If you’re a skin care enthusiast that’s made your way on to TikTok, Instagram Reels, or Youtube Shorts, you’ve probably seen the influx of skin care tips and hacks, and maybe even some response videos from professional dermatologists and estheticians either endorsing or debunking them.
The bite-sized 15-second videos are the perfect way to quickly deliver easy to digest information on a number of topics to the masses, which is why so many of them go viral. But this can lead to misinformation spreading, and with stronger algorithms on these social platforms, the more you engage with skincare themed content, the more you’ll see.
Those who are desperate for clear, smooth skin can easily fall victim to this misinformation, and can end up causing further damage to their skin by trying these so-called “hacks.”
Let’s debunk some popular TikTok skin care trends, and provide you some better skin care alternatives so you can achieve your best skin possible. Safely.
Toothpaste to spot treat zits
This skin care myth has been around long before TikTok, but now it’s making the rounds again via short-form videos. Toothpaste is believed to help spot-treat breakouts, but this is not the case.
Toothpaste used to contain an ingredient called triclosan which does have antibacterial properties that can reduce acne, however the use of triclosan is no longer common since there’s research that suggests it can negatively impact hormones, and the FDA has banned the use of triclosan in over the counter antiseptic products. Other toothpaste ingredients like baking soda or alcohol could help dry out zits, but this can overdry your skin, which will likely lead to more oil-production, and more breakouts.
Bandaids on breakouts
You may have seen TikTokers with bandaids stuck over their acne. These aren’t your typical adhesive bandages though.
The bandaids used in this trend are hydrocolloid bandages which are typically used to heal blisters. These hydrocolloid bandages resemble pimple patches (those little pastel, star shaped stickers) that you may have seen stuck onto an influencer’s face.
Pimple patches and hydrocolloid bandages help suck the moisture out of pimples and flatten them out, reduce inflammation, and since you cannot pick or pop your breakouts, you reduce the risk of acne scarring. However, this really only works on surface level pimples and not so much on deeper cystic acne, and the constant reapplication of adhesive can irritate the skin.
So if you run to your medicine cabinet and fish out a typical bandaid akin to what you plaster over a scraped knee, don’t expect any results, but if you use hydrocolloid bandages you may see temporary relief from minor breakouts. Just use them sparingly, and don’t be surprised if you experience pain while peeling off the sticky adhesive.
Using glue to get rid of blackheads
Using craft glue and charcoal to make a peel off mask to remove blackheads makes sense in theory, but can be dangerous and damaging for the skin. For one, the ingredients in glue can be toxic, but even non-toxic formulas contain ingredients like polyvinyl acetate, polyvinyl alcohol, and propylene glycol which are not made for the skin and can actually further clog your pores.
If you use any type of peel-off mask it’s not actually removing blackheads. It’s just removing what’s called sebaceous filaments, a collection of oil and dead skin built up in the pores due to overactive sebaceous glands. These sebaceous filaments resemble blackheads, but are actually just a part of your skin that cannot be permanently removed. Blackheads on the other hand, are related to acne and are characterized by an open comedone, and can be treated, but only with prescription and over the counter retinol products.
If you do want to temporarily remove sebaceous filament buildup, instead of glue and charcoal, try using an absorbent clay mask and a gentle exfoliating scrub to slough off dead skin cells and draw impurities to the surface using ingredients that are suitable for sensitive skin.
DIY coffee scrubs
Coffee isn’t the first at home exfoliant praised on the internet, and it probably won’t be the last. From sugar and salt to oatmeal and loofahs, not all exfoliants are created equal, and coffee grounds fall amongst some of the worst face scrub ingredients.
The extremely coarse texture of coffee grounds can be too abrasive on the skin and can lead to microtears and irritation. Not only is it rough on the skin’s surface, but the acidic pH of coffee can throw off your skin’s pH balance, resulting in dry, flakey skin.
Like with all DIY skin care products, since there aren’t any preservatives, your coffee ground mixture can begin to harbor bacteria which will be introduced to your skin upon usage.
