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Ask the Dermatologist: Can you Trust Online Influencers?

Vetting Skincare Products Being Hyped on Social Media

Anyone who’s stumbled into the TikTok or Reels tunnel or ventured into the rabbit hole known as YouTube has undoubtedly come across an influencer or two touting the miraculous effects of certain skincare products and ingredients. In some cases, they’re being paid to promote products. In others, they’re really excited about the personal results they’ve seen from certain ingredients. And some online influencers might just be repeating what they’ve read or heard because it fits their brand.

So how do you know if a highly touted skincare product or ingredient from social media is something you should try?

In this post we’ll talk about five ingredients that influencers have been talking about lately:

  1. Witch Hazel

  2. Tea Tree Oil

  3. Retinoids

  4. Hyaluronic Acid

  5. Vitamin C

Witch Hazel

As a natural plant extract, witch hazel has been in use for centuries and has garnered a stellar reputation for its skin benefits. In today’s social media skincare arena, it is hyped as a toning post-cleansing and pre-serum step intended as a way to ensure the skin is fully cleansed, smooth, and calm. It is marketed to those who suffer from acne, oily skin, cold sores, and minor injuries.

Witch hazel has been used for years as a home remedy for a variety of acute skin conditions including post-sun skin, bug bites and stings, hemorrhoids,bruises, poison oak and poison ivy, and there is real science to back many of these claims. It reduces pore appearance via its constricting astringent properties and soothes and reduces inflammation with antioxidant and antiinflammatory properties.

Witch hazel is high in tannins, polyphenol antioxidants that scavenge free radicals preventing skin damage, and also act as a powerful vasoconstrictor to reduce redness.

The Verdict: Should You Use Witch Hazel?

Even in light of all of these benefits, daily use of skin care containing witch hazel is not recommended. The main reason for this is that the distillation process to extract the active ingredients from the natural plant incorporates a large amount of alcohol. Alcohol irritates the skin by injuring the skin barrier and generating skin-damaging free radicals. Additionally,

there can be too much of a good thing as the powerhouse tannins can be overly drying when used in excess causing sensitization.

For those who currently have a witch hazel toner as part of their daily skincare routine, a safer replacement would be a niacinamide-containing product.

Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is another centuries-old natural ingredient that has a role in both ancient remedies and a cult social media presence. It is most often found as an additive in cleansers, astringents, and shampoos marketed for dandruff, fungal infections, acne, and wound care.

There is actual science to back up the beneficial properties of tea tree oil. This ingredient has been found to have activity against the causative organisms (dermatophytes, c. acnes bacteria, and MRSA) of these ailments.

The Verdict: Should You Use Tea Tree Oil?

Though tea tree oil does have these benefits, it is important to emphasize that it can be irritating to the skin and it is also a common trigger of allergic reactions. For this reason routine use is not recommended and use should be immediately discontinued if redness, dryness, or itching develops at the application site.

As the purity and concentration of over-the-counter formulas cannot be verified, you should not rely solely on these products for antimicrobial eradication in a symptomatic infection. If your goal is to embrace a natural skin care regimen, you will need to research specific brands since the market is now saturated with synthetic tea tree oil formulations, and this is not disclosed on the label.


Retinoids are some of the most studied topical skin treatments available. They are derivatives of vitamin A, and are available in a mild form over the counter–retinol, and as more potent forms by prescription (tretinoin, adapaline, tazarotine).

There are a number of benefits to using retinoids on the skin and many of these benefits have years of clinical studies that back up their effectiveness. The FDA has approved the prescription retinoid tretinoin (Retin-A) to treat fine lines and wrinkles. It works by stimulating the production of collagen and elastin, components of normal, healthy skin that are lost as our skin ages. These components can improve skin texture and unplug pores by speeding the turnover of our surface skin cells, leading to smoother skin and less acne. They also block the activity of pigment-producing enzymes within the skin, resulting in fading of brown spots and hyperpigmentation.

The myriad of benefits to retinoid therapy on the skin are not without side effects. The exfoliation induced by retinoids can cause significant irritation and dryness, and even skin inflammation (dermatitis), with overuse or in sensitive individuals. The thinner surface layer of skin induced by retinoids can also be more prone to sunburn and many retinoids are broken down by ultraviolet light and lose their effectiveness with sun exposure. Additionally, retinoids should not be used in pregnancy.

The Verdict: Should You Incorporate Retinoids in Your Skin Care Routine?

Retinoids can be a highly valuable foundation to many skin care routines, but care must be taken to ensure you get the most benefits while avoiding side effects. We typically recommend any retinoid routine be undertaken gradually, slowly increasing to see what the skin tolerates. Retinoid treatments with any prescription-strength formulations should be overseen by a doctor.

Hyaluronic Acid (HA)

Hyaluronic acid (HA) is the real MVP of skincare; at least that is what is being shouted from the rooftops by social media influencers and on TikTok, but what does it actually do?

Hyaluronic acid is a powerhouse hydrating ingredient used in skincare. It is considered a humectant, meaning it pulls water from the environment to the upper layers of the skin. Think of it like a sponge. HA molecules can hold up to 1,000 times their own weight in water, which is why they are so good at hydrating the skin. As the skin becomes more hydrated, it often appears more “plump.” This limits the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

One of the most common questions we get asked is “Can I use this as my moisturizer.” The answer is no. Think of HA as a team player, but it should not be used as your only hydrating mechanism. Even though HA holds water in the skin, moisturizers contain lubricants to lock in oil in the skin. You need both if you suffer from dry skin.

You might be wondering how it should be used. And this is a great point to consider. HA, when applied correctly, can have major benefits. However, many people are not using it the right way. When applying HA, you want to make sure that you are applying it to clean, damp, skin. This is important. When applying to damp skin, you are providing a water source for the HA to draw from. You want to apply the HA first and then top it with a moisturizer. If you apply the HA on top of a moisturizer, especially if you are in a dry climate or during winter, the HA can actually pull water from your skin, leaving your skin drier than before. Applying to damp skin is key.

The Verdict: Should You Use Hyaluronic Acid?

Overall, HA can be a great addition to a skincare regimen.

Vitamin C

As dermatologists, we know that vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, plays an essential role in the health of the skin. A deficiency of vitamin C leads to the medical condition of scurvy. It can cause roughness of the skin, with easy bruising or bleeding, and poor wound healing.

Vitamin C is so important to the skin because it plays a vital role in collagen production, helping to give skin its strength and firmness. Excessive ultraviolet light exposure can trigger oxidative damage and premature aging of the skin, while Vitamin C serves as an antioxidant, slowing the oxidative damage of free radicals to your collagen. This helps to reduce dry skin and the aging process that contributes to the formation of fine lines and wrinkles.

As we age, the levels of vitamin C in our skin decline and need to be replenished. Only a small percentage of vitamin C consumed orally will make its way to the skin. Topically applied products can provide the skin with the vitamin C that is needed to help build and regenerate collagen and defend against skin aging from free radicals. In fact, topical application to the skin provides about 20 times more vitamin C than consuming it orally can.

The Verdict: Should You Use Topical Vitamin C?

Topically applied vitamin C is an important factor in skin rejuvenation and maintenance of healthier, younger-looking skin. Multiple studies have found that topical vitamin C provides beneficial results to photodamaged skin, as well as aging skin.

The Bottom Line

We are always here to help you find the products that work best for your specific skin concerns. Feel free to make an appointment or stop by to browse the products we carry in the office. We can also look at what you’re currently using and advise whether your products are the best fit for your skin. We look forward to helping you attain your most beautiful skin!



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