I Made $87,000 Last Year Testing Shampoo! Here’s How I Did It.

I just wanted to be a writer, but my giant head of healthy hair had bigger plans for herself. Once I let my hair take the lead, I was supplementing my income to the tune of $80k a year.

04-I-Made-Over-$80k-Last-Year-Testing-Shampoo!-Here's-How-Courtesy-@brycegruberinstagram.comCourtesy @brycegruber/instagram.comIf someone told the 12-year-old version of myself that I’d be making over $80k a year in supplemental income by playing with hair products and being a hair model, I’d never have believed it. I was deeply insecure about my giant, overgrown-seeming head of hair as an adolescent. The 90s were a time when straight, silky blonde hair was considered the only type of beautiful hair, and I just didn’t have it. I spent all my hard-earned chore money investing in smoothing shampoos, flat irons, and magazines that described the perfect flattening techniques. But here I am, 33 years old, feeding my four big-haired kids with the money my mane has made me. I made roughly $87,000 last year playing with shampoo and other beauty products, proving that dreams do come true—and that’s before all the other work I do as a writer and TV host.

How did I do it? It’s a weird story, but I started writing marketing content for beauty brands in my 20s, and moved on to writing beauty and women’s wellness content for major magazines sometime around the birth of my first son in 2009. But I realized I had so much more to say about beauty products than the magazines gave me space for. I wanted to share every detail of what was really working for me in my real life, knowing that other women would connect to it.

03-I-Made-Over-$80k-Last-Year-Testing-Shampoo!-Here's-How-Courtesy-@brycegruberinstagram.comCourtesy @brycegruber/instagram.comI started theluxuryspot.com, the site where I still talk about everything from not brushing my hair to my travel habits with the intention of making luxury beauty attainable. Brands quickly caught on that real women actually liked connecting to other real women, and that beauty bloggers at the time (before the rise of sponsored YouTube videos and reality TV lip kits) were using the Internet to have a sort of real, friend-to-friend conversation about confidence and cosmetics.

My hair finally had the stage it needed to shine beyond her follicles, and frankly, I’d like to think my hair has a personality of her own, because she took on a much more glam life than I ever did. She was booking hair commercials for drugstore brands to the tune of $10,000 and up—which sounds like a lot, but brands loved using my giant, natural head of hair because I was still just a fraction of the cost of using a B or C list celebrity. Brands started coming to me for consulting, too, to ask me honestly about their formulas for everything from clarifying shampoos to hair masks. (If you’re wondering, by the way, you don’t really need clarifying shampoo unless you’re totally overloading your hair with products each day. Clarifying shampoo is a fancy name for “dish soap” in my opinion.) I remember getting offered about $1,500 for half a day of product discussion and feedback at one of the world’s largest beauty manufacturers. I was excited to know four hours in jeans sipping a Keurig coffee would be worth $1,500, but wondered why they offered that amount.

02-I-Made-Over-$80k-Last-Year-Testing-Shampoo!-Here's-How-Courtesy-@brycegruberinstagram.comCourtesy @brycegruber/instagram.com“Bryce, your hair type is part of the fastest growing segment in the hair care business—lightly textured and common across a variety of ethnic backgrounds,” explained the marketing executive. I couldn’t believe it. The frizzy, ethnic waves I was teased for as a kid were suddenly the most current beauty movement and trend, and everyone wanted to speak to a hair expert who actually had that hair type. She continued, “It’ll cost us over $10 million to bring a new product to market, and we want to make sure we’re speaking with the right voice and using ingredients that will make people happy with their hair. Paying you $1,500 to help us do that is our pleasure.” I was pretty sure I could hear angels singing at that moment, because the idea of getting paid to help other women have products on store shelves that actually help them feel more confident was all my dreams and then some.

But there have been other funny campaigns, too. I remember being asked by a brand to model for their new release of a gel-texture hair mousse. I like their styling products and the beachy wave look was just coming back into style, so I said yes. When I got there they had Metallica music playing and kept saying “Let this be your inspiration when we start shooting.” I went with it, but couldn’t stop giggling that an extremely feminine, luxury hair care brand was using Metallica music as their inspiration. When the ads came out they were full of dainty flowers and sun-kissed beach skin, without even a drop of the dark, intense vibes you might expect from a Metallica-infused shoot. For a day rate of $12,000 though, I’ll find a way to shake my hair to just about any type of beat.

01-I-Made-Over-$80k-Last-Year-Testing-Shampoo!-Here's-How-Courtesy-@brycegruberinstagram.comCourtesy @brycegruber/instagram.comOver the last several years I’ve gotten paid as a satellite media tour host to talk about beauty trends (including hair, obviously), helped brands get their word out about new products on social media (I talk a lot about hair on my Facebook and Instagram accounts), consulted on product formulation, and even hosted panel discussions for beauty brand executives. I still write magazine articles because that’s what I love and I’ve been passionate about since before I realized my hair was pretty great, but supplementing my income so significantly has helped me give my kids a great life. I credit most of my success to the Internet though, because it’s leveled the playing field for the beauty industry in general. Shampoo ads are no longer just for celebrities who may or may not have extensions clipped in for their ads, and honestly, what makes a soap opera star a shampoo or hair type expert, anyway? Brands have gotten wise about connecting their buyers to brand ambassadors they genuinely relate to, and that, if you ask me, is a win-win for everyone who has hair of any style or type.

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Bryce Gruber
As Home Editor, Bryce Gruber is an expert in gift ideas, shopping, and e-commerce at Reader's Digest. You've likely seen her work across a variety of women's lifestyle and parenting outlets and on TV shows. She lives and works in New York's Hudson Valley with her five small children.