Ask any dermatologist what the largest source of misinformation on social media is at this very moment, and chances are you’ll be greeted with a resounding “TikTok!”
Even though many board-certified dermatologists are active on the platform, unfortunately, the number of influencers and content creators who spread misinformation and glamourize and glorify trends outweighs the true experts.
Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist and Mohs surgeon at Shafer Clinic in Manhattan, says many influencers promote skincare trends without any education or experience.
“Many of these trends irritate or disrupt the skin barrier’s normal function, and some can even be dangerous.”
She adds that sometimes even the most genuine influencers may be promoting misinformation without realizing it.
“If someone is pushing a product without any prior education, I recommend getting a second opinion from a professional.”
Santa Monica, CA board-certified Dr. Ava Shamban says,” even as a board-certified medical professional, I can appreciate non-professionals sharing their favorite skincare tips and hacks, DIY treatments, or favorite products.”
But that doesn’t mean that all advice is good advice.
“It often crosses over into areas of safety and health when offering advice that is not grounded in facts or science. Unfortunately, dozens and dozens of beauty, skin, or wellness tips have gone viral across platforms without a shred of evidence that they work.”
Worse yet, the wildfire of viral trends causes harm to innocent bystanders who, unbeknownst to them, cause irreparable damage. “Content creators look for the most daring, unexpected wow factor,” says Dr. Shamban.
“Many unsuspecting consumers throw all judgment, reason, and caution to the wind, seeing things through the filters and veils, editing, and other photo trickery, which undermines real authority.
There is a generation who believes that the word “influencer” is more valid than an actual expert.”
Finding a truly trusted source in the wild west of social media is about knowing who you’re following. “If you are looking for skincare advice, I recommend confirming that you are following a board-certified dermatologist.”
Be cautious taking advice from someone if you cannot verify their credentials,” says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.
While not every viral trend is terrible, there are some good ones. But as Dr. Shamban put it, “it’s like finding a sterile needle in a haystack filled with bacteria.”
These are the worst hacks and trends that have, unfortunately, taken the TikTok community by storm.
Slugging traps moisture by creating an occlusive barrier. The treatment calls for petroleum jelly, which is excellent for hydrating dry and dehydrated skin. But slugging oily and acne-prone skin is asking for breakouts.
Dr. Shamban says the real downside to slugging pimple-prone skin is that it will suffocate or clog pores, trap dead skin cells, oil, bacteria, and environmental debris.
“Chances are it will worsen acne breakouts,” she adds.
Most TikTok videos promote the use of petroleum jelly, which may have been the best option years ago when the gamut of beauty products was few and far between.
“For cracked and extremely dry heels or fissures, elbows or other areas that are not filled with pores, it has merit. But there are far better options,” says Dr. Shamban.
Rather than slathering acne-prone skin with layers of Aquaphor, Vaseline, or the like, Dr. Engelman recommends applying non-occlusive hydrating ingredients, like hyaluronic acid and squalene, to moisturize the skin without congesting the pores.
“I love Bliss Mighty Biome Pre/Post Biotics + Barrier Aid Moisturizer, which combines beta glucan, ceramide NP, and squalene to nourish the skin with a potent yet lightweight hydrating “mask,” she says.
Another way to add moisture to the skin is by adding moisture to the air via a humidifier, like the Canopy Humidifier. “Use it while sleeping since we lose the most moisture through transepidermal water loss.”
Simply put, lemon doesn’t belong on your skin. If you want to cook with it or add it to a drink, fine. But whatever you do, do not use it as a toner or exfoliator.
Lemon concentrate may seem viable for skincare because of its high levels of vitamin C and alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), but truth be told, it’s highly acidic, explains Dr. Shamban.
“Lemon can irritate, strip, break down natural skin oils, and disrupt the skin’s pH balance and microbiota,” she adds.
“Excessive dryness, redness, peeling, and inflammation are all possible and highly probable.” Plus, it can also leave the skin more prone to sunburns.
