The Woman Behind 70,000 Makeup Swatches

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Integrity, honesty, and a nearly scientific attention to detail. These aren’t words that apply well to every influencer, but they swatch beautifully on Christine Mielke, the owner and founder of Established in 2006 as a repository for Mielke’s then-burgeoning enthusiasm for makeup, the blog now receives 850,000 unique visitors a month and serves as a resource for beauty enthusiasts looking to find dupes, get the right foundation shade, or decide whether the latest launch is worth their coins. Temptalia has come a long way from its humble beginnings.

“It started just really as a repository for makeup looks and my initial thoughts and impressions on the products I was buying at the time,” says Mielke of Temptalia’s early days. Then a student at UC Irvine, the MAC counter had an irresistible pull on Mielke, who hadn’t been allowed to wear makeup as a kid growing up in California. Mielke would rush to the counter when MAC launched a new collection, taking swatches and sharing her first impressions on the new products on her newly-launched blog. After a year or so, the brand took notice of her work, inviting her to a press dinner at San Francisco Fashion Week and sending her press samples, which felt like a landmark moment. “It was the dream! The only [brand] you write about knows that you exist and takes you seriously. So I just started to take it more seriously … and branched out into other brands,” Mielke says.

<div class="caption"> Mielke visiting MAC's lab. </div> <cite class="credit">Courtesy Christine Mielke</cite>

Mielke visiting MAC’s lab.

Courtesy Christine Mielke

By the time she was completing a JD/MBA at Santa Clara University, it was clear to Mielke that Temptalia could be a full-time job. While Mielke says her fellow graduates of a JD/MBA program usually ended up pursuing finance, corporate or tax law, or become CFOs, she leveraged her business savvy to build the Temptalia brand, reading her own contracts with an exacting eye and approaching her growing influence in the beauty community with a strong sense of her own value, fostered in part by her mother. Mielke says her mom was her mentor and role model. “She has held CEO and CTO positions, so, in the early days, she helped me avoid some of the pitfalls that young entrepreneurs face with not knowing their value,” she explains. Referring to her advanced degree as a “very, very expensive backup plan,” Mielke also recognizes that she believes it made others take her more seriously as a young businesswoman.

Temptalia has been Mielke’s full-time job since she finished graduate school. Today, she has help from two full-time developers, but all of the other work for the blog — swatching, testing, writing, photographing, and reviewing — is done by Mielke alone. She posts around 28 reviews and 14 non-review posts (these consist of community-building posts like “Temptalia Asks You”) per week. Mielke estimates that she reviews an average of 80 shades per week. Due to a nearly constant influx of products, user behavior typically predicts what launches Mielke will review on the site. In addition to brands that perform well with her active readership (she says MAC, ColourPop, and Pat McGrath Labs are three of the brands that consistently do well with her readers) she also has to consider the preferences of visitors who check the site less frequently, the hot up-and-coming brands that are getting attention, smaller brands that deserve the spotlight, and brands available outside the U.S. Since 55 percent of her readers don’t live in the states, Mielke takes her responsibility to her global audience seriously: “the cost to the consumer is a lot higher in non-U.S. countries. The markup on cosmetics in some countries is like double what it is [in the United States]. And so obviously you don’t want to spend like $60 AUD and then find out, I hate this product!”

I don’t like to think of reviews as positive or negative. I know that probably sounds pretentious, but I just like to think of it as a review.

It’s a lot to balance, and Mielke has to be realistic about what she has time to review and what has to be left by the wayside. “I sometimes put aside products I would like to review if I have time, and then there’s stuff that I know I’m never going to get to and I just set aside for donation because I’m at the point where I don’t want to keep products here for like two years in hopes that someday I’ll get to it.”

One of the hallmarks of Temptalia is its consumer resources: the Foundation Matrix and the Dupe List. The Foundation Matrix matches foundation shades across brands and formulas, so that a user can identify the right shade in a different brand without a trip to the store. The Dupe List draws on an archive of swatches spanning several years to match products that are dupes so beauty enthusiasts can either find a cheaper option or determine if they already have a similar shade in their collection. These resources took months to build, and all draw on the extensive product database that Mielke has been building since Temptalia’s inception, which she estimates contains at least 30,000 reviews and 70,000 swatches.

<div class="caption"> One of Mielke's eyeshadow tests. </div> <cite class="credit">Courtesy Christine Mielke</cite>

One of Mielke’s eyeshadow tests.

