Filipino Celebrity Makeup Artist Roi Santos on His LGBTQ Journey and Overcoming Bullying

Interview by Crystal Willis

Celebrity Makeup Artist Roi Santos is the world’s leading Filipino beauty professional. Santos has carved out his own lane glamorizing the faces of award-winning and influential celebrities such as Socialite and Politician Jinkee Pacquiao (Manny Pacquiao’s wife), Rabiya Mateo (Miss Universe Philippines 2020), Cherie Gil (Award-winning Actress), Maria Isabel Lopez (Miss Universe Philippines 1982), Angel Jones (Actress and Fit Model) and many more. Based in California’s Bay Area, Santos is well known for being vocal about his struggles as a gay man, being bullied for a skin condition, and his passion for transforming the looks of the Philippine’s most viral stars.

Crystal had the opportunity to pick his brain for a few gems from his inspiring journey:

You’ve come a long way in your career, and you’ve only just begun! Where are you from originally? Obviously, you’re a proud Filipino, but share a little more with us about your childhood upbringing and how that has influenced you today?

I was born in Pasig City, Philippines.  Growing up, I was bullied a lot for being gay, different, and for my skin issues. I started doing makeup to cover up my cystic acne. Back then, there were not a lot of beauty gurus, because YouTube wasn’t as popular. I remember going to beauty counters at department stores and asking the salesperson a million questions about makeup so I could cover up my acne. The questions were from color correcting to using the right shade of concealer and foundation for me. It made me super interested even more about makeup. It felt like I opened Pandora’s box. It brought me joy. I was amazed that I could actually achieve intricate and glamorous makeup.

Needless to say, I am proud that I’m a well-rounded makeup artist, who isn’t afraid to go outside of the box with my makeup looks. At an early age, I knew I was different amongst other boys, their interests weren’t the same like mine. Throughout childhood, I knew I was different from the other boys, and I’ve always known and dreamed that I would be working in the beauty industry. I want to give a big shout out to my wonderful and amazing family. They have been my number one supporters from the very beginning. I would love to express my gratitude for their undying love and support. I have been lucky enough that my family has always been supportive of me and they are behind me every step that I go.

What circumstances or mindset challenges have you had to overcome as an LGBTQ man to achieve the level of success you’ve had?

As a growing and successful LGBTQ man there have been many challenges I’ve had to overcome. For example, I went out to a restaurant, and had to use the restroom and while I was there this man felt the need to leave a snide remark and say ” I thought this was the mens room” all because I was wearing makeup. Even in the beauty field I’ve had challenges. Working at Sephora there would be so many times clients would visibly change in demeanor and attitude the moment they realized I was their artist. Even going to the extremes of saying, “nothing against you I’m sure you’re a wonderful artist but I would prefer a female artist instead. You know, because she can understand my facial structure better” remarks like that would get to me and affect me because that’s saying something against my skill and craft something I find passionate.

Over time, I learned to ignore it, or kill  them with kindness. When someone tried to get a different artist my managers would have my back and say “either Roi does your makeup or you can leave.” Once they realized there was no other option, I would turn that chair around and work my magic so they would feel horrible about their prior assumptions. Nine times out of 10, I defeated these “challenges” by being who I am unapologetically.  I’ve learned to have a stronger back bone. My work speaks for itself, as well as the clientele I’ve created.

You’ve worked on many of the world’s top Filipino celebrity faces. What’s one fun, challenging or inspiring moment you’ve had doing their makeup that you’ll never forget?

I feel fortunate that many celebrities have given me a chance to glam them up and each has become my favorite for different reasons. Some give me advice on how to stay relevant in the public eye, how to keep your reputation respectable. Some have also shown me makeup tricks, which I have appreciated, because that has kept me humble as my career grows and flourishes. They are all my favorite because I always go in feeling like an expert, but leave feeling like I’ve gained a new friend and I respect them so much for that.

What advice would you give to any beauty professionals looking to break into the business and work with bigger names?

To never give up on your dreams and goals. I always tell anyone who wants to be a makeup artist to be yourself and take the skills you have learned and make it your own. I truly believe that every artist is different and has a unique style. Always practice on every technique to achieve a higher skill level! And never compare yourself to other makeup artists. Stay in your lane. Focus on you. Do you. Because no one is you and that is your superpower. Never ever be afraid of being different. Be afraid of being basic and the same as everyone else. Most importantly, always be humble!

Where do you see your career going in the future?  Any plans to create your own skin care or cosmetics brand, perhaps?

My plans are to never settle and to keep challenging myself by expanding my knowledge, experience and passion for my industry. Keeping up with trends means having enough humility to fully understand that, yes I am good at what I do, but I always have room to grow. It doesn’t hurt to dream big. Aim high. Hustle, always be humble and most importantly know your worth! And as far as creating my own line, not at the moment. I’m soaking everything in, but my own products are definitely on the horizon. When I do launch my beauty treatments, They will be suitable for all, based on everything I have learned over time. I am learning more skin tones and textures with each client, and (I’m such a perfectionist) so when I create my own products I want to nail it! Vegan, cruelty and paraben free- all things that are of trending importance, but will really make a difference is addressing whatever each individual hopes to improve about their skin.

You can keep up with Celebrity glam artist Roi Santos on his social media @roithemakeupartist

Journalist, editor, human being. Connect on Twitter and IG @jerrydoby_