Whether you see it as the second coming of Vine, your new dance coach or maybe even a data-stealing, privacy-invading wolf in sheep's clothing, TikTok isn't going anywhere soon. 2020 was already looking to be a banner year for the app but lockdown made its popularity soar: it is now the most-downloaded non-gaming app in the world, beating the likes of WhatsApp and Facebook.
You can find pretty much anything on there, from nurses dancing in PPE and 60-second vegan taco recipes to elaborate pranks and – my personal favourite – dogs and cats becoming friends. However, just like Instagram and YouTube, so-called "hack" videos are enduringly popular, especially beauty. A quick scroll through TikTok's "For You" pages will bring up a winged liner application workaround for hooded eyes and even a lighting trick for more flattering selfies. Like those two, some of these hacks are harmless and actually very useful. But sadly, all too many are not. In fact, skin experts would advise against them entirely.
The sunscreen "hack"
The so-called "sunscreen hack" has been blowing up and top videos tagged with #sunscreencontouring have millions of views combined. Essentially, this "hack" is to apply sunscreen on only the high points of your face, avoiding the cheekbones and sides of your nose, so that you get a so-called "natural contour" after sitting in the sun. "By leaving parts of your face exposed, you're not only putting yourself at risk of skin cancer, you're also accelerating the ageing process in those areas," confirmed consultant dermatologist Dr Hiva Fassihi, who adds that she found this trend particularly disturbing.
Most of TikTok's user base is under 25 and sun damage takes a long while to show up on the skin, so it's understandable why the idea is so popular. But when you consider the effects of sun damage, from an increased risk of cancer to pigmentation, fine lines, dull skin and slack pores (all of which usually start to show up in your late 20s), you might reconsider. How long does a suntan last, anyway? A few days at most? Is it really worth risking all that for something you could easily achieve with bronzer or self-tanner? (Seriously, you can contour your face with fake tan. Just use a makeup brush and go easy on it.)
DIY face masks using kitchen ingredients
DIY face treatments are also popular on the app. There's nothing wrong with mixing up a little avocado or yoghurt face mask for a pamper night at home. Where it gets dangerous? The addition of lemon juice or indeed any citrus juice, which is often billed as the "peel" or "exfoliant". Dr Ifeoma Ejikeme, founder and medical director of Adonia Medical Clinic, says: "The natural pH of the skin is between 4.7 and 5.7, while citrus fruit juice is about 2, so applying these to your skin will disrupt the natural barrier function of the skin and allow things through that shouldn't, such as certain types of bacteria that can cause acne." Dr Ejikeme continues: "It’s also dangerous to put citrus fruits onto the skin and then go into the sun. It can cause phytophotodermatitis, nicknamed 'margarita burn'. It's a result of a chemical found in citrus fruits reacting with sunlight and causing inflammation of the skin, resulting in burning, redness and blisters."
Homemade face scrubs
Likewise, don't be attempting any of the "coffee granule" face scrubs. "These can cause tears to the skin and even stain it," said Dr Ejikeme. Putting ingredients like baking soda in a face mask is also a no-no. "Again, you're going to disrupt the pH of your skin," explained Dr Ejikeme, which could result in skin bugbears like soreness, redness and tight skin. Some of the hacks I saw, like using cotton pads soaked in coffee and honey to get rid of dark circles might not cause any damage, but as aesthetic doctor David Jack says: "It's probably going to make a huge mess and not really do anything." In addition, some of the at-home facial ideas use raw ginger, which Dr Ejikeme said she had personally seen cause burns or long-term irritation to the skin when left on overnight or used regularly.
Making your own natural facial toner
There are also quite a few (admittedly very cute-looking) recipe videos for natural facial toner, usually using some flowers from your garden or maybe some trimmed herbs – think roses, eucalyptus, rosemary, that kind of thing. The videos are almost Disney-esque with their soft lighting, piles of petals and outdoorsy vibes, and while a few herbs and flowers simmered in water probably won't hurt you, the blend will start to go rotten almost overnight. The natural extracts that might appear in skincare you buy, like resveratrol in grapes (a powerful pollution shield) or the astringent qualities of thyme (known for balancing oily skin) have been carefully wiggled out of the plant itself. They are bio-engineered to be safe and have potent longevity. The DIY option is usually smelly after a few hours and could even cause irritation, depending on what bugs, dirt and wildlife have been over your plants.
DIY lash lifts
Some of the hacks are more geared towards teaching yourself a skill. For example, there is a raft of videos that show you how to do an at-home lash lift. Though these are usually created by brands which make DIY kits or influencers who've been paid to promote them, they still rack up staggering numbers of views and recreations. "You should never, ever attempt to perm or tint your own lashes at home,'' said brow and lash technician Sophia, adding that she's a professional and would never attempt to do her own lashes. "There is a big chance you might mess up with an at-home kit and accidentally get the formula in your eyes and right about now, A&E is the last place you want to be," she emphasised.
Ultimately, what all these videos have in common is an ostensibly easy, cheap at-home fix to a bothersome skin issue, or a means of bridging the cost of a professional procedure. Salons being closed throughout lockdown has no doubt increased the popularity of the DIY solution. There is also this pervasive idea that the beauty industry (from brands to aestheticians) is somehow "keeping secrets" from the public at large, shielding you from the power of what's in your fridge or making you believe that you need professionals to do treatments for you. Truthfully, beauty is actually quite boring sometimes, and the ingredients and treatments we know deliver – vitamin A, vitamin C and SPF – usually take a long time to show results and are generally not very sexy.
Experts urge you to exercise extreme caution with anything you see online, on TikTok or otherwise. If you want to play around and have a pamper evening, some of the hacks are fine – mixing powder highlighter with baby oil will make a lovely shimmery body lotion, carefully applying a cold spoon or ice (wrapped in fabric) will take the swelling out of a spot, and hairstylist Joseph Maine regularly shares fun DIY hair masks. Just leave the food for eating.