Celebrity Hairstylist Josh Liu Talks Pro Hair Tips and His New Brand, útiles beauty

Meet the mastermind behind Ariana Grande’s snatched ponytails.

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If you’ve ever wondered how Ariana Grande always manages to achieve the perfect snatched ponytail, that’s all thanks to her talented hairstylist, Josh Liu. During his time at the TONI&GUY Hairdressing Academy, Liu honed his craft by training with some of the industry’s icons, including Chris Appleton, Christian Wood, Anna Cofone and more.

Apart from being a frequent collaborator with Grande, Liu has also worked with Demi Lovato, Laura Harrier and LANY‘s Paul Klein. Having established his name in the beauty world, the creative has recently launched his very own haircare brand útiles beauty with its hero product, “The Hairtie.” Dedicated to creating sustainable, long-lasting and high-quality products, Liu aims to produce items that actually work, can get the job done and are easy to use.

In the latest installment of HYPEBAE’s Beauty Essentials series, Liu breaks down his top hair, makeup and skincare products, and tells us how útiles beauty came to be. Read on for our interview.

Josh Liu’s Beauty Essentials


“The Hairtie” by útiles beauty: It’s an absolute must for me — it’s super soft, stretchy and secure. When working, it’s difficult to leave my hair down since it’s long, thick and gets in the way, so I often put it up or do a half-up. Most hair ties often snap while I tie my hair, rip out my hair or aren’t tight enough, but these hair ties are really gentle and keep my hair up all day. It helps that I developed and designed them.

T3 Lucea ID Flat Iron: I’m not a big fan of beach waves on myself and prefer more of an undone, tousled wave look. Instead, I like to mix up flat iron S-waves and bends throughout my hair for that messy wavy look without too much of a spiral. I opt for the T3 Lucea ID flat iron because it calculates the appropriate heat setting for my hair type and for my clients, and takes the guesswork out of knowing what the best and safest heat setting is. It also helps protect my hair from excessive heat damage, and keeps it healthy and shiny.

Eco Styler Professional Styling Gel: This is my go-to gel with a flexible, strong hold. It’s great for sleeking up hair, braiding and creating a malleable wet look. I also like to use this as a medium and mix it with other extreme-hold products to customize the perfect hold for me and my clients. I like that I’m able to rework it without flaking and it does a great job of keeping frizz at bay. It works great on my hair and most hair types, although keep in mind it has water as the main ingredient and may revert hair types that are curly, kinky or coily.

Unite 7 Second Glossing Spray: This is an oil-based anti-humectant shine spray that I’ve been obsessed with recently as it does such a good job of detangling hair and protecting it from excessive heat damage. I like to follow it with a flat iron or curling iron, which helps seal some of its soft detangling magic into the hair. This also works great for extension wearers to help detangle without too much tugging or snagging.

Redken Extreme Length Leave-In Treatment: I have super long hair and I’ve been lucky enough to keep it healthy and long using this Redken Leave-In Treatment, which helps preserve the ends of my hair from excessive splitting and keeps it soft and manageable, coating it with biotin and soy protein. I also like to use it on dry hair for extra pieciness.


ILIA Super Serum Skin Tint SPF40 Foundation: This is my go-to foundation as of late as it has many beneficial ingredients from mineral-based SPF, hyaluronic acid, squalane to niacinamide. It’s got light to medium coverage, and since I’m always in a rush, I like something that doesn’t take long to apply and blend. It also plays well with my concealers if I want to mix it in for a little extra coverage or build coverage right on top.

Tarte Shape Tape Concealer: This is the best concealer I’ve used for my skin type (oily) and I’ve tried a lot of concealers in my time. This is what I use when I want to spot-conceal, have my makeup last all day or want a full coverage finish. I set it lightly with powder as it’s already pretty matte and find that it sometimes can become patchy if you over-bake it. I also find that grabbing a deeper shade of this is great for contouring.

Tarte Maracuja Creaseless Undereye Concealer: I love this concealer for brightening and for a medium to full coverage finish — it’s really blendable and hydrating since it’s got a thicker creamy consistency to it. I feel like I change my brightening concealers frequently but always come back to this one as some of them don’t have enough lasting coverage.

Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick in “Super Model”: Call me crazy but I use this matte lipstick as a blush. It’s honestly one of my favorite things. I find most cream blushes on the market kind of slide off, blend away or disappear quickly. However, lipsticks tend to be very pigmented and the matte finish keeps it long-lasting. Since this lipstick is formulated with waxes and oils, it sits well on top of my contour and foundation, and doesn’t become patchy. I sometimes top it off with a powder blush too.

