Skin care TikTok is having a moment. From influencers sharing their regimens to DIY hacks to expert breakdowns, there’s something for everyone.
But dermatologists ― medical professionals who’ve dedicated their careers to treating skin ― aren’t on board with all of it.
“It’s kind of a gift and a curse,” Dr. Rayna Dyck, a dermatologist based in Alabama, told HuffPost. “The gift is there’s a lot of information readily available, and it makes it easy for people to digest things with everyday language.”
She noted that TikTok is also helpful for users who find communities of people struggling with the same skin problems or other health-related issues.
“However, the curse is that anyone can produce the content,” Dyck said. “So in addition to skin care experts, great aestheticians and dermatologists who put out accurate information, there are people who are sharing advice that isn’t helpful or is even harmful. But because they’re popular or beautiful, everyone is going to try it, even if it’s bad for them.”
Indeed, many TikTok skin care hacks and fads are ineffective, counterproductive or even downright dangerous.
“Just as with other social media platforms, another concern is the unrealistic expectations that are perpetuated with heavily edited content,” said Connecticut-based dermatologist Dr. Rhonda Klein. “Chances are if a treatment or at-home beauty device sounds too good to be true, it probably is ― many of these ‘skinfluencers’ are heavily editing their content with filters and lighting.”
Everyone’s skin is different, so the most important thing you can do is consult with a board-certified dermatologist to address your skin issues and develop a science-backed treatment plan. What works for one TikTok user may not work for you — especially if what that TikTok user claims is a magic bullet is nothing of the sort.
From sunscreen contouring to DIY microneedling, below are eight skin care trends you’re better off avoiding.
1. DIY Microneedling
Microneedling is a technique in which the skin is punctured with tiny needles to stimulate collagen production and improve skin quality. On TikTok, people are trying microneedling at home, using a tool called a dermaroller. But the professionals are not in support of this approach.
“DIY dermarolling or microneedling can damage the skin and cause infection, especially since many devices used at home do not have the sterile or single use qualities that one would find in a medical office,” said Dr. James Ralston, a dermatologist based in Texas. “Additionally, dermatologists use devices that are specifically designed to penetrate the skin deeper, safely and more effectively.”
At-home microneedling carries many risks that outweigh any potential benefits. It’s dangerous to perform this procedure in an environment that isn’t completely clean and sterile, with a device that isn’t medical grade, and with needles that aren’t fresh, high-quality or completely sterile themselves. Dull needle tips can damage the skin, and a high level of accuracy is necessary to avoid infection, irritation, injury and scarring.
“We thoroughly cleanse the skin before each treatment,” said dermatologist Dr. Papri Sarkar. “If you’re not careful about cleansing before performing the treatment, you can also get granulomas or infection. We examine the skin before starting treatment. If you have a cold sore (which is caused by the herpes virus), you can spread it all over your face and even into your eye. … Similarly if you have a skin cancer, I wouldn’t want you to roll over it and change the appearance of it.”
2. Sunscreen Contouring
“I remember recently sunscreen was being showcased as a highlighter, meaning people were selectively contouring and tanning the face where sunscreen was not applied,” said Dr. Joyce Park, a dermatologist in Northern California. “This is a bad idea. Any tanning of the skin is a sign that DNA damage to skin cells has occurred. Sunscreen is not meant to be used only as a highlighter in select areas. You need an even application throughout the whole face to protect from photo-aging and skin cancer.”
Even if you’re wearing a base, it’s best to keep the contouring to your makeup. Without full and even sunscreen coverage, you increase your risk of sunburn, wrinkles, sunspots and skin cancer.
“No matter if you contour or highlight an area on your face, you probably don’t want a scar there from skin cancer surgery,” Sarkar said. “There are amazing skin care products that actually protect your skin with SPF and give you a glow these days so there’s literally no reason to do this. We are lucky to be living in a time of great sun protection and bronzing and highlighting products available. Let’s embrace it!”
3. Makeup Microneedling
A particularly troubling skin care trend is makeup microneedling, in which people use microneedling devices and techniques to apply makeup to their skin for a longer lasting or semi-permanent effect.
“Makeup is designed to be applied to the skin and removed at the end of the day,” said Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Combining it with microneedling can be dangerous. It creates a semi permanent tattoo, but can cause significant inflammatory reactions in the skin.”
Dr. Karan Lal of the Society for Pediatric Dermatology said he’s seen patients wind up in the hospital with bacterial infections stemming from this DIY trend. It can also cause permanent scarring and dyspigmentation.
