador and board member for the Epilepsy Foundation of America to raise awareness about the condition. She is currently the youngest board member, and she works with the foundation daily on creative ways to educate people and end the stigma.
Leveraging her platform for a good cause is a massive responsibility for Coelho, and she doesn't take that lightly. This year, society challenged influencers and brands to use their voices to bring awareness to political and social justice issues. Audiences also held prominent personalities accountable, leaving room for discussion and self-reflection. "I believe that the bigger the platform you've been blessed with, the greater your responsibility to use it positively," Coelho says. "Whether that's speaking up about something you believe in or providing positive, informative content, I want to make sure I am using my voice for good.”
For Coelho, it's a critical time to show the world that there's real beauty in authenticity. "At one point, I believed that people would look at the bloggers like silly girls who only show off their clothes and outfits," she says. "But we should also be proud to shed light on things we believe are important. We are so much more." Coelho's mission to use her light to make the beauty world a more honest, intentional place is hard proof.