Huda Kattan, best known as Huda Beauty on Instagram, has made a career out of showing women how to channel their inner Kardashians — at least from a makeup perspective. Along with her two sisters Mona and Alya, the 32-year-old is in charge of a budding beauty empire that includes an Instagram account that's just shy of eight million followers, a robust blog and YouTube channel, and a two-year old product line called Huda Beauty whose false lashes have become best sellers in the Middle East. They just launched here in the U.S at Sephora.
Kattan was born and raised in Tennessee to Iraqi parents. She attended college in Michigan where she studied finance, a career she quickly gave up to become a makeup artist. Kattan met her husband at college and they moved to Dubai in 2008, where she now happily resides with him and their daughter.
Kattan had a lot to say to Fashionista on the topics of Instagram illusion, how to deal with criticism online, Middle Eastern vs. western beauty standards, plastic surgery (yes, she's had it) and how her growing beauty business was born.
How did you get started in beauty?
Before I even understood what blogging was, I was sending out emails kind of in the form of a blog post. Like, 'Hey guys, these are the top trends to follow now.' I would send it around to my girlfriends and it was this club that I created. That was in university, in 2003 or 2004. My interest started when I was really young. By the time I was 14 I was actually quite good at doing makeup. In 2010 my sister was like, 'You should start a blog.' It was something I did as an outlet when I was starting my job as a makeup artist. I switched from finance because I hated it. I worked in the financial markets for three months. There would be evenings when I would leave work and just go do makeup on my friends. But it's just very unacceptable in Middle Eastern culture to have service jobs. My parents were like, 'Just do it for fun. You have this respectable job in a company.' I kind of became a really big bitch [before I quit].
Your Instagram account seems to be where you have the most engagement. When did you start and when did that following appear?
We started on Instagram in May of 2012. We got up to 20,000 followers pretty quick, then after that we started getting on the "popular" page, which really changed everything for us. We launched our lashes in February 2013 and then it really changed. We probably grow by 120,000 to 200,000 per week, but then we lose 50,000 to 60,000, that's the crazy part! I think the more you post, the more followers you start to lose.
What has been your most popular Instagram post?
The one that got the most comments for me was a video I did on boob contouring. I think I got 15,000 or 20,000 comments. Any time I post my daughter those usually get over 100,000 likes.
I'm sure you heard about Essena O'Neill, the Instagram star who dropped some truth bombs about social media. Obviously you're making illusions with makeup. What are your thoughts?
Am I the woman that Instagram makes me out to be? My sisters have told me that I come off as this very high maintenance person. The first thing people say when they meet me is, 'Oh, you're not at all what I expected.' I get almost insulted. I think that Instagram is only a window into a fantasy of who you are. This is what you want people to think you are. They're going to judge you a lot too. It creates this image of people that is very one dimensional, it's very superficial.
Does it really take dozens of shots to get the perfect one?
Oh my gosh, totally. I have taken a hundred pictures before.
Do you edit, filter, or photoshop?
Of course. I use Facetune. I always use it to smooth out my skin. Everybody uses it. If they say they're not I find it very hard to believe.
How do you deal with negative comments? I see people saying all the time that you wear too much makeup and they speculate about plastic surgery. Is it hard to deal with criticism about your looks?
I'm going to be perfectly honest. I have gone under the knife. I've never said I haven't had plastic surgery. I've talked about fillers. My concern is always that I have little cousins and I always think about that. If I say, 'Hey I've done this,' will they want to then go and do something? It's something that I've been struggling with. I'm a beauty blogger and you're supposed to be as honest as possible. I would love to come out and say, 'Hey, I had a rhinoplasty.' I do feel a little nervous about it. I don't mind you posting that, but I feel different about saying it on my Instagram.
You get negative comments all the time, but you have to laugh at them. Sometimes they'll take a picture of me and put it next to Michael Jackson. Sometimes you can laugh and other times it can be really hurtful. I do block people if they're leaving really mean comments for no reason. But I think you do have to start having thick skin as you do this. You're asking for it. You want the perks, but they're not going to come free. You want the recognition, but you're also going to get a lot of people who don't like you.
What are some of the more hurtful comments you've received?
I get a lot of terrible comments about my religion. I’m Muslim and I get a lot of mean comments from people. That really bothers me. I hate when they talk about my family, especially my daughter. I’m sorry, but if you’re going to talk about a kid, you’re a loser. Like, 'Oh, her kid has a mustache.' I’m a very hairy person, and clearly she has a mustache but it’s OK. When she's 19 she’ll laser it off, it’s fine. I don't want anything negative about my family.
From a beauty perspective, what resonates with women in the Middle East vs. what’s resonating in the United States?
I definitely had some difficulties when I first moved here, adjusting to the makeup style. It’s very heavy. Clients would say, 'Oh, I want natural makeup' and I would do it and they would say, 'No, no, no, this is what I mean' and they would show me a Kim Kardashian picture. That’s a face full of contour and full glam. The Middle East is very much intrigued by the U.S. and Hollywood. Kim Kardashian, Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren — these people have become bigger icons here than ever before. In the States you’ll do your own nails and your own hair, but here they don’t do that. Women live in salons. They’re totally dependent on a makeup artist to even do simple makeup. I have so many friends who don’t know how to wash their own hair. You see full-on brows, lashes, and contour everywhere — grocery stores, the gym.
Do you wear a full face all the time?
Yeah. It’s kind of expected.
How long does it take you to do? Do you have a minimum and maximum face?
I’m not working out now as much, but I do specifically have a gym face. I have seen women at the gym with false lashes and full contour at 5am, everything, many times. I can do my ten-minute glam, which is pretty glam, then I have my one hour glam. I always try to use a good contour stick because it’s easier to contour with. Then a liquid foundation because it’s lighter and easier to set than a cream foundation. When I do full glam I usually use the cream foundation. But you have to set those properly. Then a concealer, a liquid liner, and lashes.
How is your skin after wearing all that makeup all the time?
It’s actually really tough. You have to remove it then I have to do treatments. I’ve started using the most amazing thing I’ve ever discovered in my life, which is the Baby Quasar. It’s for red light therapy. And I do like to use peels and scrubs. I have to really keep at it all the time and it’s a process.
What’s your go-to cleansing regimen to get the first layers off?
I am obsessed with the Sunday Riley Ceramic Slip clay cleanser. I feel like it gets into my pores. I put that on and try to wash everything away, then I apply a second layer on and leave it on for like a minute and then I use the Clarisonic. I feel like that has made such a difference in getting the makeup off my face. After that I use a really light cleanser, the Bioderma Sensibio H2O. You’re pushing makeup into your pores. If you don’t remove it properly it can really damage your skin.
So how did you and your sisters launch the Huda Beauty line?
I’m very risk averse so we decided to start with lashes. I said, 'Let’s just start with a few thousand, and if we don’t sell them, I’ll just use them all.' My sister Alya was my first investor. My whole thing was, if I wasn’t going to sell in Sephora, I wasn’t going to sell anywhere. We were meeting with so many distributors and they were like, 'You’re not going to get Sephora, it’s not going to happen.' A few months later we got a meeting with them. They’re pretty tough. But somehow we won them over. It ended up becoming so successful, we broke records the first day. The lashes are all created by hand.
The lashes were doing so well In Dubai. We’ve had months where we’ve beat every single other brand in the whole entire store.
So what’s coming next?
We’re creating a makeup product to launch next year. We’re doing something within lips. I can't say much more, but you’re the first person we’re telling!
This interview has been edited and condensed.