7 Business Lessons from the Jaclyn Hill Cosmetics Disaster
Not your average YouTube beauty drama.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past couple of weeks, you’ve probably heard about the huge backlash against Jaclyn Hill and her new brand Jaclyn Cosmetics. She launched her first product, a set of 20 lipsticks in varying “nude” colors on May 30th at 9 am PST.
This is not just drama, it’s not people “throwing shade,” it’s concern about a legitimate public health hazard.
It started with people receiving lipsticks that were melted, had a rough/gritty texture, or had white and/or black hairs on and embedded in them. Then people started noticing small holes and black dots, fingerprints, moisture marks on the tip of the lipsticks, and even small hard pieces of foreign materials inside them.
People began wondering if the lipsticks were expired — or worse, harmful.
Some users claimed the lipsticks smelled “like Play-Doh” or rancid and others found differences in formulations from one color to the next, despite the claim they were all the same “so buttery” formula.
Hill says she’s been working on her lipstick line for 5 years now, and many people are wondering if the lipsticks they received were old and expired.
More backlash and proof of contaminated lipsticks were posted from customers worldwide and influencers online.
YouTubers Showing Video Proof of Contamination
Many YouTubers were reviewing Hill’s lipstick collection and came across some very disturbing things.
RawBeautyKristi put hers under a microscope and compared the free lipsticks she received in PR to the ones she purchased herself finding the purchased ones were far worse quality, several people dissected the lipsticks, PrettyPastelPlease found metal in hers, biochemist Kash Pierce discussed cosmetic manufacturing and sent her lipsticks to an independent lab for testing. Search “Jaclyn Cosmetics review” on YouTube for a lot more.
Marlena Stell, owner of Makeup Geek, has spoken out against these lipsticks, as has Kevin James Bennett, a pillar in the makeup world, on JenLuvsReview’s channel, and makeup owners Kristen Leanne and PopLuxe both immediately found contaminants in their orders, in addition to others.
And for a while — longer than is acceptable — there was no word from Hill on the issues.
Jaclyn Hill’s Response
Hill started off by antagonizing people and claiming that one person’s lipstick had rough texture because of their “dry lips,” which she later apologized for after being heavily criticized.
Hill then waited another WEEK after feedback started pouring in before posting a make-up free (how most beauty YouTubers do apology videos) video on her YouTube channel explaining the issues on June 12, 2019.
Hill has been criticized for coming off as remorseless and annoyed during her response video.
She claimed everything went into production in May 2019 right before the launch, showing “proof” in the form of a certification paper — dated 2017.
She tried to claim that the batch codes that everyone noticed were the exact same on every single shade of lipstick and every customer were actually “production codes,” brushing off batch codes altogether. Which is even MORE questionable, since batch codes are actually important.
Here is a short explanation about why batch codes matter from Genie Supply, a cosmetics agency. Here is information from the FDA on batch production records and their importance (section VI, subsection E).
She also claimed that the fuzz and hairs found on the lipsticks were from “white cotton gloves” that the Quality Control team were wearing and towels for cleaning the vats and that it was NOT a contaminant. This cannot be true. Despite her claim that she’s using one of the “best labs in the US,” if that were true they would know cotton gloves are not appropriate in sterile environments, and that those cotton fibers WOULD count as contamination. Despite her “behind the scenes” video showing standard blue lab gloves. Despite the fact that MANY cosmetic manufacturing workers have claimed white cotton gloves would not be allowed in a sterile environment. Despite the fact that some customers were actually finding BLACK hairs in their lipsticks. Yet, she persisted.
Unfortunately for Hill, anything not in the stated formula IS a contaminant, including cotton from gloves and towels. People sweat in gloves. Who knows what cleanser or chemicals were on the towels? And if this was her entire QC team and vat cleaners? Then ALL the lipsticks are contaminated.
Vlogger Adaleta Avdic does a great job breaking down many of the lies in Hill’s video, check out her dive into the math of the mass production and how it couldn’t have been mathematically possible to do what Hill claimed and showed proof of starting at 1:44.
Hill’s team also claimed that “0.001%” of lipsticks were compromised. Unfortunately for her, there are way too many posts and videos of bad and contaminated lipsticks for that to be true. AND her own explanation of gloves and towels disputes that. It’s been said there were 300,000 units in her first production run and that small percentage would only be 300 compromised units — there’s well over that number of posts, videos, and complaints.
