TikTok Skincare Trends Might Be Steering Us In The Wrong Direction

Photographed by Caroline Tompkins.
TikTok is one hell of a powerful medium of influence. I’ve purchased my fair share of Amazon gadgets, Zara finds, and totally-don’t-need-this things just from a few minutes of scrolling. The dark side of said influence, however, is when viral skincare trends come into play, often making women and femmes feel there’s something about us to “fix.” 
Nowadays, there’s a solution for everything—from serious ailments to trivial flaws. My FYP is filled with ways to get rid of strawberry legs, fade hyperpigmentation, and get HD-ready skin as if I live my life on screen. I wouldn’t go as far as to call these remedies unnecessary, though. As a teen up until my mid-20s, I warred with my acne-prone skin and dark marks. I dabbled in everything from Noxzema to DIY turmeric masks to medical-grade body treatments over the years and finally figured out relatively affordable everyday products that work for me. So I understand the desperate need to find the right serums and salves to achieve the skin you’re less insecure about. 
But where does the buck stop? 
Late last summer, my biggest (and rather embarrassing) skin issue was my inner thigh and bikini line hyperpigmentation. It wasn’t terrible, but I noticed it and it grew into a true-blue insecurity as I scrolled through the vast TikTok vids telling me that a smooth, even, melanin-rich skin tone was king to everything else—especially during “sky’s out, thighs out” season. I took the best remedies, weighed my options, and landed on glycolic acid, which worked except for the fact that I used it wrong. I used it excessively actually, and eventually, it made the dark areas worse. Thankfully, I made a quick pivot to Topicals Faded, another product TikTok gurus raved about, and my problem is slowly becoming a thing of the past.  
Throughout that experience, I realized I’d gotten comfortable with how my skin is. With all the trial and error, I’ve learned to not only manage my skin (head to toe) but love it. It’s oily, I have a bit of hyperpigmentation, and I still get those pesky, tiny pimples that arrive with Aunt Flo. But it’s a part of who I am and, from an incredibly vain POV, I haven't gotten any complaints from friends, family, guys, girls, or theys, so why was I so obsessed with a new trend?

TikTok Is The Home of Discovery

TikTok was once home to dance videos, but it’s now where users discover a mindblowing amount of new information. Things to try, products to buy, music to listen to—it’s all there waiting to be consumed ad nauseam. Don’t get me wrong, the platform is useful: I can search for how to re-pot my overgrown birds of paradise, symptoms of autism in Black girls, and reviews for the New Balance 550s I’m dying to get with genuinely helpful results. Today, TikTok’s search engine is so powerful, it rivals the efficiency of Google.
According to 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.
Between TikTok’s effective algorithm and search engine, it’s no accident that whether I’m searching for them or not, viral skincare trends bubble up on my FYP. Once I stop my scroll to watch one of Monet McMichael’s GRWM vids, TikTok’s algorithm will make sure I see hundreds of TikToks just like it.

fresh canvas ☁️ I loveee a good face shave omg nothing like that FIRST PULL OMG crispy ass asmr

♬ original sound - monet mcmichael 🤍

Have TikTok Skincare Trends Gone Too Far?

UK-based esthetician and skincare content creator Monique (also known as Skinfiltrator) stumbled onto TikTok during the pandemic. Her mental health took a really big hit, so she started creating content as a way to show herself self-care and help others do the same at home. “There aren’t enough Black skincare experts in the space as it is, but also there need to be more people who have the scientific knowledge and the accreditations to back up what they’re talking about.”
TikTok skincare trends are far-reaching thanks to pages like Monique’s. It’s not just TikTok’s two fool-proof features that suck users in. Pair that with the refreshing transparency with which creators are sharing on the platform, and it’s easy to want to try something new. For example, she ditches filters to avoid leading her followers to believe she has perfect skin every day. 
“[Black creators] all have a duty to make sure that we're not filtering our videos,” she believes. “Coming on with our real skin creates a reality for people. I’m very honest about when I've had acne breakouts and I want people to understand that blemishes and imperfections don't make your skin bad. It's normal, it's natural.”
While Monique is pretty open to folx trying what works for their skin, through education, of course, she does vehemently warn against the glycolic acid for the deodorant trend. 
“It’s ridiculous. Glycolic acid is one of the strongest ones,” she says. “It has very small molecules which penetrate quite deep into the skin, so when you have melanin-rich skin, you can get rebound hyperpigmentation, which can start darkening or cause irritation. That's why I'm not a huge fan of it.”

Beauty Trends That May Steer Us In The Right Direction

I learned my lesson after my glycolic acid faux-pas and have pointed my skincare routine in a much gentler direction — all gentle cleansers, exfoliants, and green, hydrating oils and serums. And according to Monique, that’s the way to go.
“One of the things I encourage across Black skin is just being gentle. Koreans have this principle of how they approach skin, which is very different from the Western approach. They're very gentle, they love hydration, and they love soothing ingredients. And that works so well for Black skin. That's why I love Korean skincare.”
Snail mucin, extracts from snail secretions, is an old K-beauty go-to ingredient that’s become a newly popularized TikTok skincare trend — and may actually be worth the hype. “We're used to scrubbing away these imperfections and applying harsh acids, but this trend moves us into a hydrating routine. Our skin needs that kind of nourishment to be smoothed and calmed.”
Despite the overwhelming amount of skincare trends, one thing to know is that perfect skin doesn’t exist. What’s beautiful is that TikTok makes skincare products and information more accessible and helps to build a community around others who may struggle or be looking for the same fixes. But it’s not healthy to spiral into crisis mode and venture down a TikTok trend rabbit hole over every little bump or mark.
“Black women spend a lot more than any other demographic when it comes to skin and hair. The statistic is something like we spend five or six times more than the average person. Treating skin is not a linear journey. You're not going to fix that and then it's going to go away forever.” 
There’s no point chasing perfection because it's skin, it's not a painting. It's never going to be 100% flawless. The best way to navigate the sea of skincare trends? Don’t try everything you see. At the end of the day, influenced or not, it’s best to take each one with a grain of salt, consult a licensed professional, and decide whether a treatment or product is best for you. TBH, sometimes just take it in as entertainment. And in the meantime, just keep scrolling.

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