“Depending on the depth of microneedling, you can reach pretty deep in the skin and get bleeding,” he said. “In the office we have proprietary serums and platelet rich plasma that we use after microneedling, which are very sterile and intended for post micro needling procedures. However when people are stamping makeup, which is not sterile, into the dermis, not only are we introducing a slew of different microorganisms but we are introducing foreign particles like zinc into our dermis.”
4. DIY Injections
TikTok often makes us feel like we can conquer any task ourselves if we simply follow the video instructions. But when it comes to injecting yourself with things you’ve bought online, there’s serious danger involved.
Dr. Rachel Nazarian, a dermatologist in New York City, advised strongly against self-injected fillers at home, a skin care “hack” she seen non-professionals try on TikTok.
“This trend can lead to occlusion of blood vessels, infection, scarring and even permanent blindness if done incorrectly,” she warned.
Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson echoed this sentiment, noting that DIY lip fillers are an especially bad idea.
“Not only is it not sanitary, but the lips are a particularly vascular area,” she said. “So an untrained person has a high chance of hitting a blood vessel leading to vascular occlusion and tissue necrosis.”
Lal added that the tool many TikTok creators use can also be problematic.
“Many people use a hyaluron pen to place ‘filler,’ often hyaluronic acid, into their lips with a needle-less technique,” he said. “This is not an FDA-approved device for this purpose. This device uses pneumatic pressure to deliver the product into the skin. There is not control of depth with this device so product may not be going in the intended location.”
Pore vacuums are tools that use gentle suction to extract oil, dead skin cells and dirt from your pores to make your face look cleaner and clearer.
Although this is traditionally an in-office professional treatment option, many TIkTok users have purchased pore vacuums for a little DIY action. Mraz Robinson believes this is not a good idea.
“Leave this to the pros because unregulated devices paired with untrained application can lead to bruised skin and telangiectasias (broken blood vessels) that will need to be treated with in-office laser treatments to reverse,” she said.
6. At-Home Mole Removal
Early in the pandemic, there was a trend in which people removed their own moles and skin tags at home without any medical supervision. Dr. Annie Gonzalez, a Miami dermatologist, said this is extremely ill advised.
“Removing a mole at home is not like clipping your nails or trimming your hair, she said. “Yes, there are all kinds of DIY mole removal devices sold online, but among the many dangers of doing this, is that the user has no way to ascertain if the mole is benign or malignant. A dermatologist would know how to identify a suspicious mole and do a biopsy if need be.”
She also emphasized that at-home mole removal carries the risk of infection and scarring.
“Lastly, one could improperly remove the mole by only ‘cutting off’ the top portion,” Gonzalez added. “Even ‘zapping’ a mole with an at home laser device is not recommended. All around for reasons that have to do with the risk of skin cancer, infection and aesthetics, this is a big no!”
7. Overly Complicated Skin Care Routines
It’s not uncommon to see TikTok videos of people sharing the many steps and products involved in their daily skin care routine. While these may be informative or inspire other people’s regimens, they may also have the opposite effect.
“When it comes to TikTok videos of skin care routines, there are a lot of overly complex routines, which individuals seeking great skin might become intimidated by or discouraged if they find them expensive and cumbersome to adhere to,” said Dr. Brian Hibler of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City.
Dyck advised consulting with a dermatologist to optimize your skin care routine and reduce your risk of irritation and other reactions.
“To get clear, healthy and glowing skin, it doesn’t take 10 steps in the morning and 10 steps at night,” she said. “If you want to try all of those steps, that’s fine, but I sometimes feel like those videos are more about product placement than effectiveness. Plus, a lot of companies combine products, so you can apply your moisturizer and sunscreen at once, for instance.”
8. Using Toner As Deodorant
People are all about alternatives to traditional deodorants, but a particularly popular option on TikTok is glycolic acid toner.
“Toners can help get rid of odor-causing bacteria,” said New York City dermatologist Dr. Hadley King. “Some toners contain alcohol and alcohol kills bacteria. Other toners contain alpha or beta hydroxy acids and these can lower the armpits’ pH levels, making the environment less hospitable to bacteria responsible for odor.”
While this may be helpful, she emphasized that it won’t prevent sweating, and there is potential for these ingredients to be irritating ― which could lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
“It is definitely possible to experience irritation from either alcohol or alpha hydroxy acids, particularly in an area of delicate skin like the armpit,” King explained. “If this happens I would recommend stopping the product and applying moisturizers until the skin has healed.”
If you want to try it again, she recommended decreasing the amount you apply and frequency of application. You can also look for a toner with a low percentage of alcohol or hydroxy acids to decrease the risk of irritation.
“And look for a formulation that also contains soothing and moisturizing ingredients to counteract the potential for irritation ― like aloe vera and rose water, for example,” King added.