There are plenty of reasons why I trust beauty TikTokkers with my life. They taught me how to wing eyeliner, they know the same skincare routine doesn’t work for everyone, and they’ve agreed that contouring looks terrible more often than it looks good. Also, if my shampoo is choking the life out of my hair, odds are they’ll be the only ones to tell me.
That last bit is dramatic but true. Last week, there were rumblings about a class-action lawsuit recently filed against the parent company of haircare brand Tresemme, Unilever. The plaintiffs claim the brand’s Keratin Smooth Shampoo uses a preservative called DMDM hydantoin, despite being fully aware that its ability to release formaldehyde (yes, the chemical used to embalm dead bodies) can cause or contribute to scalp irritation and hair loss. Shocker.
While the lawsuit was filed back in December, anyone who doesn’t frequent beauty TikTok would be forgiven for hearing nothing about it. So far it’s received no mainstream media coverage and a quick Google only turns up legal notices about the case. TikTok, on the other hand, went deep into investigative mode and started weeding out other products posing similar risks to your hair. Other culprits include products by Dove, Bed Head and OGX, with numerous hairstylists on the platform cringing over the fact they’ve spent years recommending the latter as an accessible entry point into quality haircare.
This kind of behaviour is typical of the app’s beauty community and is exactly what distinguishes it from those on other platforms. These content creators care so much – whether that’s positively or negatively – about their interests. These aren’t just lifestyle influencers with a casual curiosity in hair and makeup. They’re quasi-cosmetic scientists with an ability to translate the technical jargon of ingredient lists that others mostly ignore and if they don’t like what they find, you’ll hear about it.
Case in point: before there were formaldehyde-laced shampoos, there was the St Ives Apricot Scrub. Once a staple in teenage skincare, TikTok’s king of skincare Hyram Yarbro tore its reputation to shreds when he denounced its use of walnut shell to exfoliate skin, arguing that it can actually cause micro-tears and accelerate the ageing process. Physical exfoliants have been unpopular on the app ever since. Another former cult classic – the Mario Badescu facial spray – faced a similar fate when multiple dermatologists laid into its heavy use of skin irritants, perfume and rubbing alcohol. And while beauty vloggers everywhere seemed to spend 2017 drilling in the importance of incorporating toner into your skincare routine, the TikTok expert consensus now seems to be that they’re mostly unnecessary.
If a product checks the right boxes, this critical judgement can be a good thing. Brands such as The Ordinary and Cerave have seen a huge uptick in sales thanks to their stripped back, science-driven approaches to beauty. However, gone are the days where all a beauty launch needs to succeed is novelty or celebrity endorsement. This is the generation raised in an age of mistrust and fake news, and they think carefully before putting money into a brand. For beauty products, it all comes down to the ingredients – and, hopefully, a lack of formaldehyde.
By Chloe James, fashion and beauty editor of CORQ.