ONE/SIZE by Patrick Starrr Ultimate Blurring Setting Powder: I honestly am obsessed with this setting powder because it really keeps my makeup in place and does exactly what it says — blur. I have oily/combination skin, especially with face masks, and I’ve noticed even at the end of long days my makeup is still on. I’ve tried many different brands of setting powders and this one is it for me.


GrandeLASH™ MD Lash Enhancing Serum: Since I’m half Chinese and half Mexican, neither of my parents have long lashes, so I used to have the shortest, straightest, stubbiest twigs for lashes. But now, I have longer-looking lashes like never before. I’ve been using this every night on my lashes for about five years now and it’s really allowed my eyes to be more opened up and dramatic. I also used to be unable to get successful lash perms because of how short they were, but now that I have longer-looking lashes, they hold a lash perm so much better.

La Mer The Lifting Eye Serum: I have yet to find another eye serum that makes my skin literally feel pulled back and tight after application. I also feel it helps me look more awake and brightens my under eyes. It’s divine. I have no words.

KORA Organics Milky Mushroom Gentle Cleansing Oil: I recently switched to oil-based cleansers to remove my makeup and it’s definitely helped my skin drastically. Most makeup removers or cleansers are actually quite harsh and strip my skin, causing redness or irritation, but this cleansing oil is so gentle and melts makeup right off without excessive rubbing.

Ole Henriksen Banana Bright Eye Cream: This vitamin C eye cream visibly adds a little yellow pigment to help cancel out any discoloration. It also helps makeup sit beautifully on top as it is moisturizing, has a natural radiance and firms the skin.

Furtuna Skin Porte per La Vitalità Face & Eye Serum: This is a great daytime serum that is lightweight and helps maintain my skin’s moisture and firmness. I also love that it depuffs my eye area and is great on sensitive skin. I’ve noticed my skin has become more balanced while using this and therefore, does not over-produce oils as it typically does with other overly hydrating daytime serums and moisturizers.

Congratulations on the recent launch of útiles beauty. Tell us, what made you decide to create your own brand?

Thank you! It all started in 2018 when I was trying to find the “perfect” hair tie and realized there was a huge gap in the market — both online and in-store — for a universal hair tie for all hair types and textures. With that being said, I made it a mission to create a brand with simple concepts in mind that were perfected and designed with inclusivity in mind. The beauty industry is vastly oversaturated and I knew if I was going to create a brand, I wanted to simplify things and focus on beauty tools that work.

How did “The Hairtie” come to be?

I struggled to find the perfect hair tie, and I knew I wanted to perfect this simple concept and make it work for everyone. I made sure to address my biggest gripes being that a lot of hair ties I’ve tried in the past did not have enough stretch capacity and often break when tying, or become loose throughout the day. Most hair ties are hard to touch and actually snap when tying it tightly, or can get super tangled when you take it out due to the cylindrical band rolling the strands of your hair.

“The Hairtie” by útiles beauty was created with all this in mind. It’s a slightly rolled flat band of super-soft nylon elastic fabric that is gentle on hair to prevent breakage, especially on the most fragile, fine hair or bleached/colored hair, yet strong enough to secure your hair as tight or loose as you’d like. It also stretches from 40cm to 45cm, so it’s ideal for all hair types including thin, medium and thick/coarse, as well as all textures like straight, wavy, curly, kinky and coily. It’s also great for people with hair extensions and is strong enough to support hairpieces like clip-on ponytails.

Sustainability was also kept in mind in every aspect. Even if they lose their original shape and become overstretched, they still work and can work well. They come in an acrylic box, which can also be repurposed for various things like cotton pads, swabs, makeup brush holders, pins and more.

What are your hopes for útiles beauty in the future?

I’ve got a lot in the works right now. I’m going to continue designing all my products with inclusivity in mind and the útiles beauty mission, which is simple concepts perfected and creating beauty tools that work. I hope to continue designing products and packaging with sustainability in mind on all fronts.

I’ll continue on with my formula of a high-quality display package and an environmentally friendly refill package at a value price to refill your original order to maintain the aesthetic. I’d love to see útiles beauty continue on from e-commerce to retail shelves, and eventually inspire all walks of life via our campaign images centered on diversity and inclusivity on billboards around the world. As a queer half Chinese and half Mexican-American, I know how important representation is and look forward to creating stunning útiles beauty campaigns with body positivity in mind, as well as the LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC communites.

Other than “The Hairtie,” what other products are you planning to release?

