Glow Up star and YouTube sensation @nikkisSecretx talks staying at home, social media success and makeup to suit all skin tones
Are social media stars born or (self) made? For some, the elusive little blue tick and ‘swipe up to shop’ are the prizes that come from time spent carefully curating content – each VSCO-ed image plucked from a quake of outtakes, every post hashtagged to engagement-optimised perfection. After all, Instagram is big business. But for others, like makeup artist @nikkissecretx, 29, their cult-like followings are the result of trying, testing, learning, perfecting and, ultimately, paying it forward.
As the social media star, like the rest of us, is currently hunkered down at home – and admittedly maximising this time by working out, stepping up her skincare and creating more content than ever to keep her followers’ spirits lifted – we couldn’t think of a better fit for our first DARE @ Home cover. ‘I’m trying to make the most of more time at home,’ she tells us when we catch up on the virtual meeting platform Zoom. ‘It’s helping me connect with and work on myself. Even though the world is a little crazy right now, I’m loving being with myself, my thoughts and my ideas.’
And while this anxiety-inducing time can be difficult to navigate as we attempt to establish a new normal, Nikki has a few secrets to self-soothing. ‘I’ve learned to take each day as it comes – you don’t know what is around the corner,’ she says. ‘Living with my partner really helps. It means I have human contact on a daily basis, and I can speak about my struggles and stresses with him. I’d really encourage people to keep speaking and checking in with friends. It helps so much.’
Nikki cites exercise as her go-to method for staying grounded. ‘To keep calm, I’m working out on a daily basis. It makes me feel good and sets me up for the day. I’m following at-home workouts on YouTube and my fiancé and I are also training together. We’ve just bought some gym equipment,’ she says. ‘I love sharing my workouts with my followers – to show them I’m “normal” and have insecurities just like everybody else, but that I’m working on them,’ she adds.
The social media star is finding a lot of comfort in the platform. ‘In fact, Instagram has been a real source of support for me,’ she says. ‘I absolutely love filming content and connecting with my audience. I feel this time has actually allowed us to grow closer – I treat them as my friends, and I love to keep them updated with what I’m doing. I have found the IG community is really coming together and bringing out content to help take people’s minds off everything that is going on. It can feel like all you hear about is bad news at the moment, so I’m trying my best to bring joy and relaxation through my channel. I want my page to be a safe place and not somewhere people feel anxious or stressed.’
‘I’ve started to focus more on filming skincare videos, as I am aware a lot of people are at home, too. Skincare is an amazing way to de-stress and pamper yourself. Not only does it work wonders for your complexion, but it also helps you feel good. My followers tell me they find my skincare videos relaxing – and I love being able to create that for them. It’s a little ritual I share daily,’ she says.
And while Nikki is known for her skincare videos and tips, it’s makeup that’s really at the heart of who she is. ‘My obsession with makeup came from growing up as someone with Indian heritage and having an insecurity with my dark circles,’ she says. ‘We suffer a lot with pigmentation underneath our eyes and around our mouths, and I felt I had to cover it up, but I didn’t know how to do it,’ she adds.
Formally known as Nikkita Patel, the star’s moniker, @nikkissecretx, is her brand. Not one to do a daily ‘full beat’ – beauty speak for perfectly applied, Insta-ready makeup (think cut-creasing, baking, overlining…) – Nikki’s secret lies in harnessing the power of makeup to teach girls, like her, who grew up with society-prescribed imperfections they’d prefer to conceal. Think learning how to buff, blend and contour your way to inner confidence.
‘I would also say that a lot of my audience is of a similar skin tone to me and they suffer with the same sort of things, like hyperpigmentation – just little things that someone with Caucasian skin might be less likely to suffer from,’ she adds. ‘I’m all about skin: helping your everyday person who wants to find a dupe for this or that, who wants to know how to colour-correct and feel confident in their own skin,’ she says.
Her unquestionable makeup wizardry (‘I am the queen of concealer,’ she quips) is what scored her a place on BBC’s Glow Up, a series fronted by Stacey Dooley and with industry legends Val Garland and Dominic Skinner acting as judges, to find the best new makeup talent in the UK. Challenges at London Fashion Week and on shoots proved to be a steep learning curve.
‘When you watch the show, everyone has a role or story. Mine was that I could never finish on time, and it stuck. I understand, though, as TV has to be entertaining,’ she laughs. ‘The show was amazing, and it taught me a lot, but it was the most stressful time of my life! I rang my partner every day, crying. Basically, what I learned is that I don’t work well under pressure,’ she says. ‘I don’t regret doing it, and I’m so happy I took part as I learned so much about myself and grew so much in confidence from it, and I realised that I could do the show and come second with my ability. The backlash was awful, though. Usually I don’t get a lot of hate; my followers are really positive and if I do get trolled, it’s like, “you’re ugly”, but that doesn’t really do anything to me. It’s when people start criticising your work that it really hurts, and I didn’t realise it would hurt me so badly.’
