Micro Going Macro: JC Dombrowski, the Science-Based Beauty Influencer With Amazing Sea Facts
JC Dombrowski is one of 15 up-and-coming Instagram influencers selected for nofilter's 2021 Micro Going Macro list. See all 15 picks here.
WHO JC Dombrowski
WHAT Skincare, marine biology
There are many recognized tribes on TikTok—gay TikTok, straight TikTok, elite TikTok—but marine biology TikTok is a new one. There’s a 50 percent chance that’s how you discovered 20-year-old JC Dombrowski, who first went viral on the app last year with his terrifying ocean facts (such as “worst ways to die in the ocean”). But he’s also devoted to debunking skin care myths and products that are problematic or simply don’t live up to their hype. Both of these interests stem from the Atlanta, Georgia native’s love of science, and have earned him almost three million TikTok followers. His success is paying his way through college at Cornell University, where he’s studying—what else?—marine biology.
On Instagram, Dombrowski is living his “influencer model fantasy” for 47,000 followers. But “Instagram is a really difficult platform to grow on,” he tells me in a phone call. “I feel like it's dying out, and that's what a lot of other influencers have said.” As far as his brand deals, TikTok has been his money maker.
So he’s paving a new path on TikTok, where you don’t have to brand yourself as any one thing. Sea expert, serum expert … why not both?
How did you end up making videos about these two very different things, marine biology and skincare?
I actually began my [TikTok] talking about how I got into the schools I got into because I got into Cornell, but I also got into Columbia and Dartmouth and other schools like that. And around December—I started in September—I kind of ran out of college ideas. I was like, “Shoot. What else can I do?” I started talking about marine biology. I found that niche and it really helped my channel grow.
But with TikTok, it's very user-friendly in that if you are a viewer, it is perfectly catered to what you like. But if you're a creator, it is so not friendly. You constantly have to evolve and adapt and it's really difficult. And so I was like, “Great, I need something else to add to my [TikTok].” So as I got bigger and people started calling me an influencer, which I still cringe at, I started doing videos on consumer protection. Yes, I'm a marine bio major, but most of the classes I've taken are not marine biology at all. It's basic biology, anatomy, physiology, things like that. And so I started talking about consumer protection, all these products that influencers recommend that are scams. I started getting into skincare, like, “These products don't work, that's not how human cells work.” People got really interested in it and it kind of just ended up being my second big niche. I also stuck with it cause it's a lot more profitable for me to have as a niche.
Yeah, it’s probably hard to be just a marine biology influencer.
With marine biology, there are only so many deals. I did a deal with Discovery Channel for Shark Week over the summer, and that was about it. But skincare was really where I started to make money. I've gotten to work with a lot of really cool brands. I've gotten to see the behind the scenes, the ethics. I've been able to learn a lot more about the brands that are really making an effort to make the world a much better place and industry a much more eco-friendly space.
“There have been times where I almost signed a contract where it was like, ‘You cannot terminate this contract, only we can, have fun basically being our property.’”
Did you have a mentor or friend in the creator space to help you learn the ropes?
I thankfully found a manager, but once you get into your industry or niche, you will meet other creators. I am in a group chat with a lot of other popular skincare creators on Instagram and TikTok. And a lot of them helped me and now I can disseminate that knowledge. I learned to help other people who're getting into the industry like, “Oh, hey, look at this clause.” Or “Do you have the right to terminate this contract?” Because there have been times where I almost signed a contract where it was like, “You cannot terminate this contract, only we can, have fun basically being our property” and it's terrifying. Or, “We own all of your content and can reproduce it and use it and we don't have to pay you a dime.” You have to really read into these contracts. I would say never sign a contract without showing it to someone else.
What’s the process of making a typical TikTok for you?
I'm very much a Luddite and I write everything by hand. I have four or five notebooks of just notes, ideas, sources, data. And then I have to find all the images and then I have to create a background. I have to memorize things. Towards the end of 2020 I got really burned out. I work seven or eight hours a day trying to come up with videos, trying to be as science-y as possible, but also not be [so] smart that the average person doesn't understand. I have to find that perfect fine line, and I have to go back and edit everything, and it can be a lot of work. There are some content creators who can just stand in front of a camera and be hot, like getting millions of views. And it's frustrating.
What are some of your most popular videos?
My biggest skincare video, I think it's at 10 million views now, was just "horrible skincare products people are still obsessed with." It was one of my first skincare videos and definitely my largest one. And then my most viewed ocean video is at 10 million views and it is "worst ways to die in the ocean." That's something that really will grab people's attention.
What’s it like being part of the skincare community, which is notoriously, shall we say, passionate?
When it comes to skincare, something that I have learned is you have, like, very liberal and very conservative people. And what I mean by that is not political: liberal in what you'll put on your skin versus conservative. Some people are like, I'm completely anti-fragrance, I'm completely anti-dyes. And then you have these straight up anti science, like anti-vaxxers of the community, that pretty much we all just pretend don't exist. The skincare industry, you can approach it from a very scientific viewpoint and that is what a lot of people do, but at the same time, there's so much misinformation out there. So many people who have fillers or Botox—there's nothing wrong with that, but it's that they'll say “I use these topical products” and it's like, “No, you're using Juvederm."
What are your 2021 goals?
TikTok is how I'm putting myself through school. I've been basically financially independent since I was a teen. I'm paying for Cornell all myself. If it wasn't for TikTok I I would have to drop out, honestly. So my goal with TikTok is to grow as much as possible and to make as much money as ethically as possible—only ethical brand deals and doing the right thing.