In 2023, influencers are indistinguishable from Hollywood celebrities. Take TikTok’s Madeleine White, who was an important guest at this year’s prestigious Grammy Awards, or Charli D’Amelio, who Forbes has included twice in its "Top 7 Highest Paid TikTok Stars". Influencing is one of the most covetable — not to mention lucrative — jobs out there. And beauty content creators in particular have their followers totally hooked.
In the past year, the likes of Mikayla Nogueira, Meredith Duxbury and Alix Earle have solidified their influence on millions, with their 'get ready with me' reels, makeup tutorials and skincare roundups flooding our feeds. Influencer recommendations alone have propelled hundreds of makeup, skin and hair products to viral status. Dior Addict Lip Glow Oil, Caudalie Instant Detox Mask and Rare Beauty Soft Pinch Liquid Blush (currently out of stock at Space NK and Sephora, its only UK stockists) are just a handful of examples.
What is de-influencing?
But if TikTok’s latest trend for de-influencing is anything to go by, it could all come crashing down. So far, the #deinfluencing hashtag has 151.5 million TikTok views. There you’ll spot beauty obsessives uncovering the truth about those supposedly game-changing moisturisers, revolutionary serums and magic concealers. Instead of waxing lyrical about shiny new launches, they’re recommending what not to buy, or letting their followers in on the best affordable dupes.
It’s no secret that we're spending an unprecedented amount of money on cosmetics. Data suggests that the global beauty industry market is valued at $511 billion. Influencers make a great deal of money from recommending products, too, whether organically or through sponsored posts. The influencer market as a whole is reported to reach $17.4 billion by the end of 2023.
If you buy a product based on an influencer’s glowing recommendation, you expect it to work. Judging by countless new TikTok videos, however, many of these influencer-adored beauty products just don’t live up to the hype. When they fall short, you’re right to feel cheated out of your hard-earned money — and that’s exactly why beauty lovers are increasingly demanding honesty from the influencers they follow. De-influencing is leading the revolution against beauty influencers who post misleading reviews and promote overconsumption.
Is de-influencing a good thing?
Experts think that de-influencing was bound to happen sooner or later. Trina Albus is a marketer, digital content creator and beauty expert with 25 years of experience in the industry. She tells R29: "TikTok users value authenticity and they are not afraid to call anyone out if they feel they are being inauthentic." This exact situation occurred very recently. Last month, in an ad, beauty influencer Mikayla Nogueira (who has 14.4 million followers on TikTok) promoted L’Oréal Paris Telescopic Lift Mascara but was accused by viewers of wearing false lashes. Some of Nogueira’s followers were convinced she had enhanced her look with Ardell Wispies false eyelashes, and plenty felt they had been lied to. In response to a follower who accused her of denying wearing false lashes, Mikayla wrote: "These comments are literal proof that this mascara is the shit 😂."
This kind of thing isn’t dismissed on TikTok. It pulled the rose-coloured glasses off millions of viewers who blindly trusted funny and personable creators like Nogueira or looked to influencers for genuine recommendations. TikTokers coined the controversy #mascaragate. Nogueira wouldn't have technically broken any laws if she had worn false lashes and the video was clearly signposted as a paid partnership. But there is a lot to be said about how both beauty brands and content creators should be as honest as possible when trying beauty products on camera.
Regulatory bodies are cracking down on this potential dishonesty. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) recently ordered beauty brands and influencers to stop using filters in social media campaigns, saying that it is "misleading" to viewers. Since then, a handful of ads have been condemned for flouting the rules.
Who is behind the de-influencing trend?
"I’m going to be de-influencing you from buying a lot of products," said TikToker @kayli.boyle in a TikTok video with 369.7k views. "Coming from someone who has bought literally hundreds of products from YouTube and TikTok, and so many viral ones aren’t even good." Kayli pinpoints Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen, Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask and "pretty much anything by Olaplex" among other brands and products you may have seen people speaking highly of on TikTok. This wave of backlash has prompted beauty lovers and even influencers themselves to post videos which aim to debunk the hype around certain beauty products.
Even medical aestheticians and dermatologists are getting involved, while 'worst products' roundups are becoming a genre in themselves. TikToker @morganturnermakeup regularly puts brands and products on blast for not living up to expectations. Then there’s Alessandro (@mualesandro), whose "Overhyped Makeup That Actually Sucks" video recently amassed an enormous 3.1 million views. A quick scroll proves that these types of videos are some of Alessandro’s most watched.
De-influencing is not a case of being negative about beauty brands for the sake of it. Albus says that the trend for de-influencing is actually making social media platforms a better, more trustworthy place. She believes that viewers now value authenticity over aspiration and cites the backlash towards the recent Tarte makeup trip, where the beauty brand flew a group of influencers out to Dubai. TikTok users speculated that the trip could have cost hundreds of thousands of pounds per person. Not only did TikTokers feel the trip was tone deaf, particularly in a cost of living crisis, but there was further backlash when commenters under a viral video unpacking the trip alleged that the influencers involved didn’t even use Tarte products.