Leave the scrub formulating to the professionals, and try a non-abrasive scrub for sensitive skin.
Makeup, dirt, and oil buildup in our pores throughout the day, and if you feel like your typical cleansing doesn’t quite extract all of the buildup, you may seek out a pore vacuuming treatment. These skin care tools use suction to pull excess sebum and product out of the pores, and sure enough, there are multiple options available for consumers to purchase to perform the procedure themselves.
Even with professionally performed pore vacuum treatments, the results are short-lived as the buildup in your pores will just continue every day.
The TikTok videos of buildup being sucked out of the pores are oh so satisfying, but the risks of using a pore vacuum, especially at home, are immense. They can exacerbate existing skin conditions like rosacea and eczema, and can cause broken capillaries and bruising. Dr. Muneeb Shah, a registered dermatologist who uses TikTok to debunk misinformation about skin care, responded to a pore vacuuming clip saying that they can permanently damage your blood vessels.
Instead try these 6 steps for minimizing pores on your face.
This Korean skin care trend says that smearing on a thick layer of petroleum jelly, Vaseline, or Aquaphor will create a barrier that limits water loss, and keeps your skin hydrated. Petroleum jelly is occlusive (seals in moisture) so there is some truth to this, and you may initially see the benefits of slugging, but there are also side effects of smothering your pores with Vaseline.
Slugging can cause bacteria, sweat, makeup, and dirt to get trapped in the pores and cause breakouts and irritation.
Instead, opt for a non-comedogenic (which means it won’t clog pores) moisturizer with humectant ingredients like glycerin and sodium hyaluronate which draw moisture to the skin cells without suffocating your pores.
Dermaplaning with eyebrow razors
Dermaplaning is an exfoliation method, usually performed by dermatologists or estheticians, where they use an ultra sharp razor to shave off the epidermis layer of skin as well as the tiny peach fuzz hairs on the face. It’s used to soften the skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and discoloration.
The do-it-yourself crowd has turned it into an at home procedure by using the same method, but with different tools. Instead of the sharp, sterile scalpel blade that a professional would use, DIYers opt for the cheap, colorful plastic eyebrow razors that come in packs for less than a dollar. These tools aren't intended for dermaplaning and don’t have the same sharpness and precision of a professional dermaplaning tool.
Even with the specific at-home dermaplaning tools that are on the market, this is a dangerous practice as it can lead to cuts and infection when performed in an unprofessional and unsterile environment.
Leave the sharp blades to dermatologists and stick to exfoliating with chemical or physical exfoliants.
Another dermatological procedure that TikTokers are taking into their own hands is microneedling. Microneedling is a procedure where a dermatologist runs a tool packed with tiny needles over the skin to create tiny wounds and stimulate collagen production with the goal of renewing the skin and reducing scar tissue, discoloration, and signs of aging.
Professional microneedling treatments are great, but the danger of at-home microneedling is immense. There are dermarollers on the market that mimic professional quality, but there’s also an abundance of cheap knockoffs that aren’t made from surgical steel or titanium, and the lesser quality can cause inflammation, and microtears.
Regardless of the tool you use, DIY microneedling opens the skin up to all of the dirt and bacteria in your environment, and when you’re not in a sanitary, sterile environment like a dermatologist's office, you are driving up the risk of infection. And while dermatologists start each treatment with a fresh dermaroller, many who opt for the DIY route will reuse the same needles repeatedly which is even more unsanitary.
Floss Picks to remove blackheads
This trend recommends applying hot water to the face to open up the pores, and scraping a floss pick against your pores to extract blackheads.
There’s a couple of misconceptions wrapped up in this trend. First of all, your pores do not open and close. They can become larger if the collagen surrounding them weakens, but applying a hot compress is not “opening up” your pores.