Skin-safe alternatives to lemon include witch hazel, rosewater, apple cider vinegar, which Dr. Shamban says are all better for toning the skin. “Even blending and diluting botanical ingredients in a mist or spray bottle is better than applying any single ingredient directly to skin.”
It’s often thought that anything abrasive can exfoliate the skin, and while that’s somewhat true, it’s not necessarily safe. Yes, baking soda is cheap, accessible, and simple, but there are skin-safe solutions that are way better than baking soda.
Even though baking soda has a similar texture to some physical exfoliants, it has an alkaline pH, which can disrupt the outer skin layer, says Dr. Zeichner. “This leads to dryness and irritation,” he adds.
Back in the day, people commonly treated pimples with toothpaste—strange but true.
“Toothpaste traditionally was used to treat pimples because old formulas contained an ingredient called triclosan, which lowered levels of acne-causing bacteria,” says Dr. Zeichner.
“Since triclosan is a cause of skin allergies and can cause skin dryness and irritation, it has largely been removed from most toothpaste.”
“So modern toothpaste does not truly treat acne.”
Another reason you want to keep toothpaste limited to the teeth is that the pH level of toothpaste can disrupt the skin’s natural pH level, causing dryness and irritation, says Dr. Engelman. “Ironically, this can incite additional acne.”
While it’s not ideal and an outdated treatment (no matter what TikTok says), there are far better spot treatments for killing a few surface blemishes.
Rather than resorting to toothpaste to dry out and shrink breakouts, reach for a more tried-and-true ingredient, like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, diluted tea tree oil, or even pimple patches.
“If you are firm in using home remedies, apply a few drops of tea tree oil onto the blemish to help it heal faster,” advises Dr. Engelman.
“One hopes that the common-sense factor kicks in here,” says Dr. Shamban. “The AAD has long implemented warnings and recommendations that sunscreen is a 365 necessity on all parts of the body exposed to the sun with an SPF 30.”
Sunscreen is not makeup and should not be used as a contouring product; that’s what contouring makeup and bronzer are for.
While there is no safe way to tan, applying sunscreen on select parts of your face and not everywhere is dangerous, says Dr. Zeichner.
Daily sun protection of the entire face is important and non-negotiable.
This trend completely blows our minds: a nasal spray that tans the skin? Somebody, please explain.
Dr. Shamban gets right into it and says these sprays are an unregulated systemic OTC designed to stimulate your skin cells to make more melanin.
“They have a range of different ingredients, but they contain tyrosine or Melanotan as the main actives,” she says. Melanotan is a hormone that supports melanogenesis, which is, by definition, the process of production of melanin pigments in our skin.
Spraying tanning spray into the nose allows the formulation to be absorbed extremely well and go into effect fast since it soaks through the membranes and into the system.”That’s why some drugs are administered through the nose,” says Dr. Shamban.
But nasal tanning sprays are completely unnecessary and dangerous. “Purportedly, the collective TikTok community is buying into the idea that by increasing the levels of Melanotan, tyrosine, and the enzyme tyrosinase in our system through the mucosa, the amount of melanin we produce will increase, thus producing a “natural tan,” she says.
“There is very little if any evidence to date to support that. And having these ingredients traveling through our mucous membranes can potentially have undesired effects on other organs.”
Dr. Shamban says that at some point, this might be a viable, healthy self-tanning choice of the future with the correct clinical data, proven and regulated ingredients, and FDA clearances.
“But for now, sorry, TikTok. Please don’t spray it!”
Certain products don’t belong on the face, no matter what. Case in point: the use of sexual lubricants as a makeup primer.
While, in theory, a thick moisturizing and lubricating gel or oil may create a dewy or wet glowing effect on the skin, Dr. Engelman says that the added fragrances and preservatives risk causing irritation and breakouts.
So instead, stick with traditional makeup primers—opt for non-comedogenic and oil-free varieties if you’re prone to breakouts—for smooth skin and a glass-like finish.