Next, I’ll be expanding the sizes of hair ties to small and medium, which will allow for all hair types and textures to create different looks which don’t require 40cm to 45cm of stretch. Some other tools I’m working on are combs, brushes, clips and pins — all of which I’m really taking time to perfect in aesthetic design, functionality, packaging and sustainability. Most will center on the #SNATCHED vibes that útiles beauty has embodied with our hero product, “The Hairtie.”

Take us back to the very beginning, what inspired you to pursue a career in hairstyling?

My hair has taken so many forms since childhood. I started experimenting with my hair in high school when “scene/emo” kids were on the rise and had an intense side part with super straight hair. In college, I played with curling irons and hairspray, and started to tease and curl-set my hair into a huge pompadour like Jimmy Neutron’s. I would always get compliments on my hair and started doing my friends’, family and coworkers’ hair for fun. I graduated from Pepperdine University with a degree in public relations and worked as a celebrity publicist assistant for a year and a half. I realized I wasn’t passionate about PR and gave my notice about wanting to pursue a career in hairstyling. Everyone was really supportive and not surprised by the career change.

How long does it typically take you to complete Ariana Grande’s signature ponytail? And what’s your secret to keeping it so sleek?

I’ve done so many ponytails at this point in my life and have done them in so many different ways. I can do a signature show ponytail in about 30 to 45 minutes, maybe even faster.

Be patient with your hair. Everyone’s hair differs but try different products out to see what works best for you. I like to first start by tying it up looseley and applying a firm/strong hold gel to sleek up the perimeter of the hair, followed by an edge control around the hairline. I then like to undo the loose ponytail and brush all of that product in and add some extreme hold hairspray to the already slicked ponytail to lock it all in place and secure it with “The Hairtie.” If you don’t have a strong, tight and secure ponytail, your pony will never be sleek.

My pro tip is if you’re noticing you’re getting a lot of breakage along your hairline or face, stay away from hardening hairsprays because it makes your hair fragile and susceptible to snapping. Instead, stick to a firm/strong hold gel or a strong hold edge control, and use extreme hold hairsprays as a finishing touch.

“Beauty is not a look, rather a feeling. I think when we label beauty as something visually descriptive, it can be toxic.” 

In what ways have your views on the industry changed since becoming a professional hairstylist?

When I first started doing hair, I thought there was a very strict linear path to success in this industry. You can 100 percent make your own path to success and social media has really made that possible. It’s a double-edged sword though, so you have to be careful that you are being intentional with your craft as a hairstylist and creative, instead of chasing trends or creating content simply for likes. I also used to see hairstyling as a very rudimentary career but it really is an art at its core. I draw inspiration from everything and I’m always pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I think we need to do this to continue growing as artists.

What does beauty mean to you?

Beauty is not a look, rather a feeling. I think when we label beauty as something visually descriptive, it can be toxic. If I’ve learned anything in the last few years, it’s that beauty isn’t big lips, Instagram cheekbones and overly filtered photos. Beauty comes about when you love yourself, and invest the time to listen and care for yourself. My beauty mantra is to put in the work and establish a skincare routine that is tailored to address your needs. Be patient when trying to nail down the routine that works for you and your skin type. Nothing is better than feeling confident and beautiful with healthy, glowing, radiant and fresh skin. Anything you put on top of it is just an enhancement.

Can you share with us your number one hair tip you live by?

I am usually a “more is more” type of person, but if I’ve learned anything over the years, it is to be patient and start with less and build up as needed. This goes for leave-in conditioners, oils, gels, texture sprays, dry shampoos, hairspray, curling your hair, accessorizing, etc. There’s nothing worse than when you put too much of a product because there’s no going back.

What advice do you have for creatives who are trying to make it big amid a global pandemic?

The beauty of the pandemic is that you really have time to invest in your craft, social media and art. It’s 2021, there are so many tutorials online and a ton of inspiration to draw from. Get a mannequin head or practice on someone you’re close with, and step out of your comfort zone by trying something you haven’t done before. A lot of major jobs have been put on pause, so get creative and find other outlets to channel your art on social media. The beauty of social media is that it allows us to share our creativity with others regardless of your medium. You never know what might happen but brand deals, collaborations and potential jobs could come out of it. It’s a lot to learn how to do all these things, but it’s important for us to adapt to the times. Otherwise, we’ll get left behind.

If you do plan on doing creative shoots or projects with others, it’s really important you only work with people you trust who are taking the pandemic seriously, and who hopefully get tested frequently. Be sure to sanitize your kits and yourself often, wear a face mask and face shield, social distance when possible, make sure you have a window and door with fresh air, and keep a very limited amount of people on your set. Always check your local CDC guidelines for tips on how to stay healthy during the pandemic.

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Jordan Santos
The West Hollywood Edition Hotel
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