Second, you cannot scrape out a blackhead. Like with the glue and pore-vacuuming trends, any extractions from the pore are sebaceous filaments and not actually blackheads. Floss picks can pull out the sebaceous filament buildup, but as aforementioned it will continue to build up, so this is only a temporary fix.
There are better options for clearing out your pores that will not cause the potential irritation, stretching, and friction that floss will. Try a gentle exfoliant to shed built up dead skin, and cleanse with a simple, gentle, oil-free cleanser and follow it up a clay mask to deal with the underlying problems that cause sebum buildup in the first place.
If you’re desperate for the appearance of higher cheekbones and a more chiseled jawline, we don’t blame you for falling victim to this trend. The sunscreen contouring method advises users to apply an SPF 30 sunscreen as a base layer and an SPF 90 sunscreen on the high points of the face to create a targeted tan that mimics contouring.
While it makes sense in theory, UV rays hit different parts of the face unevenly, and it’s impossible to manipulate where a tan may form. This can lead to an uneven, patchy suntan, and not the sculpted, contoured look you’re going for.
On top of that, this trend opens a dangerous Pandora’s Box, because even though the original TikTok post says to start with a base layer of SPF 30 all around the face, if not properly executed, it could spiral into people only using sunscreen on the high points of the face, and leaving the rest of the face exposed.
Sunscreen is for sun protection, so stick to bronzer and highlighter to contour, and apply a thick (about three fingers worth of product), even layer of sunscreen on all parts of your face.
Baking soda Face Masks
Baking soda has natural antibacterial properties, which may have some positive effects on acne in theory, but it can throw off the pH of the skin. Baking soda has an alkaline pH of about 9, and the skin is healthiest with a pH of around 4.5-5.5. Applying baking soda topically, increases the skin’s pH which can lead to redness, irritation, and dryness.
Cooking spray as tanning oil
Just when it seems like people are taking sun protection more seriously, a TikTok promoting using PAM cooking spray as a tanning oil goes viral.
This isn’t a new trend, unfortunately. Various household oils like baby oil, cooking oil, and coconut oil have all been touted as alternatives to low SPF tanning oils for years. While some natural oils like olive oil, coconut oil, and have small amounts of natural SPF (around SPF 2-8), this is simply not enough sun protection to adequately protect your skin from skin cancer, sunburn, and discoloration. Baby oil and canola oil (like PAM cooking spray) have absolutely no sun protection.
Regardless, tanning (even with a designated tanning oil) isn’t recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation, and a high SPF, broad-spectrum sunscreen is the only thing you should be using on your skin before sun exposure.
Save the canola oil for pancakes, and lather up with a broad-spectrum, mineral sunscreen with SPF 30. If you can’t live without the glow of a tan, try a self-tanner or a spray tan for a safe alternative.
There’s not a ton of explanation for this one. Jade rollers really just don’t do much. While this trend promises to help with anti-aging, depuffing, pore-tightening, and soothing inflammatory skin conditions, it’s unfortunately not the holy grail tool it is made out to be.
If anything, they are just as effective as any other type of facial massage, which can stimulate blood flow to the face, and temporarily depuff and brighten the skin, but those results will fade quickly. The facial massage experience is also soothing and relaxing, and reducing stress can help your skin, but as far as actual long term skin care benefits, there are not many.
It’s great to see skin care being promoted so enthusiastically on TikTok and other social media platforms. Because of this, more and more people (especially young people) are going to start taking better care of their skin and investing in a skin care routine. However, social media has made it much easier to spread misinformation. Everyone is trying to amass thousands to millions of views and followers, and coming up with a brand new skin care trend, even if it’s unsubstantiated and dangerous, will garner lots of social media attention.
If you are going to follow social media advice, turn to tips from registered dermatologists and estheticians that are backed up by science, and please, keep the DIY skin care to a minimum.
Want more skin care tips?
Follow Cleure on Tiktok for more skin care tips and check out these TikTok accounts for professional advice:
Dr. Dray (Registered Dermatologist)
Cassandra Bankson (Licensed Esthetician)