Yet, while Nikki has amassed a legion of followers – 736,000 on Instagram – she’s well aware that, although social media has provided her with a stage, like her experience on Glow Up, it’s not always plain sailing. ‘My self-image has been a roller-coaster. I’m definitely not the most confident of girls – I’m really self-conscious but I’m working at it,’ she explains. ‘There are little things I would change, and social media does affect you because you’re constantly looking at yourself and looking at other people, and naturally you compare yourself,’ she says.
‘I know people say don’t compare, but it’s difficult not to, when you’re like, “she’s beautiful, that’s a beautiful shoot”,’ Nikki says. ‘Yes, it can be inspirational but, at the same time, when you’re looking at someone else’s body, their skin, how creative they’re being, it’s difficult not to compare, so that aspect can be hard. But in the same breath, you are you and I try to remind myself of that.
‘I’m also very strong on natural beauty, I’ve never had anything done. I’m not against it – each to their own – but for one, my mum would kill me,’ she laughs. ‘It’s also difficult with Instagram as it ends up at your door. I get emails from people offering me plastic surgery and I’m like, “No, no thank you.” I was just brought up not to. I wouldn’t ever want my mum to think I was unhappy with the way I look. And I agree with her – you’re born with what you’re born with.’
Unafraid to go on camera without her beloved concealer, her mum’s mantra bleeds into everything Nikki posts on her platforms. ‘Makeup is makeup, and you can wear as little or as much as you want,’ she says. ‘But I do think some people are editing too much. They look perfect and I think that can make people feel more insecure and like, “Oh, I don’t look like that.” I think it’s our job and duty to make imperfections normal,’ she adds.
‘I go on camera a lot without makeup on. I show my dark circles and I show myself threading. I show my facial hair up close because I don’t want people to forget that, yes, while I do love to do a full face and remove my dark circles, fundamentally they’re still there. You might think it’s too much when you see me fully made up, but you can also see me bare-faced if you want to. I think it’s important to show both sides,’ she adds.
Staunchly proud of her British Gujarati heritage, Nikki is aware of the power of her voice in a space where influencers of colour are few and far between. ‘There are only two Indian girls I can think of – Anchal and Kaushal – other than that I can’t name anyone. Being someone of colour, I think it’s important for us to be on the gram and on social,’ she says.
Finding space in the media – hell, even finding makeup that works for different skin tones – has been a journey for Nikki and other women. And while the high street is snapping at the heels of luxury brands who have long catered for women of colour, Nikki found little that reflected her skin tone on the shelves when she was growing up.
‘I think brands are now starting to cater for diversity, but it wasn’t like this when I started out,’ she says. ‘I loved Collection concealer when I was a teenager, but there were two shades, so I used to use it as a highlighter. Now it has more shades and it’s really improved,’ she adds. ‘Revolution and NYX Professional do a great job of creating shades for all skin tones. You can definitely get makeup for people of colour on a budget, but we have to hunt for it a little more, which shouldn’t be the case.
‘Also, I think our undertones are difficult to find the right fit for – it’s not like there are four colours and you fit one of them, because you don’t. But social media gives me a massive platform to reach out to people and say, “Hey, I use three foundations, and it’s fine. And if you can’t afford it, this one is similar. It’s a dupe – mix three colours together and you’ll get the same colour as this.”’
What advice would she give beauty brands about catering for all? ‘I do think there’s been a change, but I’d like to see more. Don’t just bring out two deep shades and call them “cappuccino” or “latte” – honey, that’s beige. I don’t know how they test on people, but surely they know that people of colour exist – I’d like to see a real spectrum,’ she says.
With her invaluable insider’s view on the industry, is there advice for those keen to follow in her footsteps? ‘Work hard. If you want to do it, you’ll do it. Be consistent, show off your talent and reach out to loads of people. There are no shortcuts or magic formulas, like if you hashtag this and do this. But also, I think my followers are normal people – people like me and you – and they can tell when people are doing it for a quick win as opposed to someone who genuinely loves sharing things.’
Just one look at her channel, especially in the current climate of instability and uncertainty, and it’s clear what camp Nikki falls into.
Words: Natalie Ticehurst. Art Direction: Jade Cooper-Collins. Photographer: Sarah Brick. Assisted by: Caz Dyer. Makeup: Nikki Secret. Hair: Jay Birmingham. Styling: Carlotta Constant