Why Are We Suddenly Skincare Shaming Everyone?

Photographed by Fernanda Liberti
I have a confession to make: I'm a big fan of face scrubs. Now that's out there, I predict it's only a matter of time before the internet's skincare vigilantes call me out. You might think I'm being dramatic (and maybe I am!) but skincare shaming is a thing, and it's more prevalent than ever online.
If you're a beauty lover with a social media account, you'll know that skincare is a hot topic for discussion. From influencers and skin enthusiasts to dermatologists and aestheticians, the online skincare community is highly esteemed and has its merits. We're introduced to new trends (think skin icing and memory creams) and exciting brands like Paula's Choice and CeraVe, not to mention how to use buzzy ingredients such as lactic acid and retinol safely and effectively. Lately, though, the once exciting and educational space seems to have turned toxic.
If you follow the 'skin care' topic on Twitter, you'll spot countless threads bashing people who use apricot scrubs. Others suggest that inexpensive moisturisers are bulked out with 'cheap', 'filler' ingredients and denounce those who buy them, and I recently saw someone referred to as 'stupid' for using witch hazel to treat their acne. It's a similar story on TikTok, where the #badskincare hashtag has an enormous 48.5 million views and counting. You'll spot TikTokers berate people in the comments for not wearing SPF religiously or start full-blown arguments over whether pore strips are good or bad.

There are inherently no 'good' or 'bad' products. It's more about how you use them, how often, and whether that product is right for your underlying skin type.

Dr Anjali Mahto
With more of us looking to skincare as a form of self-care during the pandemic, the disapproval and criticism coming from the skincare community is problematic. I'm not alone in thinking this. Accredited skincare specialist and TikToker Monique Monrowe recently took to the app to call on people to stop slating others for their beauty choices. In a video entitled "Can the skincare community stop being so mean? Shaming people into skincare is not it", Monique asks: "Can we normalise the skincare community being nicer to people? I'm really tired of people acting so disgusted when somebody says that they don't use sunblock." She continues: "I just think that we should be educating people with love and grace. Skincare is so connected to your confidence and I would just love for the skincare community to be a little bit more inviting." Monique adds: "If somebody says 'I don't use sunblock' or 'I love St. Ives scrub', that's okay ... We don't need to shame."

Can the skincare community stop being so mean? Shaming people into skincare is not it. #skincare #skincareroutine #theordinaryskincare #inkeylist

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The comments go to show that Monique's followers feel the same but skincare shaming has also caught the attention of some of the UK's top skin experts. Consultant dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto agrees that social media is a place for people to "virtue signal about many things, including skincare routines." She has some important advice: "We can all benefit from recognising that there are inherently no 'good' or 'bad' products. It's more about how you use them, how often, and whether that product is right for your underlying skin type." A product which doesn't agree with your sensitive skin might be a saviour for someone struggling with acne, for instance.
Thanks to social media and the rise of science-driven brands, skincare knowledge is accessible on a wider scale and makes us feel as though we're our own skin expert. But it's hard to ignore the air of superiority surrounding many skincare videos and threads. "Skincare content that tells you not to use 'this' or not to do 'that' has become really popular, almost like its own brand of content," explains Monique. "While lots of beauty and skincare consumers like to know what to do – and what not to do – to get great skin, I think some people in the skincare community feel they need to have super strong, popular opinions to be reputable." On TikTok, for example, there is a trend in 'bad skincare' videos to call out brands which are inexpensive. This fuels the common misconception that cheap skincare equals low quality and suggests that the people buying these products aren't sufficiently invested in their skin. This is entirely false.

I've seen people being made to feel as though they don't care about their skin if they don't spend a lot of time and money on it.

