How TikTok 'skinfluencers' are boosting the bottom line of the beauty business

·5 min read

For a decade, Cynthia Knuttioa has turned to social media for advice on caring for her sensitive skin.

As a teen, the Edmontonian used tips from people on YouTube and Instagram suggesting things like lemon juice astringent or scrubs made from cinnamon, baking soda and sugar

But after the pandemic took hold this spring, the 23-year-old found solutions that work from a surprising source: the popular video app TikTok.

And Knuttioa isn't alone.

More and more Albertans are turning to TikTok for skincare advice they would otherwise only get from a professional. Dermatologists and so-called skinfluencers — individuals on social media who have become trusted voices in everything related to skin care — have seen a faster rise in popularity on TikTok than they have on other apps like Instagram and YouTube, thanks to the app's unique algorithm.

Knuttioa, who follows popular TikTok influencers like Hyram Yarbro (a.k.a. Skincare By Hyram), said she has developed a trust in their recommendations thanks to skincare advice that has worked.

"I resonate a lot with Hyram because of his transparency," Knuttioa said about 24-year-old Yarbro, the Honolulu-based influencer who took his Skincare By Hyram YouTube channel to TikTok, where he has since amassed more than six million followers.

"He breaks down the ingredients in a really matter-of-fact way ... and communicates the ingredients in a way that it makes sense to the everyday consumer," she said.

"And he's also very honest that different people are going to have different reactions to different products. So I find that very refreshing and it makes it easier to trust him."

Kashmala Fida/ CBC
Kashmala Fida/ CBC

To keep their credibility intact, TikTokers like Yarbro and Vi Lai (known on TikTok as @whatsonvisface) will test products thoroughly before offering straightforward, sometimes blunt, reviews of the products.

When both Yarbro and Lai were underwhelmed by product samples they received from singer Rihanna's new skincare line, neither hesitated to pass along their critical reviews.

Spike in sales

Some companies directly credit TikTok's new breed of influencers for dramatic increases in the bottom line.

The Ordinary is an affordable line of skincare product launched in 2016 by Deciem, a beauty and skincare company with head offices in Toronto. In February, it saw a massive spike in the sales of one of its popular exfoliants, said Nicola Kilner, Deciem's co-founder and CEO.

About 52,000 units were sold in the first two weeks of February, followed by 77,000 in the third week, while demand from retailers rose by more than 1,000 per cent, Kilner wrote in an email to CBC.

Supplied by Dr. Muneeb Shah
Supplied by Dr. Muneeb Shah

"I think with so many users being able to access this platform, it's been able to spread so quickly to individuals all over the world," she said.

"This was incredibly exciting for us to see it reach a whole new audience — and quite humbling truthfully."

It was a similar situation for CeraVe, another affordable line of skincare products which has gotten several nods from the Canadian Dermatology Association.

In April, the products were as scarce as toilet paper and disinfectant wipes, said Jacinthe Lavergne, general manager for CeraVe Canada.

TikTok influencers inspired the jump in sales, she said.

"It was a real, all-at-once wave of love and by far never expected this wave to arise so fast," Lavergne said.

"It was like word-of-mouth 2.0."

Accessible advice

If companies making skincare products are seeing financial success via TikTok's influencers, it's mainly because the platform is designed to get its user's videos in front of as many sets of eyes as possible.

"Tiktok's algorithm does a really, really good job of presenting interesting or funny or useful content to people, regardless of who they follow," said Linda Hoang, a Edmonton social media strategist, blogger and TikToker.

On Instagram and YouTube, only viral videos will see surges in audience beyond followers, Hoang said. With TikTok, once a user interacts with a certain video, the app's algorithm will send more videos on the same topic regardless of the number of views.

Kashmala Fida/ CBC
Kashmala Fida/ CBC

She said another explanation for TikTok content being widely spread is the app's mastery of sharing to platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram while still giving credit.

"It does drive back quite a bit of viewership to that original user on TikTok," she said.

Dr. Muneeb Shah, a dermatologist in North Carolina, downloaded TikTok at the start of the pandemic and now has more than two million followers. He credits the app and COVID-19 for the rise in interest in skincare.

"Historically people were really into makeup," he said. "But since people aren't going out as much, they started to focus more on having healthy skin."

Compared to Instagram, where he has a respectable 153,000 followers, Shah said TikTok makes it much easier to reach the masses.

"On Instagram and Facebook ... you end up in these basically echo chambers of similar thought," he said.

"So if you know that you like fashion and you're following some fashion bloggers, you'll get a lot of information about fashion, but you don't really learn about new things. Discoverability, I think, on the other platforms is relatively low."

Shah noted that influencers like Yarbro and Lai have earned the trust of followers by doing their homework and ensuring that products they like have approval from dermatologists, including himself.

When misinformation is posted, it is very quickly tamped down by skincare experts and more serious content creators. Shah said that's a good reason for experts like him to have a presence on the platform.

"It's imperative that we meet people and patients where they get their information," he said.

"One, to be relatable to them so that when they come in to their appointments, they have trust in that system. Two, to combat misinformation where it starts. And three, to just be a voice of reason when things become unreasonable."