Q+A with Carlene Higgins of the Breaking Beauty Podcast
We sit down with Carlene Higgins to discuss the most memorable moments they've had on the show, observing culture through a beauty lens, and more.
Celebrating 5 years and over 5 million downloads, Breaking Beauty Podcast is all about the breakthrough people, products and moments in beauty. Featuring the top names in beauty — Dr. Dennis Gross, Makeup By Mario, Mikayla Makeup, Jen Atkin, Joanna Vargas and Jonathan Van Ness — they deliver the very best in beauty advice every single week. Don't miss their monthly #DamnGoods episodes, where Jill and Carlene review the latest products hitting store shelves to find out whether it's really worth the spend. More from Carlene and their journey in beauty below!
Q: The Breaking Beauty podcast started about five years ago in 2017. Can you tell us a bit about your respective journeys in beauty prior to the origins of the podcast? How did your experiences prepare you for embarking on this endeavor together?
Jill and I have worked as beauty editors, starting out in the glamourous world of magazines, for over 20 years. We worked down the hall from one another at a major publishing house in Toronto, Canada, and we often found ourselves on the same beauty press trips, chatting the night away at some extravagant locale somewhere across the globe, bonding over fragrances, celebrity gossip and shutting down the hotel lobby!
Jill had left the world of glossies for freelance beauty writing several years ago and she makes regular television appearances on daytime talk shows as a beauty expert. I left the print fashion magazine I had worked at for over a decade when it eventually went out of print, much like many magazines, sadly. I had so much experience reporting backstage from fashion week in New York, Milan and Paris, interviewing the industry's top makeup artists, hair gurus and dermatologists, writing and editing full-length features — even producing beauty shoots alongside the likes of Charlotte Tilbury! I wasn't sure what to do with all of that once blogs had become a dime a dozen. Female-led podcasts were still very new five years ago, and I had definitely been drawn in, listening to True Crime shows on my way into the office. We were sitting down to lunch, talked about the white space, and decided to dive in. Fortunately we had years of relationships with brands and publicists over the years, so we were able to land top guests and continue to swipe, swatch, and review products, hitting the ground running and using all of our same editing skills for a new and exciting audible medium.
Q: Podcasts have soared in popularity over several years. What have been some of the most rewarding parts about building your own from the ground up? Some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
Jill and I love being our own bosses and being in control of our own messaging. We strive to maintain the same professional, inclusive, and positive tone that we had from our past lives — and the same level of integrity when working with brands and disclosing to our listeners when something is sponsored and when it's not. We've built a lot of trust with our listeners and we are often told that we've "gotten them through" something, whether it's a long, boring commute, or the pandemic doldrums. That's super rewarding for us.
The biggest challenge for us has been staying on top of quality, weekly shows! Beauty is very niche so we always need to work to keep the content fresh and keep surprising our listeners so they'll stay tuned in every single week! Thankfully, this industry is on fire, so there's never a shortage of things to talk about and even more need now than ever for us to continue on our mandate: highlighting the breakthrough people, products, and moments in beauty history to help our listeners understand what's worth paying attention to (and paying for!) versus the mountains of marketing clutter.
Q: Can you share one of the most memorable moments you’ve had with guests on your show?
Having Victoria Beckham on the pod was definitely a highlight. We have been led to believe that she's stand-offish and fake, but she's actually the opposite, and her beauty products are legit! Sitting in Frank Toskan's apartment hearing about how he built M.A.C. Cosmetics from the ground up, while his dogs chilled beside us and as we shed tears over the heart-wrenching reason he started the VIVA Glam AIDS fund, was another highlight.
Q: What are some of the best beauty lessons you’ve learned from your guests?
So many! Never wash your face in the shower (water is too hot!), you don't really need to wash your face in the morning (it's still good from last night's skincare routine!), SPF is your best anti-aging cream, the key to no mascara smudging is to avoid eye creams in the morning, always leave 10% of your conditioner in your hair to avoid squeaky-clean dryness – and that "clean beauty" is really a marketing tactic without much science behind it!
Q: Something your podcast has observed is exploring culture through a beauty lens. We’d love to hear you expand upon that and share some of these learnings with us!
Beauty is incredibly tied to our identities because really what we're talking about is the person we see looking back at us in the mirror. Products and trends from the past that have made people feel bad about themselves, that they're not enough, that they don't fit in, that they're not worth having a beauty product or shade that fits their skin colour or their body shape or their skin texture — these are systemically harmful. While certainly there is a marketing "trend" toward inclusivity, an entire industry that aligns itself with helping individuals feel like they do belong is bound to make a core difference in the next generation and it's been incredibly exciting to watch this transformation. Sharon Chuter, founder of Uoma Beauty, is a prime example of leaders who are setting a new standard of what is acceptable or what is not in this day and age with her viral, "Pull Up For Change" social media initiative that held brands accountable for their action (and inaction) during the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Q: What are some of your personal favorite beauty products you absolutely can’t live without?
We've compiled a list of what's on our "permanent top shelf" for this exact reason in our Haul of Fame on Shop My Shelf! Off the top of my head though, I'm obsessed with Clé de Peau skincare products (and Japanese skincare in general) because it's all about hydration, which is perfect for my sensitive skin. Jill recommends Skinceuticals CE Ferulic all.the.time. and for makeup, I am often rotating between Charlotte Tilbury, Victoria Beckham Beauty, and my latest obsession Violette_FR. Jill stands by It Cosmetics CC Foundation SPF 50 (me too!) and she loves a drugstore buy, and often uses Essence Lash Princess Mascara.
Q: With your robust experience in the beauty industry and all of the impressive folks you’ve talked to in the space, we’re sure you have a great understanding of how beauty will evolve over the years. What are some things (trends, ways of thinking, etc.) you see on the horizon that will shake up the beauty industry?
TikTok is what's influencing what sells out and what doesn't now, so we predict that just as we saw with YouTubers, TikTok influencers will begin to create their own beauty lines next (Miyala Makeup, we're looking at you!). Likewise, Gen Z domination will continue, so we will see more brands that are aspirational and affordable while representing the issues that young people are stanchily in support of such as cruelty-free, carbon-neutral, vegan, and genderless. Heritage department store brands will have some work to do!
Q: What is next for the Breaking Beauty podcast?
As the pandemic subsides, we are looking forward to getting back to LIVE interviews and meetups with our audiences. They are the ones who keep us going and we are dying to see their gorge faces IRL!!
Rapid Fire Round
Q: Product you can’t leave home without:
High-shine lip gloss!
Q: Favorite drugstore or budget find:
Maybelline Dream Urban Cover Full Coverage Protective Makeup Sunscreen.
Q: Worth the splurge:
Clé de Peau Protective Fortifying Emulsion SPF 20.
Q: Recent discovery:
Violette_FR Boum-Boum Milk All Over Cream Spray.
Q: Brand you wish more people knew about:
Very Good Light has beautiful skincare products and silky textures that focus on reducing inflammation while hydrating all skin types. Counter-worthy packaging and genderless appeal in a way that isn't stark and boring!
Q: Favorite lipstick:
Cheekbone Beauty Sustain Liquid Lipsticks have the best shades and hella staying power. We love that it's an indigenous-owned beauty brand as well and a portion of sales goes toward indigenous education.
Q: Your last beauty empty (product you ran out of):
Biossance Squalane + Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 PA — it's so sheer for a mineral sunscreen that we love to wear this one every single day, it is sheer on every skin tone, and plays well with makeup.
For more of Carlene and Jill's favorite products, check out their shop below: