Holographic vs. iridescent vs. duochrome vs. unicorn skin – what’s the difference… and are they still relevant, or are they so two thousand and late?
Even if you want nothing to do with makeup, I’m sure you’ve seen ads for products exploiting this trend: highlighters and eyeshadows boast being “holographic” and magical, often associated with, for some reason, unicorns.
Rather than anything makeup-related, searching “holographic” on dictionary.com points to something called the “holographic principle,” which according to Scientific American, comes from black hole physics. The whole idea of this principle is that the world may be a hologram. The article quotes some guy who’s much smarter than me, Raphael Bousso, who says, “The world doesn’t appear to us like a hologram, but in terms of the information needed to describe it, it is one.” Uhhh… ok.
Outside of makeup, I personally was under the impression that the terms “holographic” and “iridescent.” According to WikiDiff, “as adjectives the difference between iridescent and holographic is that iridescent is (not comparable) producing a display of lustrous, rainbow-like colors; prismatic while holographic is in the form of a hologram or holograph.” The always reliable Wikipedia says that “iridescent products in the cosmetic and clothing industries are often referred as being holographic,” which sheds a little more light into the whole situation.
All this terminology is ~probably~ not what you signed up for today by clicking into this post, but don’t worry – I won’t be talking about physics today! Rather, this post will be a case study on holographic makeup, where the trend has been, and where it’s apparently going.
1.) Simply Nailogical
As the OH (or “original holosexual”), Cristine from Simply Nailogical can largely be credited as the catalyst who really started this trend. With around 4.5 million subscribers on YouTube, she certainly has a pretty large reach. In fact, as you can see above, if you simply search “holo” on YouTube (which yields ~2.5 million results), Cristine’s channel is the first one that pops up. She also actually has trademarks on the phrases “holosexual,” “holo it’s me,” and “holo taco.”
Her second ever video posted on June 18, 2014 called “Brown holo single chevron scaled gradient” was her first video to feature the word “holo” in its title, although it has only received a mere 100k views compared to the rest of her videos, which seem to usually fall in the 3 million range. This video came basically half a year before the first peak of “holographic,” showing Cristine really was ahead of the time.
Often using the term “holosexual” even in her earlier videos, her video posted on February 27, 2017, called “Are you HOLOsexual? / What’s a holo?” explains this terminology with over 2.1 million views, with the term now being used throughout YouTube.
More recently, Cristine has been doing collabs with other YouTubers – In July, she and Safiya Nygaard put together a complete head-to-toe holographic look on Safiya’s channel in a video titled “We Got A Head-To-Toe Holographic Makeover (feat. Simply Nailogical),” which currently has nearly 3.5 million views.
People obviously were interested in holographic makeup, and brands definitely began to notice. Right in the thick of “holographic makeup” having its moment in April 2017, Allure actually published an article about the best holographic makeup out there with the list featuring some hot products at the time, such as the Milk Makeup Holographic Stick ($28), the NYX Strobe of Genius Holographic Stick ($9), and the Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector Pressed Highlighter in Shimmering Amethyst ($38).
Since then, consumers have gotten a lot smarter, and many have come to realize that most makeup that claims to be holographic actually… isn’t holo. Cristine, our resident expert on all things holo, actually collabed in a video with beauty guru Tati titled “HOLO or NOT??? with SimplyNailogical” in which they analyze products that claim to be holo and see whether or not they actually are. Tati herself (@1:10) says, “I kind of think that companies are playing us just a little bit,” upon which Cristine immediately agrees that she thinks it’s a “marketing tactic.”
According to Cristine, proper holo has colors that actually shift (and have a “refraction angle”). Throughout the video, the products they mention are the following:
- Laura Mercier Prismatic Glow Palette (@1:25) – box is holo; product is not (but isn’t technically marketed as being “holo”)
- Milk Makeup Holographic Stick Supernova (@3:11) – not holo (just purple iridescent)
- Revlon Photoready Eye Art (@5:12) – not holo (just iridescent with blue glitter & clear iridescent glitter, which is what shifts from blue to purple, but not actually the spectrum of the rainbow)
- **NYX Face & Body Glitter (@6:05) – royal blue holo
- Cover FX Custom Enhancer Drops in Halo (@7:35) – bottle is holo, but the product itself is actually just iridescent
- Sigma Beauty Lip Switch (@9:41) – iridescent, not holo; according to Cristine, “iridescent” is synonymous with “unicorn skin” aka it’s transparent and only really shifts between two colors (but more on that later)
- Kat Von D Holographic Palette (@12:50) – duochrome, not holo
Out of the seven products, only one is actually holo, proving that although companies definitely exploit the trend, they don’t actually follow it themselves.
2.) Unicorn Skin
Remember when I mentioned “unicorn skin” above? Apparently somewhere in this timeline, anything “unicorn” has also become synonymous with holo, even though Cristine says for her, it’s closer to an iridescence. She introduced the term as early as November 2015 in her “HOLOGRAPHIC Shattered Glass Nail Art !!!!” video, which has approximately 1.14 million views. The “unicorn skin” she uses in the video is actually iridescent cellophane and she credits the technique itself to Park Eunkyung aka @nail_unistella on Instagram. Unicorn skin was basically born when she remarks @1:40, “I’m pretty sure that if you peeled a unicorn’s skin off, this is what it would look like.”