Hill’s website claims people can ask for refunds but that they must provide proof (photo evidence) and also will not be refunded shipping. She also reiterated over and over to contact email@example.com for any assistance — but many customers are saying they have emailed days ago and not received a reply except for the automated one — which says your email is “super important” to them and to “Keep it boujee.” Classy.
Many customers, influencers, and fellow cosmetics professionals have called for her to recall the lipsticks and fix the issues — many claiming this is truly a public health issue and that peoples’ health could be at risk.
There is no true estimation of what the aftermath will be yet.
Hill’s reputation has definitely taken a large hit. There are countless articles, videos, and social media posts of contaminated products, backlash, and how people feel about Hill’s responses throughout the entire thing. Those will live on the internet forever, regardless of any later successful launches.
Hill has lost only some subscribers (from 6.2 million to 5.9 currently), but there are a lot of unhappy customers and people asking for refunds. Many customers have claimed they will never purchase a Jaclyn Hill product again and more have said they’ve lost respect for Hill and lack trust in her.
There is a Change.org petition with 25,000 signatures requesting a recall and for the FDA to step in. Some customers have even said they reported the cosmetics line directly to the FDA.
A reaction after using a cosmetic, such as a rash, redness, burn, hair loss, headache, infection, illness or any other unexpected reaction, whether or not it required medical treatment.
A problem with a cosmetic product, such as a bad smell, color change, other sign of contamination, or foreign material in the product.
People are continuing to come forward daily to state the issues they are facing, some even saying they developed a rash or infection from the products.
Business Lessons You Can Learn & Apply
What can entrepreneurs and business owners learn from this disaster of a first launch?
One, preparation is paramount. When launching a new product, it is YOUR responsibility as the owner to do your due diligence and thoroughly research all facilities, manufacturers, and distributors you use. Clearly, Hill did not use “one of the best labs” for her product, since there is an overwhelming amount of evidence the products aren’t in perfect condition. If your name and brand are attached to something, research the ever-loving crap out of every piece of the process. Read reviews, tour facilities, shadow employees, read and understand all rules and regulations your product must comply with.
Two, test all products thoroughly. There was obviously not enough testing done here, despite claims of quality assurance, since the quality was lacking in a lot of product. White fuzzy gloves are unacceptable in a sterile environment. Knowing this could have shown Hill a large red flag when researching her quality assurance team and facility. The solution? Do have things sent out for third-party testing and to test everything as much as you need until you have it right.
Three, have great customer support. In her initial responses to people online, Hill was antagonistic and came off as snarky. Always react professionally to your clients and do not accuse them of anything — do everything in your power to solve the problem.
Four, response time is critical. After initial feedback started popping up, Hill waited a week to address it, both personally and through her company releasing a statement. This only added to the confusion and mistrust. As a business owner, you have to be in tune with your customers and their needs and fears and respond immediately to avoid larger issues, backlash, and loss of trust.
Five, professionalism is the only answer. Defensiveness is never the answer. You cannot be defensive or aggressive with customer complaints. Had Hill immediately reacted with “I am so sorry. We are stopping production until these issues are solved and will update everyone as soon as possible.” Then customer concerns and feedback may have been different. Act professionally and offer to fix the problem as quickly as possible. And for goodness sake, don’t have a “quirky” autoreply when a large volume of customers are experiencing serious issues with your product.
Six, tell the truth. Many people have disputed a lot of the claims made in Hill response video, from dates to rules and more. It was less of an apology and came off more like a series of weak excuses. Many people now claim they’ll never buy from Hill again — because they feel lied to and disrespected. Be as honest as possible with your customers, honesty breeds trust and respect which strengthens your brand.
Seven, take the hit if necessary. At this point, there is clear and overwhelming evidence of contamination in multiple shades of Hill’s lipsticks. She can’t recall only a single or a few shades because there are no batch codes — they all have the same code on the bottom sticker. Hill has a responsibility as the owner to take the financial hit and recall the products and replace it with an uncontaminated new product after a thorough investigation of what was causing the issues in the first place. There has been no evidence showing this is in the works. As a business owner, everything starts and ends with you. It’s your name, face, and brand. You can be the hero by doing the right thing even at the detriment to the bottom line, or you can be vilified for how everything is handled — whether it is your fault or not. When necessary, take the hit, apologize sincerely, and make it right for the people who keep you in business by buying your products.
To me, there is clear contamination, poor responses, defensiveness and excuses, and a lack of preparation and leadership/ownership, which has unfortunately led to a potential public health hazard.
What is your opinion on this? Do you think Hill should recall her lipsticks? Do you think the FDA should launch an investigation? Would you purchase anything from Jaclyn Cosmetics?