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In late January, a troupe of makeup obsessives were sent on an all-expenses-paid trip to paradise.

The YouTube beauty “gurus” – whose makeup tutorials have amassed them almost 30 million loyal viewers – were flown by the cosmetics brand Benefit to Soneva Jani: a Maldives resort where a night’s stay ranges from US$4,000 to US$15,000. On the final night Benefit announced the reason for the gathering: a new mascara that retails for US$24.

“Press trips” like these, once the domain of lucky journalists at mainstream media companies, are now the ultimate marker of social media influence. They’re at once a reward for vloggers and an opportunity for brands to be mentioned on their YouTube channels – product placement that can otherwise cost thousands of dollars a post.

The YouTubers on the trip were not Benefit loyalists. Take Chloe Morello, for instance: one of Australia’s most-watched YouTubers with more than 2.4 million subscribers.

Morello and her husband vlogged the Maldives trip, which doubled as their honeymoon, during which she demonstrated to her fans a “vacation makeup routine”. This featured eight brands, including Benefit, her own line Face Halo, and Tarte – a brand that last year flew her and other YouTubers to Bora Bora. She also took the opportunity to plug her new collaboration with Pixi: a face palette and lip gloss that she’d unveiled on her channel four days earlier.

For the savvy content creator, there’s a constellation of potential income streams in the beauty world – and those with the most lucrative careers are able to mix and match.

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Michael Finch is a 21-year-old, Brisbane-based beauty guru who has been filming makeup tutorials and product reviews for four years. He belongs to a growing community of male beauty YouTubers, who include names like Patrick Starr, Manny MUA, Jeffree Star and James Charles, who became the first male CoverGirl ambassador in 2016.

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