Heather Muir Maffei

'Real Simple' & 'Health' Beauty Director Heather Muir Maffei Says Skincare is the New Makeup

It’s no secret that 2020 was not a normal year. If you'd told me a year ago that we would be working from home due to a pandemic, I would probably think you watch too many sci-fi movies. As the COVID-19 pandemic has altered our everyday lives in so many ways (masks anyone?), it's also proven our resilience and adaptability in these unprecedented times. 

The beauty industry in particular has taken a drastic turn. In what felt like an instant, many of us went from wearing a full face of makeup every day to living in a bare face and sweats for months on end. As the beauty director for both Real Simple and Heath, Heather Muir Maffei has gotten a firsthand view of these changes, with her finger on the pulse of every new beauty trend. I spoke with Heather about her job and the ways the pandemic has altered the beauty and magazine industries. 

A day in the life as a beauty director

Heather has worked in the magazine industry for 16 years, with Real Simple being the seventh brand she's worked for. Before the pandemic, Heather commuted into the city every day from her home in the Hudson Valley, where she lives with her husband, baby, and dog. Even though the pandemic has forced her into working from home, she still loves her job. “The reason I love my job is because every day is different,” Between product launches, interviews with dermatologists, and pitching ideas to the editor-in-chief, no two days are the same. 

Heather Muir Maffei Photo by Heather Muir Maffei Since switching to working from home last March, everything has to be done virtually. “There’s good and bad. Brands have really gotten creative, from virtual wine tasting to flower design classes to keep us engaged. I’ve been writing and doing meetings from home.” She even recently attended a virtual sleepover party with Bath and Body Works for their holiday launch. While her job has changed a lot, Heather is proud that the magazine still gets out in time each month and looks amazing. “Mostly, it’s been a great balance,” she shares.

Breaking through in the beauty industry

Like many industries today, the beauty industry often feels oversaturated. As the beauty director, Heather tries so many different brands before deciding what to include in the magazine. Her monthly roundups of her favorite products give readers the best of the best when it comes to changing up their beauty routines (I’m eyeing a CC cream she recommended in December’s article). 

When deciding to work with a new brand, Heather takes into account whether it's the right fit for the magazine. “I love taking meetings from a bunch of different brands. The beauty industry is so cluttered and overwhelming that without a face-to-face meeting it's hard to break through.” Lots of factors go into working with a new brand, including sustainability, amazing ingredients, and smart technology. “I don’t think everything has to be 100% clean and natural, but I think our readers want brands to be transparent,” she says.

Magazines aren’t dead

Despite the narrative that’s been circulating for years that magazines are dying, magazines like Real Simple and Health have been thriving during the pandemic, between Real Simple’s cleaning and cooking tips and the health related issues presented in Health coming to the forefront of everyone's mind. When Heather first graduated college and started working at Cosmopolitan, print magazines were booming. While the magazine industry has definitely changed since then, it certainly isn’t going anywhere. 

The growth of social media has changed the game, though, with Instagram becoming a powerful marketing tool as opposed to a more personal thing. “In order to be a successful beauty editor you have to have a strong presence on Instagram,” Heather shares. The world of magazines must consider “360 degree ideas,” she explains. Editorial teams must consider not only the printed magazine pages, but how content will look when presented on Instagram or Apple News. People who were against the shift to digital platforms have been forced to pivot, or have lost their jobs altogether. You must be willing to embrace change if you want to stay relevant in an ever-changing industry – so future editors, take note! 

Heather Muir Maffei Photo by Heather Muir Maffei During the pandemic, people – myself included – are tired of staring at screens all day. Between Zoom calls and working from their computers, people are accumulating more screen time than ever before. In need of an escape, nothing beats the feeling of flipping through new, glossy magazine pages. The pandemic has brought about almost a resurgence of print that we haven’t seen in years. 

The pandemic has changed the beauty industry 

This past year has affected the beauty industry in so many ways. Online beauty shopping has outweighed brick and mortar stores, as it has in many industries. Shopping for these products used to be something that most people preferred to do in person. A trip to Sephora to touch, feel, and try products was a regular occurrence in any beauty aficionado’s schedule. Now, people are turning to online try-on technologies. Heather wrote a story for which she got to try virtual try-on services for Benefit brow products, L’Oreal lipstick, and Estee Lauder foundation. Personally, I’ve virtually tried on Lauren Conrad Beauty’s new lipstick. 

Heather shares that before the pandemic, she and her team said that no matter what, beauty would always do well because people always want to look good. For the first time in a long time, makeup sales are down as people reevaluate how they want to spend their extra time. “Working from home has separated us into two camps: those who want the normalcy of a full face of makeup at home versus those who ask themselves, ‘Why the hell did I waste so much time every day.’ People are reevaluating their idea of beauty.” Heather and I both fall into the latter category, opting for sweatpants and a bare face for days spent working from home. She shares, “I was such a glam makeup girl and now I'd rather spend those 15 minutes doing something else. I still love makeup, and it’s such a treat once in a while.”  

Skincare is the new makeup

With strict stay-at-home orders in place and a general tendency to stay home more often than not even where there aren’t any mandates, Heather says that skincare is the new makeup. People are leaning on masks and various at-home gadgets and tools to upkeep their beauty rituals, since they may not be able to get Botox or go to the spa. “Self care is bigger than ever because people need to feel good again,” Heather says, and I know I’m not the only one who’s been indulging in more masks and bubble baths this year. 

Heather Muir Maffei Photo by Heather Muir Maffei This year has also been interesting for the beauty industry because there haven’t been many red carpets or events that typically would spark new makeup trends. There wasn’t one fall lip color or eye makeup trend, but rather a free for all for people to embrace their own makeup preferences. Heather shares that when she first started working there would typically be a lip color or eyeshadow that was popular for the season, but now we don’t see that as much. “It’s so hard because there weren't many red carpets or events, so we didn't see normal trends. There really aren't rules anymore – anything goes! You can do what feels good to you.” 

2021 is up in the air

With so much uncertainty in the world, it's hard to predict what tomorrow will bring, nevermind this year. Heather believes that there might be a little bit more of a return to makeup in 2021 simply because people are missing it, but that't will mostly exist in the two aforementioned camps. There will always be that person who swipes on a red lip for her Zoom meeting and those who prefer a more natural at-home look, but the more natural look will be more popular. “I wore foundation every day for years, now someone said to me, ‘Oh my gosh, Heather you have such cute freckles,’" she says. "I didn't even remember I had them!” Even the biggest makeup lovers are reverting to more natural looks whilst staying at home or wearing masks. “In the past I would never have gone to work without makeup, now I go on Zoom without a stitch of makeup on and I don't care. It's okay to embrace what we look like naturally. It’s an empowering thing; you don't need to wear a full face of makeup – you never did.”

Network, network, network

Heather Muir Maffei Photo by Heather Muir Maffei For any aspiring beauty editors out there, Heather suggests, “Intern as much as you – I know it’s so hard right now. Reach out to any publication you're interested in and show them your resume, clips, and offer to do writing for them.” Keep introducing yourself to new contacts so that you can network and offer to help them. Heather says she always remembers the girls who reach out to her and offer help. It can be intimidating, but you never know where it might lead so it's important to keep an open mind. If you’re worried that you’ll bother them, there's a way to reach out it in a polite way. “Dont be too persistent, but try to stay top of mind," she says. "You just have to find the right balance.”