Courtesy Christine Mielke

Along with the advanced degrees and the tools she’s built, one thing that sets Mielke apart is her willingness to post negative reviews — although she contests the use of the word. “I don’t like to think of reviews as positive or negative. I know that probably sounds pretentious, but I just like to think of it as a review,” she says. “It’s just about presenting the pros and cons. And sometimes there are not that many pros, and sometimes there are hardly any cons. The caliber of honesty and transparency is actually the same across all the reviews.”

When grading a product, Mielke uses a system she refers to as “The Glossover,” which assigns a assigns a letter grade based on the points scored in several areas. For makeup, these are: product, which measures performance against the brand’s claims; pigmentation; texture; longevity; and application. She’ll often apply a product like eyeshadow multiple different ways — with primer, without primer, with a dry brush, with a wet brush, or with a fingertip — to test how it performs best and offer guidance on how to get the most out of it. In her review FAQ on Temptalia’s site, Mielke outlines the rigorous, almost scientific procedure she uses to swatch, photograph, and wear-test every product that passes over her threshold.

When asked how brands she’s worked with in the past react to less-than-favorable ratings, Mielke says, “I think that by and large, some of the brands I have been most critical of over time I actually have the best relationships with now. They know that when I’m writing a review, it’s an honest review and not designed to be clickbait-y. I’m not just being negative to try and gather the views. [I’m just sharing] my experience, and I think they take it for that.” As an example, she cites her relationship with Nars, whose limited-edition collections haven’t always fared well in the Temptalia ratings. “I really did not enjoy their Andy Warhol collaboration. I think I gave out quite a few Fs during that launch. Nars works with me now the same way they did [before] I wrote [those reviews].”

You won’t see me play into greenwashing marketing. If a brand talked about the power of crystals, I would just discount and ignore that entirely.

Occasionally, Mielke has been asked to step into the role of the average beauty influencer, but she’s reluctant to do so. “Once I went on a trip with a brand, and they wanted us to go on camera and do little clips using the talking points for their new product. [And I thought,] I’m not going to say this, I just got this product the day before,” she recalls. “So my clip looks very different from the other videos [shot with influencers that day], because I was like, ‘This is a really pretty color. I think these colors work together’ — things I could judge right there.”

When asked how she fits into the beauty community, Mielke acknowledges that she’s something of an island unto herself. The occasional brand trip notwithstanding, she tends to keep her blinders on and stay focused on the day-to-day work of Temptalia. “I think that the way I’ve always looked at where I stand is I do what I do best, which is analyze products,” she says. “I try to be critical. I try to be fair. I try to give people the information that they can use to make the best purchasing decision.” And although her influence within her readership is undeniable, she readily admits that they likely wouldn’t call her an influencer by modern standards.

<div class="caption"> A typical Temptalia product shot. </div> <cite class="credit">Courtesy Christine Mielke</cite>

A typical Temptalia product shot.

Courtesy Christine Mielke

Her emphasis on honesty, transparency, and analysis comes from a deeply rooted belief in basing everything in fact and steering clear of misinformation. (And although Mielke describes her mindset as fact-based rather than creative, anyone who’s seen her eyeshadow looks would have to at least partially disagree.) These traits make her wary of certain trends in contemporary beauty, like greenwashing. Although Temptalia reviews don’t cover skin care, where clean beauty is currently the marketing claim du jour, Mielke acknowledges that she may have to address it in the future. “You won’t see me play into that marketing or encourage that marketing, and if a brand talked about the power of crystals, I would just discount and ignore that entirely,” she says.

The trend that has Mielke feeling optimistic about the future of beauty? “I think what I’m most excited to see is more diversity in shades outside of complexion [products]. We need inclusivity across the board. It’s not just about foundation, it’s about concealer, it’s about powder, it’s also about bronzer. It’s even about eyeshadow palettes.” She cites Fenty Beauty’s continual efforts to add to the shade ranges contour products as an example. When it comes to eyeshadow, Mielke calls Jackie Aina’s collaboration with Anastasia Beverly Hills “the unsung hero of 2019,” and highlights indie brand Sydney Grace for their recently-launched Enduring Love eyeshadow palette, available in light and deep versions to accommodate more skin tones.

The future of beauty is bright, and Mielke has no question about her place in it. “It’s really just about staying the course that has treated me right,” she says. As beauty bloggers have taken a backseat to influencers, she feels compelled to “stay here, be the voice, use the written word and continue to be a resource for people. I want to show that you can be successful and still do it with the best intentions.”

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Originally Appeared on Allure