In an email to Vogue Business, Tarte founder and CEO, Maureen Kelly, addressed the response to the trip. "This isn’t our first trip," Kelly said, "but I can, of course, understand how people may have a knee-jerk reaction to seeing content overload like this." Kelly added: "Every day, brands make decisions about how to spend their marketing budgets. For some companies, that means a huge Super Bowl commercial or a multi-million-dollar contract with a famous athlete or musician. We’ve never done traditional advertising, and instead, we invest in building relationships and building up communities. We hope that as people see what we’re doing together and what we’re all about, they’ll understand and have a stronger connection with Tarte."
Is de-influencing better for the environment?
Influencers often use hyperbolic language when they talk about certain beauty products. De-influencing feels like a breath of fresh air compared to the 'you have to try this product right now' type of content that was previously all over my For You Page.
Just a few days ago, as I was scrolling through a sea of beauty products I didn’t need, I came across TikToker @ghidaarnaout. "This is your sign to stop buying makeup," they told the camera. "When I’m done with these," said Ghida, pointing to their minimal makeup stash, "I will go and buy other ones. I don’t need to have tons and tons of makeup that I won’t use." The next video I saw was posted by TikToker @gabyhunt11. "Time to stop hoarding fad beauty products you won’t use," Gaby captioned the clip. "Use them up or give them away. Stop buying multiple products that do the same thing. Stop the clutter. Stop the waste. Save the money. Keep it simple and effective."
The de-influencing messaging feels more cost-effective and sensible but is this new, frugal era of beauty influence better for the environment, too? Zero Waste Week has previously reported that 120 billion units of packaging are produced every year by the global cosmetics industry. The more social media personalities hit home that there's no kudos in owning all the newly launched products, or that they’re bound to gather dust and eventually end up as waste, the better. Lots of beauty packaging can be refilled or recycled but it’s no secret that lots of smaller plastic beauty products (like lipstick cases and eyeshadow pots) are too small to be recycled and ultimately end up in landfill.
It’s also important to note that established and even micro-influencers are gifted beauty products for free. As are beauty editors, including Refinery29 editors. The constant stream of videos serving up an abundance of beauty launches doesn't translate well amid a cost of living crisis, especially when it is reported that beauty retail prices have risen in the last decade, and even reasonably priced brands like The Ordinary and The Inkey List have increased prices. The Ordinary told R29 that price adjustments are not a standard percentage across all products and markets. The price of its Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 increased from £5.90 to £7.90, for example. Similarly, The Inkey List announced price increases of between £1 and £3.50. TikTok’s de-influencing community is reminding us all to take stock of the relationship between influencers and brands whose aim it is to make money.
@makeupbymonicaa Replying to @strawberryketchup Not all influencers are liars 😭 and part of my job is to review/recommend products and my aim has always been to be helpful 🤎 especially for my #browngirls #influencerintegrity#makeupgrwm#browngirlmakeup#deinfluencing#grwmmakeup ♬ original sound - Monica
Are beauty influencers dishonest?
Sophie Attwood, founder of PR agency Sophie Attwood Communications, says de-influencing is ushering in a new chapter of marketing. According to Attwood, user-generated reviews and content are now preferred over polished ads or big-name influencers. "We’re looking for genuine recommendations from other users, reviewers or authentic creators," Attwood tells me. "There is power in truthful coverage as opposed to large advertising budgets or glossy advertorials." Attwood says that these flawless campaigns are becoming largely redundant.
Sure enough, raw and unfiltered reviews create an element of trust. Albus, who believes that de-influencing is resetting the beauty influencer space, warns that content creators who value money and deals over authenticity should be worried. She suggests they should rethink their strategy entirely, especially as the wider trend for de-influencing will inevitably put them under a lot more scrutiny from beauty lovers.
One beauty influencer getting it right is @makeupbymonicaa aka "your #browngirlmakeup bestie". Monica recently posted a video on influencer integrity. "I’ve been a consistent content creator on TikTok for almost three years now," they said. "Sure, I make a lot of review-based videos, but my focus has always been education." Monica calls for ads which are compliant with US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines, reviews of products that people actually like and filter-free content. "This is the standard that I hold myself to, and the standard that I hope other creators will hold for themselves, too."
@morganturnermakeup As always, these are just my experiences with these products! Feel free to share youre in the comments! #concealers #worstmakeup #badmakeup #overhypedmakeup #worstconcealers #worstof22 #worstmakeupof2022 #worstconcealers2022 #dontbuythese #whatnottobuy #concealerfails #badconcealers ♬ Blue Blood - Heinz Kiessling
Monica went viral recently for posting a video where they discussed how to be "correctly" influenced. "By following these cues, you’ll not only be buying better products," said Monica, "but you’ll be buying [fewer] products." One rule is looking at your skin type and skin tone: is it the same or similar to the influencer who is telling you to buy a certain moisturiser or foundation? Secondly, does the influencer use a beauty filter? If so, the flawless result you see in their videos may be unachievable in reality.
With all that said, it’s not lost on TikTok’s beauty community that de-influencing is still influencing. A lot of the time, influencers who discourage their followers from buying certain products tend to offer up what they believe to be better alternatives. They’re still influencing you to spend money. But this new era is a reminder that filters, clever lighting and, above all, money are the biggest driving forces behind much of the beauty industry on social media.
De-influencing encourages us to take everything (even something as small as a mascara review) with a pinch of salt. If that means we make better decisions for our skin, wallets and the environment in the long run, it’s most certainly a positive thing.