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Don’t try this at home: Testing out the worst influencer beauty hacks

From lemon juice facials to DIY chemical peels, we explore the dangers of following non-professional advice from your online BFF

Bryan wanted a full beard, it was as simple as that. So, he did what we all do in this digitally connected world with billions of solutions and easy access at our fingertips, he turned to YouTube to find an easy fix for his problem. 

‘‘I was just looking for a way to boost my non-existent beard, because a dude I was into was into dudes with one and I was lovestruck,” he reminisces. “So, I got this product, Hair NowNow – it was everywhere on Instagram and really popular with influencers. After spending N10,000 (£24), I was left with rashes on my jawline and scalp.”

Bryan’s experience is far from unique. Stories of how people – especially impressionable young people – looking for a quick and usually affordable way to achieve a look but ending up damaging their skin or bodies are rife all over the internet. Beauty influencers and YouTubers occupy a unique place in our digital world. For many, they are a source of irritation, but for others they’re the ultimate source of inspiration and a great resource on what products they should buy, cheap DIY hacks, and so much more. 

‘‘It’s like taking recommendations from that friend with good skin. Many of us have done it and probably still do it,” explains David, who previously only bought skincare products recommended by YouTubers. “The problem is that you’re forgetting that this friend with good skin is also putting in hours at the spa and getting professional skincare consultations, where they get the advice and product recommendations they actually need.” We all know skincare is a luxury, costing hundreds (even thousands) depending on the treatment you seek, so it’s no surprise that accessible and cheap hacks seem like a better substitute. 

“It’s like taking recommendations from that friend with good skin. The problem is that you’re forgetting that this friend with good skin is also putting in hours at the spa and getting professional skincare consultations, where they get the advice and product recommendations they actually need” – David

With just a quick search there are countless products and natural remedies suggested by influencers that are allegedly good for the skin, but later found out to be the complete opposite, and often harmful when put on the face. These include witch hazel, coconut oil, lemon juice, DIY scrubs, DIY face masks, and so much more, The influence that YouTubers and influencers have is undeniably sizable, turning them into authority figures in their niches, despite the fact that most of them are untrained to be giving such advice, often learning (or making it up) as they go along. 

‘‘I remember watching this video where this girl was sharing her skincare routine. It was a storytime video where she shared how bad her skin used to be and how she got rid of her acne in like a month and God knows I needed that sort of miracle in my life. Everything she shared was so affordable because it was a drug store-focused video,’’ Ray tells us. ‘‘One of the things she shared that I bought was witch hazel which seems to be loved by lots of influencers. For the first few days I thought it was working, but a few weeks later and my skin was at its worst ever. I had to meet an esthetician, had a consultancy session to fix the acne and all that.’’  

‘‘As an aesthetician the most common complications I see are from at home DIY chemical peels,’’ Psalmuel Josephs, a licensed aesthetician explains. ‘‘Most often, reversing the complications costs more than treating the initial problem. Treating complications from DIY treatments is never pleasant because it requires patience and a lot of money too.’’ The long-term cost of following the advice of these beauty gurus and YouTubers varies. For some, they merely lose some money on products that do not help their skin and for others, they have a little skin irritation or break out. On occasion though, they can lead to serious health complications. 

Joel recounts how he ended up in the hospital after following a hack to get brighter lips. ‘‘I was complaining about how dark my lips were so I decided to look up on Google for tips on how to clear them up,’’ Joel recalls. “I was led to a YouTube video where one of these influencers was talking about making your lips brighter. According to the video, I was to get honey, brown sugar, lime juice, and cinnamon and apply it on my lips. She said you could even lick it cause these are all safe things for the body. I didn’t only get a rash but I got this terrible stomach pain. It affected my liver and I had to be in the hospital for like a week.’’ 

Taken an even darker turn, advice from influencers can even lead to death. Earlier this year, a viral story revealed how two young children tried to make popcorn at home following a YouTube life hack video. One of the children died and the other was left critically ill, yet despite the connection to the original YouTuber’s video and the incident, she was not held accountable and the industry remains unregulated. 

‘‘I really don’t think it’s ill-intentioned on their part but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous,’ muses David, who has since stopped taking skincare advice from influencers. ‘‘Of course, there are some who are actually certified and I’ve noticed that those ones hardly promote DIY beauty hacks. If anything, they debunk a lot of them.’’

‘‘When it comes to skincare there’s a place for professional treatments and a place for normal beauty routines.’’ Psalmuel adds. ‘‘Most DIY hacks in skincare are portrayed as alternatives to professional treatments rendered by trained skincare personnel, but in most cases they cause more complicated problems than solutions because every skin is different with a different history, different genetic makeup, and different presentations which need to be taken into consideration before product or procedures are recommended. They never consider this though.’’

Like Psalmuel says, ideally skincare advice should only be doled out by the professionals and we should seek the advice of an aesthetician before buying or using any product or hack we come across. The best advice would be ‘stop taking advice from influencers’ but what we can say is: apply discretion. Don’t just open your pantry and start mixing things because someone with a YouTube channel says you should, before you take advice from an influencer, ask yourself: Why should I take advice from this person? Do some of your own research on the active ingredients in whatever you are about to use at least and please don’t put lemon juice on your face.