TikTok’s ‘Beauty Bestie’ Sarah Palmyra Breaks Down Her Ethos for Recommending Products to Followers

Photo credit: Grapho Mind/Shutterstock Jonny Marlow (Licensed) by Caterina Cox

We’re reaching out to some popular creators to get their best tips and tricks for success and better understand the ups and downs of life as a trailblazer on the internet.

This week, we spoke with Sarah Palmyra, a beauty guru and content creator with over 1.4 million followers across TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram. Palmyra’s viral skincare, hair, and makeup advice videos garnered her a reputation as many followers’ “beauty bestie.”

In a past life, Palmyra was a full-time opera singer, and Palmyra partially credits her time in opera for her passion for beauty—backstage, she reportedly helped co-stars and fellow performers up their makeup game. Eventually, Palmyra decided to pursue beauty full-time, becoming a beauty advisor at the well-known beauty retailer Sephora. At Sephora, Palmyra said she trained up on cosmetic best practices, jump-starting her career in the beauty industry.

In 2020, Palmyra launched a hobbyist YouTube channel, and eventually expanded into TikTok around the time she left Sephora. It was on TikTok that Palmyra found viral success, partially for her well-received series called “Sephora Secrets,” where she shared the best skincare and beauty hacks she discovered from her time working at the retailer. Palmyra said some of her beauty product reviews contributed to products, like the Ordinary’s Argireline Solution, being sold out at stores. Palmyra also became known as an advocate for bucking unrealistic beauty standards, with her foundation review videos zooming in on her face to show her natural skin texture.

Consistently advocating for honesty and self-love, Palmyra quickly built a devoted audience of hundreds of thousands of fans on TikTok. In an effort to promote authenticity and sustainability, Palmyra reportedly stopped taking all public relations packages and gifts from brands to provide more streamlined product recommendations. She also donates unused beauty products she receives to Rainbow Services, a non-profit organization that provides support to domestic violence survivors.  

In an interview with Passionfruit, Palmyra discussed the pros and cons of various monetization avenues, what questions she asks brands she is considering working with, why she always charges brands for usage, what resources she uses to research products she recommends to followers, her favorite hardware and software tools for creating content, and more. 

The following interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

What are some of the ways you monetize?

I think for me and a lot of the people I speak to in my niche, 90% of our income comes from sponsorships. So for me, it’s of the utmost importance that my audience trusts me so that when I do partner with a brand, they know that it’s because I really like the product.

Then of course you have affiliate links, but they’re definitely less reliable than you would think. It’s just unlikely that someone is going to click on your affiliate link the first time they see it. … Often, people will see you talking about a product multiple times, and then they’ll go to the store and buy it, you know, which is totally fine. But a lot of the time, I feel like the platforms haven’t escalated to creating a system that really allows influencers to pocket a bit of commission off of a product that they made go viral.

And then we also have the creator platforms, but everyone will tell you that the TikTok creator fund is more like a little bonus, but it’s nothing significant. I would never be able to pay my bills with that. Instagram was really hot for a while and was offering some fantastic funds through their creator fund, but that actually slowed once more users ended up switching over to Reels. So I’m currently looking at repurposing videos on Facebook and maybe even working with Snapchat because I definitely think it’s good to have different sources of passive income. 

How do you research the products you promote?

That has definitely been a journey in and of itself because a lot of the time the brands are not really focused on how long it might take for you to try a product. They just want to see the sponsored content. So I’ve had to set some hard boundaries and say I actually need a minimum of four weeks to try

out. … For skin care, you need a minimum of, you know, two to four weeks to really see if you like it. 

I’m not a dermatologist and I’m not a cosmetic chemist. So really what I can speak to is the experience of using the product, and how it works on my skin, and then I really draw from my training at Sephora. I did an advanced course and became a skincare specialist. … So that came with extra training that was involved that really allowed me to be able to understand ingredients. And it’s not just about ingredient lists, unfortunately, skincare is a lot more complicated with that. It’s about the stability of the product and about the concentration that the ingredient is in. 

So I will ask the brand for as much information as possible because, usually, they have studies and data. And I’ll ask them, you know, “How are you able to stabilize this formula? How is this ingredient working?” And more often than not I’ll be able to suss out whether or not this is actually just a marketing tactic or if they really do have data to back up their claims.

What resources do you use to better understand the products you recommend?

I have some dermatologists and cosmetic chemists that I really like to follow, and they’re great at breaking these things down. … I love following Dr. Whitney Bowe, DermAngelo, and Dr. Shah—those are all amazing dermatologists. And then for cosmetic chemists, I really like Glow By Ramón: he is a great creator that is able to break things down in a really easy-to-follow way. And then, also, Charlotte Palermino is an esthetician, but she also has some great information about stability testing. And the Melanin Chemist on Instagram is also great about speaking about ingredients and different studies.

We can get really bogged down in the details and into the science, but at the end of the day, skincare is super personal. So just because a product is touted as absolutely amazing—you know, it passes all the stability testing, it has amazing ingredients—if it doesn’t work on your skin, then you’re not missing out on something. … Really what I focus on when giving people advice is speaking about what ingredients do and which ingredients might be best for each skin type and each skin concern. 

