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"One size fits all" skincare advice from white influencers doesn't cut it.

Melanie Curry
Mar 24, 2021 @ 2:52 pm
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Credit: Getty Images

"Inclusivity" may be a buzzword, but for anyone who has ever felt left out of conversations in the beauty space—it's so much more. In Shades of Melanin, we celebrate Black beauty, support the brands and founders that are fighting for inclusivity in the industry, and unpack the issues that still need to be addressed.

Everyone on TikTok knows Hyram. You know, the white guy who smiles a lot and gives skincare recommendations. Many of us love his videos, and because we're so insecure about our acne, hyperpigmentation, and dry spots, many are willing to buy his product recommendations in the hopes of achieving clear, healthy skin.

Hyram isn't the only one in the mainstream SkinTok space. Derm Doctor, Bauer Beauty, and Yayaya Young are other famous TikTokers making a massive buck off their skincare recommendations. I've seen hundreds of TikTokers dueting these content creators, praising the success of their recommended K-Beauty products or The Ordinary's peeling solution

At first glance, it doesn't seem as if there's anything wrong with listening to these SkinTokers. After all, most of the products, such as the Ordinary peel, seem to work on most of the creators on my feed. However, after scrolling through my feed some more, I found lots of negative reviews of the peel—and most of them came from BIPOC viewers. Video after video, I saw BIPOC creators update their followers on the harm that the peel had done to their skin, with one showing how the peel had given her a chemical burn. (While that could happen to anybody with sensitive skin or someone who misused the product, people with melanin-rich skin have a long journey to recovery as they're more prone to long-lasting hyperpigmentation.)

Another example of a viral, white-recommended skincare recommendation gone wrong is the CeraVe Hydrating Sunscreen. Hyram and other SkinTokers, such as Dr. Tomassian, have promoted the mineral sunscreen, and Black content creators responded by critiquing how it leaves a white cast on their skin. One Black TikToker, a skincare chemist named April Basi, made a video using the CeraVe mineral sunscreen and comparing its effects on melanated skin and non-melanated skin. The difference was almost instantaneous with the sunscreen blending into the non-melanated skin while leaving a purple-ish hued tint on the darker skin. 

Since most of the famous SkinTok influencers are white or have non-melanated skin, their recommended products do not cater to different skin types, offering advice that's mainly for a "one size fits all." While white creators are praised for their product recommendations, BIPOC creators are often left in the dust and unable to participate in SkinTok trends because the recommended brands do not work for their skin. And, Black SkinTokers such as Dr. Alexis Stephens or Dr. Howard, who both recommend inclusive skincare brands and POC-friendly products, don't have as big a following compared to most white SkinTok influencers. This is problematic as skincare advice for BIPOC doesn't have as wide of a reach as white SkinTok does, which means BIPOC could get harmed.

"The major difference between melanin-rich skin and non-melanin-rich skin is that melanin-rich skin is sensitive to hyperpigmentation," explains Elyse Love, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist. She further explains why melanin-rich skin can react to skincare products differently than white skin: "These skin concerns can present differently in melanin-rich skin, particularly sensitivity and redness, and sometimes treatments for skin conditions can have adverse effects in melanin-rich skin—such as irritating products like acids and retinol, which can cause hyperpigmentation if started incorrectly."

When SkinTok influencers recommended products saturated with acids and retinol, BIPOC listeners pay the price. This begs the question: Should BIPOC be listening to white influencers in the first place? 

Neelam Vashi, M.D., an associate professor of dermatology at Boston University and founder of the Center for Ethnic Skin at Boston Medical Center, says that no one should listen to skin recommendations from social media apps. "People on social media may have unclear motives for recommending products and skincare regimens," she tells HelloGiggles, referring to paid partnerships and sponsored ads. While it's fun to indulge in SkinTok trends, not all influencers can recommend products for BIPOC, as explained by SkinToker and IRL esthetician, Annika Bodden.

The exclusion of BIPOC in SkinTok is only a small part of the problem. Dermatology, as a whole, is exclusionary to Black and Brown people. For example, a 2020 study found that only 11.5% of images show dark skin in dermatology textbooks, and the lack of BIPOC dermatologists doesn't help matters either (a 2016 study revealed that there's only 4.3% of Black dermatology residents in the United States). The racial disparities in dermatologists and dermatology training only make it harder for BIPOC to get good skincare advice on social media. 

It's important to understand that skincare is not a one size fits all, especially for melanated skin. Dr. Love says that the short timing on SkinTok videos, a maximum of sixty seconds, does not leave enough room for appropriate education. And, for BIPOC, a nuanced understanding of our skin and hyperpigmentation is essential. Bottom line: Stop listening to white skincare influencers without dermatology degrees on TikTok if you're BIPOC. Instead, listen to the real experts with training in melanin-rich skin.