Meet Mariel Romero: Cruelty-Free Beauty Extraordinaire Under TheMarielHatter

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I am so excited to introduce OPENLETR readers to Mariel Romero. As someone in the process of going cruelty-free with her beauty routine, I stumbled across Mariel on YouTube. She is such a positive example of how rewarding a cruelty-free lifestyle can be and how it can actually be done. Mariel is a beauty YouTuber with a channel called themarielhatter (such a fun play on The Mad Hatter). With a knack for creativity and a love for makeup, I was immediately drawn to her channel and her personality. I knew I had to feature her in an interview because she would inspire so many with her skill and kindness.

Mariel is not just a star in the cosmetics world for her talent, she is willing to continue learning about beauty from around the world. She continues to share her opinions and experiences while being open to hear from others and appreciate their knowledge.

From the moment I reached out to Mariel, she was lovely and open to sharing her story, especially if it could help guide others to self-acceptance, a more natural beauty regime, or just to have a bit more fun with makeup. Please continue reading to get to know Mariel and all she is about.

OPENLETR: Please share a bit about your background with us. What led you to starting your YouTube channel, and how did you get where you are today?

Mariel: First, I just want to say how happy I am to have been chosen to do this interview. Thank you so much! My name is Mariel. I grew up in Tijuana, Mexico, but I’ve lived in San Diego for over 15 years. I was a creative kid who loved to paint, draw, write, and watch Disney movies and anime (I still do!). I have a Masters in Literature, and I worked at a comic book publisher before my world started to revolve around makeup. I’ve loved makeup since I was little. My mom used to sell makeup at one point, and my sister worked at a makeup counter when she was in college, so I’ve always had access to a lot of makeup. Because of that, I was able to play and practice my technique since I was a tween. When I got a little older, I was the girl who would do her friends’ makeup for dances, quinceañeras, and any event you can think of. I also dabbled in cosplay well into my mid-twenties, so I got a lot of practice there, too.

I always thought doing makeup was just a hobby and I never took it too seriously, but I continued to do people’s makeup every time the opportunity popped up. I’ve also taken a few certification courses.

When I was doing my undergrad and grad studies in Literature, I would take study breaks and relax by watching makeup tutorials and reviews on Youtube. I desperately wanted to create my own content since 2011-2012, but the stars didn’t align until very recently. I started to do more consistent freelance work as an MUA about 2 years ago, and then I found the courage to get on camera and start my YouTube channel a little over a year ago. Wild!

OPENLETR: When did you first start wearing makeup and why?

Mariel: I started young! I got my first drugstore eyeshadow quad, mascara, concealer, and lip gloss when I was in the 5th or 6th grade. I was a really chubby, awkward kid, so learning to do my makeup early on while the cool girls in my class were barely starting to get into makeup made me feel like I had super powers. It still does! That gave me a lot of confidence and it was an awesome creative outlet. My skin started to break out around that time too, so having concealer to cover up any wayward zit really helped me feel more at ease.

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OPENLETR: When and why did you first decide to go cruelty-free? How was the process for you, was it difficult to find the right products?

Mariel: It was such a magical and unexpected transition. When I started dabbling in makeup, I had no idea animal-testing was a thing, and when I was a young adult I knew better. I chose to ignore the fact that the majority of makeup brands I used were tested on animals. A little over 4 years ago, I decided to go on a plant-based diet as an experiment to see if it would help improve my skin. I suffered from persistent cystic acne since I was a teenager and no medication or skin-care routine would keep my skin clear. Letting go of processed oils and all animal products from my diet immediately transformed my skin and all the research I did to educate myself on the subject really opened my eyes to the pain and suffering we put animals through. As a result, I decided to go vegan, which meant eliminating everything that was tested on animals and had animal-derived ingredients in my makeup and beauty kit. It was the best decision ever! It pushed me to really learn about the brands I was supporting and the products I was putting on my face and body. It really deepened my knowledge about cosmetics ingredients, it helped me become a better MUA, and it got me out of a decade-long makeup rut, where I kept using trendy makeup without really knowing why. It took me a few years to replace everything and to find dupes for products I had in the past, but I loved the process. Mostly because I’m a research nerd. There are so many resources online to help one transition—like cruelty-free bloggers such as Logical Harmony, Ethical Elephant and The Soul of Bunny, and reliable information from organizations like Cruelty Free International—so the process wasn’t difficult at all.

OPENLETR: What are your three favorite cruelty-free beauty products and what makes them holy grails?

Mariel: I am STUNNED at how well Sunday Riley’s U.F.O Oil works to control breakouts, and so many people online say they’ve had the same experience. I still get breakouts once in a while, but when I use the U.F.O Oil consistently, my skin looks great. It makes any pimple disappear quickly, it hydrates without making it oily, and helps fade old pimple scars. It’s pricey, but so worth it.

Another beauty product I love is the Derma-E Hyaluronic Acid Serum. It is so emollient and, since it’s very thin and doesn’t leave a greasy residue behind, it’s great for acne-prone skin. My makeup clients look radiant when I use it as their skin prep!

The last thing I highly recommend is Dr. Bronner’s Organic Pure Castile Liquid Soap. It’s great for cleaning synthetic makeup brushes and beauty sponges, and it’s a life saver if you’re in a pinch. I’ve washed my hands and face with it, a client used it to get rid of a stain on their shirt, and I’ve even cleaned super dusty table surfaces at random jobs. It’s just a great multi-purpose product.

