Tok of the town: The Lipstick Lesbians boost ‘beauty literacy’ on TikTok

Beauty industry veteran Alexis Androulakis and wife Christina Basias have gone viral sharing in-depth beauty product knowledge as they shop.
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The Lipstick Lesbians, Screenshot via @TheLipstickLesbians/TikTok

· 5 min read

In December 2022, Alexis Androulakis was weighing leaving the beauty industry after more than 15 years. That was until her wife, Christina Basias, posted a series of videos she had filmed of Androulakis on TikTok playing her favorite beauty retail game: trying out products and guessing (almost always correctly) where they were manufactured. And millions of people watched.

After that, Androulakis—with Basias behind the camera—became an “accidental influencer” under the name The Lipstick Lesbians, amassing nearly 450K followers and 16.4 million likes on TikTok. Their content has cut through the flurry of GRWMs to offer consumers Androulakis’s beauty-industry insight—like the history of the Urban Decay Naked Palette, the luxury packaging design of YSL’s Candy Glaze Lip Gloss Stick, and the purpose of trimethylsiloxysilicate in the Maybelline 24-Hour Skin Tint.

“It was definitely the world’s way of saying, ‘Do not leave the beauty industry—you are just getting started,’” Androulakis told Retail Brew.

She began her beauty career in 2006 as a Nars makeup artist at Lord & Taylor while studying cosmetics and fragrance marketing at FIT, dreaming of becoming a corporate beauty product developer—the “translator between a chemist and a marketer,” she noted. She then worked on brands like Mac and Benefit at contract manufacturer NuWorld Beauty, and Drew Barrymore’s Flower Beauty at Maesa, before landing her dream gig as product development lead at Shiseido’s Makeup Center of Excellence, focused on its complexion relaunch.

Soon, she had a new dream—starting her own business. But five years of consulting left her burnt out. Now, she’s using her platform and her impressive industry knowledge to bring “beauty literacy” to the masses on TikTok.

Highlight reel: Androulakis and Basias now head to retailers—Sephora, Ulta, Target, CVS, Walmart, even Greek pharmacies and Canadian chain Shoppers Drug Mart—to film TikToks. Followers learn how and why brands use certain ingredients, packaging, and merchandising and marketing tactics to help them better understand the industry. They also make extensive product “showdowns” (spoiler alert: Haus Labs is the lip oil GOAT) that take entire weekends to film. And to Androulakis’s initial surprise, there seems to be a notable audience for this kind of content.

“There’s a hunger that has been birthed because of how much content exists in the world,” she said. “It’s almost like people have this unrelenting thirst now to want to know ‘Why?’”

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Basias—a researcher with a doctoral degree, and a former English teacher—gives Androulakis questions and prompts behind the camera, and her lack of beauty industry knowledge is the “secret sauce,” Androulakis said, ensuring TikToks fill in the gaps of everything consumers don’t know.

“It’s about us having fun, but more importantly, it’s about our end consumer actually understanding how to walk into said store and buy a product that’s going to work for them,” she said.

Consumers’ increasing need to “protect their skin”—from sun damage, pollution, and premature aging—combined with the fact that the rise of remote video calls means we’re all looking at ourselves a lot more than we used to, has boosted consumer interest in beauty, Androulakis said. For brands, that means there’s a growing need to let consumers know how they fit into the lifestyle the brand is creating, especially as beauty continues to “niche down” from broader sub-categories, like clean beauty, to specific aesthetics, like “clean girl.”

“It’s gotta be so hyper-defined so that everyone can find their way, as the world of beauty has just gotten so expansive,” she said. “It’s like we need a map to figure out where we belong.”

Glow up: In-store retail staff are a huge part of the navigation process for consumers, and often are the ones commenting on the TikToks and thanking Androulakis when she comes into stores for helping educate their clients. Since it’s nearly impossible to memorize every product in a store—some larger Sephora locations carry more than 13,000 products—Androulakis is now aiming to help retail workers, alongside consumers and aspiring product developers, elevate their makeup knowledge through her online beauty master-class business Matria.

Looking ahead, Androulakis said she and Basias also aim to build out their presence across YouTube and Instagram (as well as, one day, documentaries and books on the history and culture of beauty). She said they’re essentially thinking of these different platforms as classrooms to potentially usher in a “mindful makeup revolution” that would help change the complexion of the beauty industry.

“I truly didn’t think that the knowledge that I had to offer was interesting, or that people cared to know about it…There really, truly is an audience out there for everybody,” Androulakis said. “These platforms provide you with the ability to teach more people than you ever thought possible.”

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