When a new skin-care trend makes its rounds on TikTok, we tend to hear similar things. What starts off as new, revolutionary, or even kind of scary, eventually turns out to be a little more than a subtle tweak on an ordinary skin-care routine.
We spoke with dermatologists to learn what they really think of all these trends and how we should approach the suggestions we encounter online.
Are All These Trends the Same Thing?
New York dermatologist Heidi Waldorf, MD explains that from the perspective of someone who has spent years dedicated to schooling and practicing one subject, TikTok trends tend to be old news. “I agree that many of the ‘new’ skin-care trends are just renaming old standards we dermatologists have recommended for decades,” Dr. Waldorf says. “For example, ‘slugging’ with Vaseline is just adding an occlusive over other products to increase absorption and hold in moisture. ‘Retinoid sandwich’ is applying moisturizer before and after retinoid to reduce irritation.”
Fort Lauderdale, FL dermatologist Dr. Matthew Elias agrees that most trends contain typical skin-care advice any dermatologist would give. “Most of this is recycled stuff that dermatologists have been using for decades,” Dr. Elias says.
Often, the catchy names boil down to common advice that dermatologists have been giving for a while: be gentle with your skin, don’t use too many actives at a time. It’s not that that’s bad advice, by any means. It’s that it matters where that advice is coming from.
Dr. Elias explains that the while a trend might be good advice, it’s hard to trust when you don’t know who it comes from. “The thing with TikTok and social media in general is that there are so many trends and hacks that just aren’t true, and you have no way of telling one from the other,” Dr. Elias explains. “There’s a reason why dermatologists went through to medical school, go through residencies, and receive special training in the skin. They are actually experts in skin, as opposed to someone who creates a TikTok trend.”
The Problem with Trendy Skin Care
New York dermatologist Orit Markowitz, MD agrees that the primary issue with skin-care trends is the source of the information. “The problem is the source,” Dr. Markowitz says. “You have to pay attention. If you find something that is of interest that you want to try, that you verify that idea with a trusted source.”
There’s also no telling what information isn’t being included in a viral trend.
“I remember seeing a ‘hack’ that involved putting lash glue on your forehead to keep your bangs down,” Dr. Markowitz says. “And she commented later saying that ‘of course I used a special product to take that glue off,’ but that was not included in the original TikTok. People are not always that intuitive.”
Additionally, the need to stay popular and relevant can lead to skin-care trends becoming more extreme and eye-catching in name.
Washington, D.C. dermatologist Tina Alster, MD explains that the longer skin-care trends exist and the more they appear, the more hyperbolic they become. “Everyone is really trying to one up each other, though, with these trends,” Dr. Alster says. “The trends are usually hyperbolic. For example, ‘slugging’ with Vaseline all over your face will certainly moisturize you, but if you’re on the right skin care, there should be no reason to do that.”
What Do Dermatologists Think of Skin-Care TikTok?
When it comes to SkinTok, as it’s come to be known, dermatologists are a little swamped.
“Probably one out of every two patients asks me about something they learned from either TikTok or social media in general,” Dr. Alster says. “I spend a lot of time debunking that misinformation. It’s never ending; it’s like drinking from a firehose.”
Dr. Elias also spends a lot of his day talking about and thinking about TikTok. “I deal with this. All. Day. Long,” he says, pausing between each word. “Patients will say that ‘Dr. Google told me this’ or ‘TikTok told me that.’”
When TikTok is actually benefiting dermatology, it’s usually because there are dermatologists making content on TikTok.
“I have learned interesting things from board certified dermatologists that make content,” Dr. Elias says. “You can always learn something from someone; I don’t claim to know everything. It’s interesting, because the way I was trained in South Florida may be different from another dermatologist on the other side of the country in a different climate. But as dermatologists, we have our own closed network where we do that kind of communicating.”
That means it’s pretty rare for a dermatologist to come across something on TikTok they’ve actually never seen before.
“I’ve never learned anything new from TikTok,” Dr. Alster says. “It’s always something dermatologists have been doing or have known about forever.”
Along with going through all the work it takes to become a practicing, board-certified dermatologist, there’s also the fact that you have a recourse as a patient if something goes wrong.
“That person on TikTok is not legally liable if you hurt yourself the way a dermatologist is,” Dr. Markowitz explains. “Who are you going to go to if you hurt yourself from following a TikTok video?”
How Should We Approach These Trends?
Remember that most of what you see from these viral trends will be anecdotal. That means it might work for you, it might not.
“I think you can learn something from anyone,” Dr. Elias says. “It’s just that a lot of the stuff you see on social media is anecdotal. Just because something worked for someone doesn’t mean it will work for you, but I do think the community at large can start to investigate some of those claims. It’s kind of like crowd sourcing for the early phases of a study.”
Ultimately, you can find useful information on TikTok, you just need to be careful.
“You should use these trends as a means to ask the right questions,” Dr. Markowitz says. “You can definitely learn things and become more aware, but you need to make sure you’re verifying that information before you jump in.”