Is Skin Care TikTok Gen Z's New Magnified Mirror?
No matter what you're into, there's probably a TikTok community that shares your interest. From "vegan cooking TikTok" to "beginner's knitting TikTok" and beyond, there's arguably something for everyone on the app.
"Skin care TikTok" (also referred to as "SkinTok" for short) is undoubtedly one of the most popular, especially for teens and twentysomethings. This niche includes single-product reviews, before-and-after photos with acne transformations, lengthy skin care routines, no-makeup shots, and so on.
While cathartic "get ready with me" videos likely aren't doing much harm, there may be a downside to filling your feed with skin-focused content. Below, our investigation.
Why do people love skin care videos?
You could say SkinTok is the "magnified mirror" for Gen Z—causing people to hyperfixate on their skin for hours, wreaking havoc on their mental health and their complexion as a result. While this isn't the goal, it is a very real and very possible effect.
SkinTok encompasses a wide range of videos. For the most part, the intention behind these clips is wholesome. Some creators like Allison (@iskillingyou on TikTok) openly share their skin struggles, helping their audience who relates to their journey feel less alone.
Others, like influencer and founder of Krave Beauty Liah Yoo (@liahyoo on TikTok), open up about their acne journey, sharing what helped them clear their skin and gain confidence.
"On YouTube, I used to share my acne skin care journey pretty vulnerably, which allowed me to personally connect with my audience who's going through the same journey," Yoo notes. "I think this makes an online personality more human and can foster a deeper relationship with their own community, as they have a common struggle they can openly share and connect with." That being said, SkinTok is not all bad all the time.
Then you have product reviews and recommendations: These can certainly be helpful, too, but not so much when they're targeting an audience already fixating on their skin concerns. These often lack context, so users may be swayed to purchase a product that actually doesn't suit their skin type.
To that end, some trends on SkinTok just aren't beneficial in any respect. Yoo notes the "clean girl aesthetic" (and similar microtrends) as some of the more triggering videos on SkinTok. "It has more to do with how you look [and it's] not inclusive at all," she says. "It definitely fosters insecurity for those who aren't born with the way these girls look naturally."
Is the algorithm working against you?
If you're not familiar with TikTok, here's a simple explanation of how the algorithm works: The more you engage with a video, the more similar content you'll get. So if you like or comment on a skin care video, TikTok takes that as a sign that you enjoy those videos and, theoretically, would like to see more.
For some niche TikTok communities, this can be harmless (what's wrong with more recipes to try out, right?). However, the situation looks quite different for anyone already searching for answers, be it about clearing acne, optimizing gut health, balancing hormones, etc., because the mass amount of content provides countless solutions—none of which are guaranteed to work for you. But still, all of these might convince you that you need to act in a certain way or buy a certain product.
Seeing more and similar content, in this case, is not better. Consider every time you log on to TikTok and all you see is the best products for clearing acne, the one trick that erases wrinkles for good, how to smooth your skin texture in two days‚ and so on. Regardless of the social media platform you use, this rabbit hole can become overwhelming and addicting.
What's more, "Skin requires time and patience to heal, so it's actually the worst type of thing to pair with the 24/7, instant gratification style of content we get on social media," psychologist Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D., tells mbg.
Hyperfixating on your skin isn't going to help you.
No matter what skin concern you're dealing with, obsessing over your skin won't help. In fact, going on SkinTok every day can spark "skin anxiety" from scratch.
As content creator Natalie O'Neill (@natalie_oneillll on TikTok) explains in this video, "skin anxiety" could manifest in many ways, from constantly looking at your skin in the mirror, regularly canceling plans because of a breakout, thinking about your skin several times throughout the day, or avoiding certain foods you love for fear they'll trigger a breakout.
What's more, "We tend to go on our phones when we're feeling insecure or already unfocused on the present moment," Carmichael says. Being hit with a reminder of your insecurities via SkinTok isn't going to help—especially if those videos include products you can buy with a few clicks. (It provides the illusion of a quick fix when it's really anything but.)
"We're more open to being manipulated when we're insecure," Carmichael says about skin care marketing. And while there's no guarantee the product won't work for you, there's definitely no promise it will.
"It can become dangerous when recommending things because skin care is not linear; it is personal to your skin," esthetician at Heyday Nikki Sussman tells mbg. Compounding the questionable fit in your routine, testing out new products every week can overwhelm your skin, leading to more irritation and potentially more breakouts, redness, etc.
In turn, the new breakouts can cause more stress (and thus more breakouts), contributing to the negative feedback loop that started with simply scrolling your For You Page.
How to deal.
If the above situation sounds familiar, follow these expert-led tips below:
Take a break.
The first step: Get off TikTok, at least for a while. Experts will tell you to put down the magnified mirror if you'd like to stop picking at your pores, and the same goes for social media habits. Instead of spending hours scrolling through your feed, practice activities you enjoy that have nothing to do with your skin.
Change your algorithm.
After your break, take control of the content you consume by changing your algorithm. When you see a video that makes you feel insecure, press the "not interested" button (on TikTok, that's the broken heart graphic on it). Then the app will know to give you fewer of those videos in the future.
To speed up the process, interact with videos that make you feel happy or teach you something. Explore different topics that spark your interest outside of your skin and appearance and seek out that content via the search feature.
To be clear, this doesn't mean you should abandon your journey to learn more about your skin and take care of it—just do so in a mindful, intentional, and tailored manner.
See an expert if you can.
"Consult both a dermatologist and an esthetician—having a holistic understanding of why these things are happening and coming up with a solution is the only way it will go away," Sussman notes about chronic breakouts.
If you don't have access to a dermatologist or esthetician, then limit the skin advice you consume on TikTok to those licensed or board-certified in the field of skin care rather than influencers alone.
Skin anxiety can be a difficult mindset to escape, but you may be able to limit the recurring thoughts if you spend a few minutes in the morning or evening checking in with your skin. You can do this during your skin care routine and tell yourself throughout the day to wait until that allotted time to check in—giving yourself a few moments back in your day for other thoughts.
Still, those with cystic acne or general anxiety may find it more difficult to escape the negativity spiral and should visit a therapist if possible. These experts can help you build a plan to get your mind off of your skin; remember that just like skin care, mental health is not one-size-fits-all.
While SkinTok is not all bad, it can become toxic when it takes up your entire feed and causes you to hyperfixate on your skin. To ensure you break this pattern sooner rather than later, take a break from TikTok and engage with other content that sparks joy, not anxiety. Try receiving skin care info from more nuanced sources (that often contain way more context than a 60-second video). That said, if you have breakouts on your mind and you're not sure where to start, refer to this guide for derm-backed tips.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.