Dermatologists weigh-in on Gen Z’s obsession with trendy TikTok skincare

Skinfluencers on TikTok have turned into Gen Z’s go-to source for all things skincare — a far cry from my mom simply buying me a bottle of Sea Breeze toner in middle school which proceeded to burn my face off. A mix of licensed estheticians, dermatologists and amateur beauty lovers have built loyal followings on the social media platform and can even make or break a brand.

Popular skinfluencer Hyram Yarbro, whose schtick is doing duets with people showing off their skincare routine and critiquing it (RIP Dixie D’Amelio’s pore vacuum) has proven that what these beauty lovers say really can impact sales. Peace Out Skincare’s pore strip sales quadrupled in 24 hours after Yarbro did a duet with influencer Kaelyn White, who was using the product.

@skincarebyhyram

Sold Out CeraVe? Use these instead!! ✨🙌 LINK IN BIO #skincarebyhyram #cerave

♬ Backyard Boy – Claire Rosinkranz

The crème de la crème of TikTok skincare is arguably the brands CeraVe and The Ordinary. CeraVe has been around in drug stores since 2005 and, according to a report from CeraVe’s parent company L’Oréal, CeraVe products were seeing double-digit growth rates in North America during the first quarter of 2020.

Gen Z skincare shopping habits prioritize quality — not only how effective the product is, but whether it’s cruelty-free, vegan and clean too — over name brand. This generation will not be shelling out hundreds of dollars at Sephora for a brightly packaged face cream when they can pick up a bottle of CeraVe for $10 and feel content knowing a bunch of people on TikTok recommended it.

DECIEM’s The Ordinary was founded in 2013 and its message to customers is that elaborate and effective skincare routines shouldn’t break the bank. The company charges typically less than $10 per serum and uses scientific jargon in the descriptions.

This is where the problem with the TikTok skincare craze starts. To state the obvious, everyone has different skin types. What may work for one skinfluencer will most likely not work for 100 percent of their viewers. While many TikTokers reiterate in their videos that it’s their personal opinion and they’re not a professional, it’s still easy to get sucked into their routines — especially when it’s low budget and hundreds of commenters agree with them.

This was a problem 20-year-old Aurora Garcia dealt with and documented on TikTok. She had picked up The Ordinary Peeling Solution, a holy grail item for several skinfluencers, and applied it to her problem areas in her T-zone. Garcia told BuzzFeed she also layered The Ordinary’s Niacinamide, Hyaluronic Acid and a moisturizer onto her face, pretty much just following routines she’d seen on the app, like this one.

Garcia started experiencing bumps on her chin and three days later they started to blister. She told BuzzFeed she could barely open her mouth from the pain.

@auroraphotographystudio

oof. Supper painful. Should I be cleaning it? Or leaving it be? #fyp #theordinaryskincare reaction. @skincarebyhyram @cassandrabankson #foryoupage

♬ original sound – auroraphotographystudio

Users following her journey on TikTok diagnosed her with perioral dermatitis, a facial rash that shows up around the mouth, but Garcia was also getting bumps near her eye. A doctor told her it was actually impetigo, a skin infection.

Fortunately, Garcia was able to clear up her chin, but the process was brutal — both physically and for her self-esteem. The cycle on TikTok only continues.

“I just binged your videos, I bought a bunch of ordinary products like a week ago, I haven’t used them yet,” one person commented. “I’m scared now.”

The Ordinary does list “example regimens” on its website, but the one regimen that includes the peeling solution Garcia used doesn’t explicitly state when in the routine it should be applied, whether it conflicts with any other products and who shouldn’t be using it.

Dr. Anna H. Chacon, board-certified dermatologist, who serves on the advisory board for Smart Style Today, explained to In The Know that sometimes “several conditions can actually appear at the same time … a contact dermatitis creates an environment of an impaired skin barrier that is then prone to other skin infections such as … impetigo.”

In this case, Garcia might have had something else brewing under the surface of her skin that she wasn’t aware was compromising her skin barrier.

Dr. Chacon also talked a lot about patch testing new products. “What I usually do when I try something new, is I apply a very small amount of the product on an area I don’t care about — such as my foot or the inner part of my arm,” she told In The Know. “If my skin does not react well to the product, I know I cannot use it on my face.”

Garcia herself actually responded to the number of people who commented on her TikToks that they couldn’t believe she didn’t patch test it first. She said she had tested it on her cheek and left it there for five minutes and didn’t feel anything, so she took it as a green light.

The Ordinary’s site says that, specifically for the peeling solution, technically Garcia should have waited 24 hours after washing off the product to see whether a reaction would have occurred on her cheek before moving forward with the product.

Personally, as someone who craves instant gratification, I do kind of understand why Garcia got annoyed with the patch testing commenters in the follow-up video. Fear not impulsive skincare enthusiasts, because patch testing isn’t necessarily the only saving grace in this situation.

Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse is a board-certified dermatologist based in Beverly Hills who has a private practice at SkinSafe Dermatology and Skin Care. She told In The Know that there are many skincare ingredients known to cause irritants in sensitive skin (which Garcia admits she has) that can disrupt the skin barrier.

“If skin is already irritated from a skin care product and the protective skin barrier is disrupted, adding a second products with potentially irritating ingredients can tip the skin over the edge, resulting in either a strong irritant contact dermatitis,” Dr. Shainhouse told In The Know.

Dr. Shainhouse points out that AHA and BHA ingredients — found in The Ordinary’s Peeling Solution — are known to cause significant irritation, particularly mixed with other acids.

There is a debate in the comments section of Garcia’s TikToks, but her using the Niacinamide serum following the peeling solution could have caused a poor interaction with the AHA and BHA exfoliant.

“Exfoliating can be irritating and can actually damage the skin, so it is important to choose the right product for your skin type,” Dr. Shainhouse added.

In terms of proper skincare order, Dr. Shainhouse says, “Products should generally be layered from thinnest to thickest consistency. Thus: gels, serums, oils, creams, ointments.”

In The Know reached out to The Ordinary for comment and did not hear back as of publishing this article.

Love beauty influencers as much as we do? Catch up on all the YouTuber beauty drama here.

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