The toxic side of online beauty forums
I’ve always been extremely into beauty and skincare, even from a young age. I’ve been doing my makeup everyday since middle school and have kept up with the latest skincare trends. Growing up with my mom telling me about some unusual Japanese tricks, such as using horse oil for your skin, I’ve never been one to shy away from trying products. Especially in quarantine, I think a lot of people got really invested in skin care as some skin care influencers like Hyram got really popular on TikTok, inspiring viewers to examine their products and trade them in for new ones. I also hopped on this trend, but took it a step further by finding other skincare communities online, such as Reddit. I quickly found the subreddits r/SkincareAddiction and r/AsianBeauty. What started as a fun, informative way to keep myself occupied during quarantine quickly became the source of extreme anxiety for me.
These subreddits are filled with information that can help you compile the perfect skincare routine for you and learn about things you were doing wrong. AsianBeauty is more because it isn’t just skincare specific, however a lot of the content is geared towards Asian skincare products specifically. My quest for perfect skin began. Soon I discovered how to use chemical exfoliation so I could clear the smallest bumps on my face.
Then, the sunscreen started. Yes, sunscreen. Often referred to as the most important tool for anti-aging, r/AsianBeauty and r/SkincareAddiction are both obsessed with sunscreen talk. On the one hand, it is legitimate information. The sun is extremely damaging due to its capabilities to cause skin cancer and premature aging. I used to apply it to prevent burns, but that was just in the summer. Soon I was reading how you had to actually apply sunscreen everyday (even indoors!) year round, or else you’re risking exposure that accumulates over time. The image forming in my mind about looking like a leather bag when I’m older consumed me. I read about the extreme practices that some women took, such as not doing certain activities in order to block the sun, and soon felt like I just wasn’t doing enough. Combined with how prized paleness is in some Asian countries, I could actually find these products to help me fuel my newfound fear of the sun. This is also largely representative of colorism in the Asian community, which is unfortunately quite a prevalent issue. Originally, this stemmed from the idea that being pale meant that one could afford the luxury of staying indoors and not tending to the fields, signaling wealth and class. However, the abundance of skin lightening products and this aversion to melanin further pushes people into various practices to avoid the sun, such as umbrellas and special UPF driving gloves to prevent hand wrinkles. Soon, my habit became consuming. I couldn’t even drive to Target without slathering on sunscreen and making sure I was completely covered. It didn’t seem like an issue at first, because I told myself that I was just looking out for my health and long term skincare. Eventually, I realized I was developing an extreme issue. I slowly backed away from these communities and tried to fixate on some new things (such as haircare) but this weird fear of the sun still hasn’t totally gone away. And it’s not really something that you would readily explain to your friends that you’re facing a fear of the sun because Reddit convinced you to have one.
I can’t say it is all bad because I did learn some genuinely useful information. But there aren’t many actual experts in the field (such as dermatologists) moderating the content. Though people try to make it very clear that no one is a professional, threads can quickly become condescending and it’s hard not to feel like you’re not drastically ruining your skin just because a random user said so. Also, I want to acknowledge that clearly I had a big interest in beauty before and have always had this subtle fear of growing old. I know that not everyone has these pre-existing issues, but being aware of how these communities can damage your mental health under the guise of helpfulness is really crucial. It’s hard to recognize the damage because it’s not like these Reddit threads or skincare experts are lying. It is true that the sun causes most signs of premature photoaging and wearing sunscreen can prevent those deep wrinkles from forming and protects you against skin cancer as well! That’s precisely the problem with these issues — it’s hard to find problems with something that really is beneficial for you. However, the one wrinkle or two I may receive outweighs the constant anxiety I felt being near a window. Just be cautious before diving into an interest you have, because soon it can just exploit your insecurities and fears, bringing you to a dark place.