OPENLETR: At OPENLETR we focus a lot on body positivity and inclusivity. How do you think the beauty industry can do better in those aspects?

Mariel: It’s no secret that many non-pro makeup companies lack global shades in their foundations and concealers. It’s great that cruelty-free brands like Cover FX, Anastasia Beverly Hills, and Too Faced carry up to 40 shades in their lines, but a lot of work still needs to be done—from drugstore to prestige brands.

Beauty gurus and so-called “SJW’s” get a lot of flack on the internet for voicing their opinions on the subject, but this has resulted in something really positive (when the criticism is constructive, of course). It’s amazing to see we’re getting the attention of brands and actively changing the market. Brands know we want more shades and we want to see more people of color, more men in makeup, more gender identities, different body sizes, etc, to be represented on their Instagram page and ads. If they won’t do it, we will. A lot of influencers are coming out with their own makeup lines and are making it a point to be more inclusive—vegan even—and Rihanna is giving everyone a lesson on inclusivity by coming out with a makeup line that carries tons of shades, and now, a lingerie brand which goes up to plus sizes. What a time to be alive! I hope we just continue to improve.

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OPENLETR: Most women deal with confidence or self-image issues sometime in their lives. How do you handle that and what advice would you give someone with similar struggles?

Mariel: For the majority of my life, I’ve had persistent acne and I’ve been overweight. I used to loathe myself because of it, and for years I tried to force myself to fit into a beauty standard that was disempowering. Looking back, I can’t believe I wasted so much energy trying to look like some random celeb or girl in a magazine instead of embracing my unique features and curvy body. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to stop dieting and picking myself apart, as it accomplishes nothing, and to focus on something else instead. I could have spent that time volunteering at an animal shelter or reading more books! But don’t get me wrong. I’m not perfect and I still struggle with my self-image from time to time, but so does everyone else. Acceptance is a lifelong process. I hope that anyone who reads this and is struggling with their self-image can find comfort in knowing that it is absolutely possible to find peace and self-acceptance. And for the record, I know some people will find it contradictory of me to tell them to be more confident and love themselves exactly for who they are while promoting the use of makeup, so I want to say this to them: The older I’ve gotten and the more confidence I’ve gained, because of other things that aren’t based on how I look, the more I realized that my beauty routine is a form of self-care and is, at its core, a wonderful creative outlet. Now, it’s also become a way to call attention to the horrors of animal-testing and to invite people to consider going cruelty-free and vegan. I truly believe putting on makeup isn't about hiding certain features; it’s about enhancing the beauty you already have, taking a stand, or expressing how you feel.

OPENLETR: What is your favorite part of the online beauty community?

Mariel: I love that we keep each other informed. Whether it’s about a brand’s animal-testing stance or new awesome products, you can always rely on your online besties for tips and reviews. And when I see others open up on subjects affecting their lives like mental health or world affairs, I realize we’re all a part of something bigger than just makeup. It’s a really cool space to belong to.

OPENLETR: Who is your biggest beauty inspiration and why? A celebrity? Someone in your life?

Mariel: I always feel inspired by the work of major MUA pros like Lisa Eldridge, Jordan Liberty, Danessa Myricks and Ve Neil, as well as any artist who likes to push the envelope in any medium—even comic book art inspires me. But, recently, beauty enthusiasts and MUAs on Instagram are the ones who are inspiring me to create more and to be bolder. I am obsessed @sichenmakeupholic ’s natural beauty looks and @isshehungry ’s alien-like creations.

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OPENLETR: Do you think beauty and feminism go hand in hand? If so, how?

Mariel: I think makeup’s relationship to feminism is complex, but I’ll try to keep my answer short. To me, the argument that using makeup or putting effort into how you look is anti-feminist, because it reinforces gender expectations is outdated. No one should be punished for choosing to appear what some would call “traditionally feminine.” Everyone should feel free to look however they want and to be their authentic selves, but we should also be aware that we are constantly bombarded by images, concepts, and ideas that are meant to feed into our insecurities and oppress us. When we are unaware of this, doing things like putting on makeup to hide what we don’t like about ourselves can really damage our self-perception, and we can easily cave into the pressure of complying with expected social norms. But if we become aware of this system, we can easily challenge it by doing whatever makes us happy. In an ideal world, there would be no social repercussions for choosing to wear makeup or not to wear makeup (and this applies to everyone on the gender spectrum), but I am very aware that this isn’t the reality we live in. In the future, I would love to do a video on the subject, because I really want to convey this message to anyone who stumbles upon my channel.

OPENLETR: What do you think makes beauty such a huge part of women’s lives around the world?

Mariel: Cosmetics have been used for centuries in rituals, as decoration, as sun protection, and for hygiene. I think it’s just part of our humanity to gravitate towards cosmetics because we are simply attracted to them, and it’s coded in our DNA to want to reflect good health no matter how healthy we actually are. It makes me really happy to see people from around the world sharing their culture’s beauty secrets and rituals online, especially when they’re more natural alternatives to what the beauty industry offers us. It’s feels like we‘re all part of an extended sisterhood and that’s really exciting.


Courtesy of Mariel Romero, California, USA

YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and SnapChat: @themarielhatter