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The Ugly Side of TikTok’s Beauty Trends

In a world where teens digest most of their information from social media, it should come as no surprise that skincare trends are a popular focus—with TikTok leading the way. In fact, TikTok’s search engine has become so popular, the app for viral dance videos and lip-syncs now rivals the efficiency of Google.

In an article published by the New York Times, Prabhakar Raghavan, a Google senior vice president admitted that Google feels the heat of competition. “In our studies, something like almost 40 percent of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search. They go to TikTok or Instagram,” Raghavan said at a technology conference in July.1

When not relying on TikTok to locate the closest Chick-fil-A, even more of them are relying on it for skincare. As of January, the hashtag #teenageskincare amassed over 26.4 million views on TikTok.2 In February, #tweenskincare garnered 49.5 million views.3 Obsessed with all things skincare—cleansers,
creams, gels, facial peels, face masks—a CNN article reports tweens have even earned a viral moniker: “Sephora Kids.”4

Teenagers shopping for skincare products at Sephora.

Eager to display their skincare hauls, Sephora kids feature lengthy (and expensive) skincare routines—even spotlighting their 12-step skincare ritual. While some may view the routines as something fun, a way for kids to feel more grown up, experts point out the risks—namely that kids are using products not formulated for their age group and damaging their skin.

The article references Dr. Stacey Tull, a cosmetic dermatology specialist in Missouri, who worries that preteens are caught up in the hype without actually understanding the products they’re applying, like retinol. A form of vitamin A, Retinol is a popular skincare ingredient used to improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles on aging skin.4 Not exactly tween-worthy.

“Retinol came from retinoic acid, which is actually for acne but probably 20 years ago it took off as an anti-aging serum,” says Tull. “If tweens are having acne then they should see their doctors or dermatologist and get it prescribed rather than go for an anti-aging serum which does have some retinol, but the original intent is not to treat acne and it’s also in the wrong formulation to treat acne.”4

Not properly understanding skincare ingredients is one problem, then there are the trends that are just straight-up harmful. The Kit, a Canadian media outlet, cites recent examples such as, “using sunscreen to ‘contour’ the face rather than slathering it on all over, scraping off moles at home or even self-administering fillers.” Katie Beleznay, a Vancouver dermatologist and clinical instructor in the department of dermatology at the University of British Columbia adds, “In some cases, these videos contain dangerous misinformation and can become wildly popular.”5

 

Some content is deemed so harmful, experts are sounding the alarm. The Kit gives an unsettling example, noting, “In 2021, The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery Association issued a warning to parents about young people self-injecting hyaluronic acid after the practice gained popularity on TikTok.”

That tweens are going to such extremes is driven by the desire for perfection in today’s comparison culture. But the obsession can cause real harm, according to Amina Ahmed, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children’s Health South Bascom Pediatrics in Los Gatos, CA. “I’m definitely seeing a lot more teens proactively wanting perfect skin,” she says. “The expectation has really gone up as far as how flawless they should look at a younger age. There is a lot of pressure with social media to get the perfect picture.”6

While parents should appreciate kids taking an interest in their skin, Ahmed urges them to make skincare routines health-focused rather than beauty-focused and to emphasize that skincare is not a one-size-fits-all model. “A lot of patients think, if it works for my friend, it should work for me. But everyone’s skin type is different; you may be using something that is causing more acne on your face,” Ahmed says.

As for TikTok’s high engagement, Toronto dermatologist, Dr. Annie Liu, understands why skincare advice gains so much traction—tips are often quick, simple, and accessible—but stresses that just because it’s easy, doesn’t mean it’s helpful. Her antenna is up, “I just think that there should be more caution and the general public should understand more of what they’re digesting,” she says. “Because when things that are plainly inaccurate spread like wildfire and become trends, they can pose a real threat to safety.”5

If your kids are struggling with skincare issues, book a complimentary consultation with one of our clinicians. We will happily advise which products are best for them and what ingredients won’t damage their skin’s biome. We also offer our Acne Clinic and can tailor the program to directly target your teen’s needs.


1 Kalley Huang. For Gen Z, TikTok Is the New Search Engine. The New York Times. September 2022. Source
2 Adriana Diaz. Teens are obsessed with skincare — but they could be damaging their skin, experts say. New York Post. January 2024. Source
3 Nicole Sommavilla. TikTok trend creates skincare craze among pre-teens. What should parents do? Pix11. February 2024. Source
4 Parija Kavilanz. The ‘Sephora kid’ trend shows tweens are psyched about skincare. CNN. March 2024. Source
5 Katherine Lalancette. TikTok Beauty Trends Can Pose Serious Harm, Warn Experts. The Kit. September 2023. Source
6 Kaitlin Sullivan. Elaborate Skin Care Routines Can Cause Teens More Harm Than Good. WebMD. February 2024. Source