Jackie Aina Is Refinery29's Beauty Innovator Of The Year

“Let me just get right to the point,” Jackie Aina started her video reviewing Tarte’s Shape Tape foundation, which has more than 4 million views. “Today, I got the PR package and honestly, it’s... it’s bad. It’s worse than I expected.”
It’s an opening line that would strike fear into the heart of a beauty publicist, but indicative of the kind of raw honesty that makes Aina’s 2.7 million followers return to her page over and over again. The U.S. Army veteran, who launched her YouTube channel 10 years ago, has earned a reputation for her fierce, candid, and unrelenting beauty product reviews — even if they cost her.
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Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images.
“People would tell me to not talk about shade ranges and diversity,” Aina tells Refinery29. “I felt like brands wanted me to fit mainstream standards — but I am clearly not the standard — so I am gonna talk about things that affect me and the way that I look. If that comes at the expense of pissing off a few people, I'm not worried about it."
And if there was ever a year when we needed a strong voice like Aina’s, it was 2018. After Fenty Beauty triggered a seismic shift in the beauty industry, Aina stepped up to serve as its gatekeeper. When brands failed to be inclusive, you could trust Aina to hold them responsible. When they delivered on thoughtful product offerings, she offered her praise. And woven throughout every video and post — positive or negative — she tackled the tough conversations other brands and influencers were afraid of touching.
“She was someone who was talking about issues in the beauty industry, like colorism, when no one else was,” says fellow YouTuber and founder of Tinted, Deepica Mutyala. “She did it unapologetically and proudly and she got hate and backlash, but she didn’t care. She stood true to who she was.”
While Aina says that some beauty companies cut off their relationships with her following a negative review (which directly impacts her income as an influencer), others learned from her critiques and came out on the other side stronger. When Aina publicly pointed out that Too Faced’s foundation line was severely lacking in shade range, Too Faced’s founder Jerrod Blandino took her feedback seriously and hired her for the job.
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"That type of criticism doesn't come from a place of having an agenda," Blandino told Refinery29 earlier this year. "I knew she could do the Born This Way launch better than I could. She worked her ass off, did the research, and developed these shades with the full authority of my team." Ganache, one of the nine deeper shades Aina created for Too Faced last June, instantly sold out.
But Aina’s commitment to championing inclusivity didn’t start this year with the
Fenty Effect,” and it won’t end anytime soon, either. "None of this was overnight, how do you think we got here?” Aina tell us. “Because of me just being nice to everyone and saying whatever brands want? No.”
Holding brands accountable for their actions also means that Aina opens herself up to the same scrutiny. “I get a lot of crazy comments — I’m talking about hate and vitriol, not constructive criticism,” Aina says in a video where she reads out some of those comments. “To a certain extent, I do believe in the notion that I signed up for this," she tells us. "But I don't think it means that I have to lay down and accept everything because of it. I want people to critique me in the way I critique brands: professional and thoughtful."
While some people resist the responsibility that comes with influence, it’s what drives Aina to do her job every single day — and the reason we unanimously awarded her Refinery29’s Beauty Innovator Of The Year. “I strongly believe that to whom much is given, much is required,” Aina says. "There is a reason why you have all of these eyes watching, and it only benefits you and future generations when you use it responsibly."
Watch Jackie Aina talk about her favorite beauty picks in our video below.
produced by Alexa Thompson; appearance by Jackie Aina; edited by Laura Conte; produced by Meghal Janardan; appearance by Mi-Anne Chan; produced by Mi-Anne Chan.
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