When Bobbi Brown got a tip from her friend Gary Vaynerchuk that she needed to start a TikTok in order to market her newest skincare brand, Jones Road, she surely did not expect to become entrenched in drama with an blonde, 23 year old influencer. But of course, that’s exactly what happened.
For the uninitiated, Brown started Jones Road in 2020 on the same day her 25-year noncompete with Estée Lauder expired, as the massive firm purchased her original brand. The makeup artist-turned-entrepreneur was finally free of the shackles that tied her to the namesake brand that made her famous, but she was itching to get back into the beauty industry. So, Brown launched her new brand with just a handful of products: a pencil eyeliner, powder and liquid eyeshadow, volumizing mascara, plumping lip gloss, and a use-it-everywhere makeup balm. Since launch, she’s slowly added to that lineup, including skincare, a concealer pencil, mascara and more.
But it was the cleverly named What the Foundation that led to absolute chaos on TikTok. WTF, as Brown fondly calls it, is not a foundation in the traditional sense; the Jones Road site even refers to it as a tinted moisture balm.
In fact, it’s water-based formula (check out the ingredients and note that water is quite actually the first thing listed) that’s intended for light coverage and is best suited for dry skin types or older makeup users who find that foundation usually settles in their wrinkles. It’s also packed with skincare ingredients like jojoba oil, vitamin E and sodium hyaluronate, making it even more hydrating and suitable for parched skin.
WTF launched the late in April 2022 and it seemed to roll out with a relatively ordinary product release. That is, until Meredith Duxbury posted a review of it for her 14+ Million TikTok followers to devour. The makeup artist is well known on the app for her rather dramatic makeup application that often includes plastering on an unreasonable amount of foundation, that usually buffs out into a perfectly pore-free surface.
But in a video that now has over 15 million views, she holds up a funky looking pot of product and says “Um, you’re probably asking me: ‘Meredith, what is this?’ Well, to be honest I’m not really sure, but we’re going to find out.” (It’s worth noting that Jones Road has a disclaimer on their site that some shifting may occur in transit and they suggest mixing the product before use.) Duxbury goes on to absolutely smother her face in WTF, which just kinda slides around as she attempts to massage it in. She then goes in with a damp makeup sponge and…the foundation starts coming off in patches. Duxbury ends the video with a simple: “It’s gonna be a no for me.”
Then the rest of the reviews started rolling in, some in agreement with Roxbury and others in defense of Brown’s product. The hashtag #whatthefoundation became flooded with videos of unhappy beauty influencers applying the product, with beauty darling Mikayla Nogueira even calling it “easily the worst foundation I’ve ever tried,” though she also notes that it’s not the type of full-coverage makeup she prefers to use. As cosmetic chemist Javon Ford points out, this type of water-based foundation will not mix with most primers on the market, which are silicone-based—since the layering will result in a patchy application as seen on Duxbury.
But perhaps the best response videos to Duxury’s viral TikTok came from Brown herself. In the first post, the Jones Road founder takes the informational route, explaining how WTF is intended for certain skin types due to the oils it’s made with and showing the miniscule amount that should be used. “If you like full coverage, you’re not going to like What The Foundation,” the beauty guru plainly states, which makes sense. Brown’s entire career has been built on a “your skin but better” approach, resulting in makeup that emphasizes your natural beauty—not covering it up.
In the second response video, Brown applies globs of WTF in a very Duxbury-esque style, saying that she loves learning new makeup techniques. “Hmm, didn’t really work,” she laughs, with hands full of WTF. One commenter wrote: “if BOBBI BROWN dragged me like this i would quite literally never show my face again.”
The entire saga shed quite a lot of light on the beauty “experts” of TikTok because it raised the question: Whose opinions are worth trusting when it comes to reviewing products? Because skincare and makeup can be so personal. But also because a lot of the influencers who make a living off of this industry don’t understand the actual scientific formulations of how or why a product works (or doesn’t work for them).
The TikTok audience can be really impressionable, especially since quite a lot of the audience skews towards Gen-Z, which means their opinions can be easily swayed following just one video from an influencer they love. So, even if an influencer has millions of followers and seems to be confident in what they’re talking about, it’s important to form your own opinions and poke holes when posts seem to lack education or don’t tell the whole story. Or when it seems like an influencer is just being downright mean.