Do you have any tips for negotiating brand deals?

I did not understand how to negotiate at first. I will say make friends with a lot of creators in your niche who have similar followings to you. You can really build a network of people who are your peers who can be supportive and discuss your rate so that you can compare it with your peers, and see if you’re undercharging or overcharging.

I will say 99% of the time you are not overcharging. So the biggest thing that I see with both small and large creators is that they’re worried that they’re charging too much. But I’ve never seen someone charge too much. I always feel like that as creators we kind of undervalue the amazing services we’re able to provide for a company.

And the second tip I have is always, always, always charge for usage. … A smaller creator will fall victim to a contract that says, “Oh yes, and also, we can use your content for a year,” or, “We can use it for six months,” and that’s included in your base rate. That’s a huge mistake because brands should pay for usage—and you have no idea how much your page is gonna grow within those six months or a year. I like to limit the amount of usage I grant brands. I usually don’t grant brands more than five or six months of usage because of that exact reason.

Do you have any hardware or software tools for creating content that you’d recommend?

I absolutely love the YongNuo digital LED light. You can get it on Amazon. It’s a really great and powerful light, I prefer that over ring lights. Lighting is so key for videos. I also have a tripod I love by ManFrotto. It’s really stable, but also really lightweight, and I film a lot of content on my phone. 

And I just try to get the best phone camera that’s currently out and film a lot of content on my back camera, and switch it around. I’ll usually place a mirror behind my phone so that I can see myself in the viewfinder, or I’ll even connect my phone to my computer so I can use it as a viewfinder. The back camera is so superior, and nowadays it sometimes looks even better than my Canon

I also just really like using online apps to edit my videos. It’s way easier. So InShot is a great one, as is CapCut. I highly recommend using resources online. We’re just making them so much better and better, so it’s really intuitive if you’re just getting started with editing.

What video styles and formats do you find work best for you?

Something that I noticed along my journey of doing this was to really think about offering people value. I think people forget when they’re putting their content out that no one knows you. And so unfortunately no one really cares about you. What I mean by that is that you are basically shouting out to strangers on the street, and to get them to listen to you and really care about what you have to say, you have to offer them some kind of value. 

Especially on Instagram, I found that I would post these photos or talk about something related to trying out this foundation, et cetera, et cetera, in a long intro where I’m not getting to the point, and people are just going to scroll post. I discovered that to really get people’s attention, I have to offer them something that they want: offer them free information, a free tip, or something to help them avoid a mistake.

It was really about seeing words like that within the first three seconds of my video, so that automatically the viewer knew exactly what I was talking about and that I was speaking to them. … You have to put your best stuff forward and show them, well, this is what I can offer. I’m really funny and nice and I have a great time. And then later, you know, they get to know you and they know what to expect from you.

How do you approach different platforms and integrate them into your overall social media strategy?

That’s such a good question because the platforms really are very different. I think that in terms of audience loyalty, in my mind, YouTube is the hardest one to get someone to subscribe to. I read somewhere that it takes someone about three times of seeing you pop up on their feed or clicking on a YouTube video of yours to decide to subscribe to you.

Whereas on Instagram, it’s easier to click that follow button. Maybe you’ll hit their page a couple of times. And on TikTok, all it takes is one viral video and someone will easily just hit the follow button. It’s so easy, they tap it, forget about it, and move on.

That hierarchy also goes to show the closeness of how your followers feel toward you. … So for me on TikTok, I like to make sure it’s more tip-based. When I started repurposing that content onto Instagram, I found that not all of it worked in the same way. My Instagram followers definitely want to sometimes hear something from me or about me in a much more significant way than on TikTok.

And then on YouTube, I’m still figuring that out because Shorts is so new—although I will say that, with long-form content, if somebody’s watching a 30-minute video about you, it’s because they really like you and want to engage with you. Originally my idea with TikTok was that I would use it as a means of funneling followers to YouTube, but it doesn’t actually work as seamlessly as you think because a lot of the time people who are watching you on TikTok might not be interested in the longer form content.

What are some of the ways you engage with your audience?

I think at first it was really overwhelming because I was not used to talking to so many people. I would spend a lot of time speaking to people in my DMs, which was really fun, but also got really time-consuming and difficult. … I realized the more hours I spent speaking to individual people on DMs, the more I lose out on making a video that reaches more people.

It was really hard to find that balance. I really try to answer as many comments as I can, and I’m still trying to be really good about that. Most of the time, I do get to about 90% of my comments unless it’s a viral video and you know, the comments just keep coming and coming. I try to answer at least 150 to 200 comments.

Stories are a really great way to engage with people. I just ask my audience questions, what do you wanna see next? What do you think about this? What do you like about this? And then that’s when I really check my direct messages and see who is saying what. And I have those real conversations just one-on-one.

I actually speak to a lot of my followers multiple times over, so I will, you know, save all their information when they DM me. … Oftentimes, I’ll have conversations with the same people that stretch over weeks and months.

Do you have tips and tricks to share with your fellow creators? Email [email protected] for a chance to be featured in an upcoming newsletter.

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