Unicorns were actually at the heart of a makeup feud back in April 2017 between Jeffree Star (shocker that he was involved in some drama!!) and Too Faced’s co-founder, Jerrod Blandino. Covered by Cosmopolitan, the drama was centered around an Instagram posted by Blandino that has been since deleted, in which he posted a picture of their Unicorn Tears lipstick and captioned it with, “Unicorn Tears! The original that started a craze and still holds the #1 spot as the best selling lipstick in all of Ulta. Copycats aren’t Unicorns 🦄😜 #ThereArentUnicornsInTheAmazon“
Apparently Jeffree Star took the hashtag “#ThereArentUnicornsInTheAmazon” as shade towards Tarte as:
- The brand has an Amazonian Clay range
- They also released a limited edition unicorn collection in March 2017
Too Faced’s Unicorn Tears was introduced I BELIEVE on December 8, 2015 as part of their Spring 2016 collection and since then has been adapted into a liquid lipstick in the form of Unicorn Tears 2.0, which the brand announced on September 29, 2017 as part of their Melted Latex Lipstick range.
3.) Search Trends
According to Google Trends, within the last five years, the term “Holographic” itself really saw its first peak between January 18 – January 24, 2015. After that, it kind of stayed under the radar, gaining momentum again on a more sustainable basis after July 24 – July 30, 2016.
But the whole concept of holographic things didn’t just stay within the nail community – it exploded into the makeup community as well. Looking at another Google Trends for the term “Holographic Makeup,” we can see that the first initial uptake falls between July 17 – July 23, 2016, six months after the word “Holographic” peaked for the first time, coinciding right in the window where it started to become more sustainable. “Holographic makeup” was at its height in April 23 – April 29, 2017, just about nine months after it first started becoming more popular as a search term.
Interestingly enough, the concept of holographic makeup has been around since as early as 2013 with an article from Cosmopolitan titled “Holographic Makeup” being published in August of that year. In March of 2014, Refinery29 also published an article called “Holographic Makeup For Shining Bright Like A Diamond” using mainly the context of music festivals as an excuse to wear holo.
4.) Is Holo Still Relevant?
Apparently, yes. Set to launch February 15, Too Faced is coming out with a whole unicorn-themed line with two specific holographic call outs: the shade “Unicorn Tears” (a holographic bluish purple) as one of their La Crème Mystical Effects Lipsticks (…even though this shade is already out) and holographic glosses called “Magic Crystal Transforming Lip Glosses” as part of their new “Life is a Festival” collection.
So it seems that holo is here to stay, even though not all of us are completely here for it…
In their November 13 episode, Beauty News showed images of this collection (@22:32) and called it “polarizing” as “some people are loving it and some people are hating it” and said they first talked about it months ago when a less than appetizing sneak peak of the palette from the collection was posted on Jerrod Blandino’s Instagram. At 23:10, they say, “this is really childish – this makeup is bad” and some people on Twitter seem to echo this sentiment:
By contrast, others seemed to love the packaging and have some kind of intent to purchase (or at least want to purchase):
Interestingly, one pointed out that Too Faced might actually be behind the trend here:
In my perspective as a consumer (and I know I don’t speak for ALL consumers), I think like there’s some kind of disconnect between marketing messaging nowadays with the whole “unicorn/holographic” thing. Like Cristine, I feel that having “holographic” in the product name or advertising a shade as being holographic is just a ploy to get people to buy it, which has apparently been working. The bigger issue for me is how the whole “unicorn” thing plays in – is it really synonymous (to makeup brands) with being holo, or does something being “unicorn” just make it rainbow/glittery/pretty? There really is no clear messaging here, and while I don’t know if brands mean to be deceptive in this, it ultimately just leads to confusion (at least on my part).
Now, I love me some Too Faced, but I’m personally in the first boat of people who are over the whole holographic/unicorn thing. I think it had its moment in late 2015/early 2016 and with festivals and in nail art and there was a good thing going back then, but now they’ve just killed it and I’m over it! Also, maybe this is me just being me again, but does it annoy anybody else that some sources are saying their new collection is called “Life’s a Festival” while other sources are saying it’s called “Life is a Festival”??
Cristine from Simply Nailogical is entertaining and I respect that her brand is largely based on her love for all things holographic, but at this point, for makeup brands to release new products exploiting this kind of theme, I think they’re missing the mark. But again, it’s not all about me… what do you guys think?
- Simply Nailogical // Brown holo single chevron scaled gradient // Are you HOLOsexual? / What’s a holo? // HOLOGRAPHIC Shattered Glass Nail Art !!!!
- Safiya Nygaard // We Got A Head-To-Toe Holographic Makeover (feat. Simply Nailogical)
- Tati // HOLO or NOT??? with SimplyNailogical
- Beauty News // BEAUTY NEWS – 13 November 2017 | Updates | MAC x Patrick Starr | KVD Metal Crush Palette
- Dictionary.com // Holographic
- Scientific American // “Sidebar: The Holographic Principle“
- WikiDiff // “Iridescent vs Holographic – What’s the difference?“
- Wikipedia // Iridescence
- Justia Trademarks // Simply Nailogical Inc. Trademarks
- Allure // “This Is The Best Holographic Makeup“
- Cosmopolitan // “Jeffree Star and Too Faced are in a bitter feud over unicorn makeup” // “Holographic Makeup“
- Refinery29 // “Holographic Makeup For Shining Bright Like A Diamond“
- Google Trends // Holographic // Holographic Makeup
- Milk Makeup Holographic Stick // $28.00
- NYX Cosmetics Strobe of Genius Holographic Stick // $9.00
- Shimmering Skin Perfector Pressed Highlighter Prismatic – Amethyst // $38.00
- Tarte // Amazonian Clay Collection
- Too Faced La Creme Lip Cream – Unicorn Tears // $22.00
- Too Faced Melted Latex – Unicorn Tears // $21.00
*Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with the aforementioned YouTubers/companies in any way, shape, or form! None of the links above are affiliate links and my opinions are purely based on what I watched in the above videos. Content of screenshots and .gifs are not my own and are owned by the credited YouTuber in the linked videos above.
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