"I've definitely seen people being made to feel as though they don't care about their skin if they don't spend a lot of time and money on it, both in friendship circles, online and in clinic," says Dr Mahto. In reality, the majority of us don't have an enormous budget to spend on a skincare routine, as Gen Z skincare expert Alicia Lartey points out. "Skincare shaming has made people doubt more affordable products and judge people for spending 'too little' on their skin," she says. Alicia adds that the beauty community needs to address its internal bias when it comes to products and routines. "You don't know someone's situation or what they have access to," says Alicia. As a result, she often sees clients who are wary of trying certain products because they have a bad reputation, which means lots tend to over-budget for their skincare routines, she says.
Alicia also explains that by writing off inexpensive brands, we're missing out on some real gems. She rates high street hero Avène (in particular its retinal), loves petroleum jelly and says you don't have to spend a fortune on products like cleansers. Interestingly, Alicia adds that the negativity towards high street brands has forced a lot of skincare companies to step up their game and provide more affordable alternatives to expensive, high end products.
Take R29 favourite The Inkey List. Now available at Boots, the brand places a focus on transformative ingredients at low prices. Brands like Simple, Neutrogena and Boots' own brand skincare now boast products with trending ingredients like vitamin C, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid. When trying new products, Alicia keeps three questions in mind: Is the product suitable for my skin type? Does the product work or do I enjoy using it? Would I repurchase? If you answer yes to all of the above, there should be no need to switch things up, regardless of negative reviews or social media pile-ons.
On the other hand, judgement for using 'too much' skincare is common, too. "Lots of negative comments I get are about how much skincare I use," says Monique. "All the time I hear, 'I could never use all of that, I just use moisturiser'. It's annoying because it completely ignores that this is my face but also that I have scarring and hyperpigmentation, and as a Black woman, that won't go away with just moisturiser. It sometimes feels like I'm being mocked for needing more skincare." Alicia agrees and says we shouldn't judge others for spending money on skincare if they wish. "You don't know what those products might mean to a person," she says. "They could be something they saved up for or even a sign of pampering," and with skincare a big part of self-care, it makes sense.

A skin issue like acne or rosacea is much more likely to be a result of underlying factors such as hormones and genetics, rather than a direct result of the facial scrub or cleanser in your routine.

As someone with acne, I feel the skincare community sometimes thrusts guilt on those with skin conditions. On TikTok especially, there is a common school of thought: using X product will only make your spots or hyperpigmentation worse, or the food you're eating is giving you breakouts. "An extrapolation that can be made from this is creating a sense of blame in those with skin issues (e.g. acne or eczema) where people are bringing it on themselves by their lifestyle choices," agrees Dr Mahto. "That might be their dietary intake or what they apply on their skin," she continues, "but all of this is a gross oversimplification of how the skin actually works." A skin issue like acne or rosacea is much more likely to be a result of underlying factors such as hormones and genetics, rather than a direct result of the facial scrub or cleanser in your routine. Monique agrees: "Sometimes, the skincare community focuses so heavily on trying to push trending products, skincare shortcuts or telling people not to use a certain product that these other factors are ignored in their content."
It's even more dangerous where diet is concerned, as our obsession with food and skin can be linked to food restriction and eating disorders. Videos and threads list certain food groups as 'damaging' for skin, with no research to back up the claims. Dairy is a big one, particularly for acne. Dr Mahto points out that there is no acne guideline in the UK or the US which recommends cutting out dairy for the treatment of spots, and this kind of misinformation only leads to fearmongering and, again, potentially places the blame on individuals. It goes to show that while the online beauty community may mean well, there is lots of false information to sort through.
We all have such strong thoughts and feelings about skincare. After all, it can be enjoyable and transformative (both physically and mentally). But if, like Monique, you're done with the judgement, there are a couple of things to remember. Firstly, don't take online skincare advice at face value. Products and techniques which don't work for one person could be valuable to you depending on your skin's needs and particular type (both of which you can work out here).
Secondly, it might be worth switching up the content you're consuming online. "A lot of the professionals and enthusiasts in the beauty space try to put out as much free content and answer as many questions as possible," says Alicia but it is helpful to follow fully qualified professionals with the right credentials. R29 recommends Dija Ayodele, aesthetician and founder of West Room Aesthetics; Dr Kemi Fabusiwa, founder of Joyful Skin Clinic; consultant dermatologist Dr Justine Kluk; and, of course, Dr Mahto, Alicia and Monique. They all offer excellent advice without any judgement, as well as product recommendations across a wide range of budgets.
Finally, it's important to keep in mind that no one knows your skin better than you do. If pore strips and facial scrubs are working for you, that's great. Beauty is impartial and most importantly fun, and that's true for skincare, too. As Monique concludes: "We all have to start somewhere on our skincare journey."
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