For decades, beauty brands have used models and celebrities to sell makeup and skincare, promising consumers they can attain a specific beauty standard as long as they follow their routines. In 2006, YouTubers entered the scene and began influencing their subscribers with in-depth reviews and step-by-step tutorials. Now, consumers look to relatable TikTok influencers, gurus, and popular trends for recommendations on what to buy.

These new beauty influencers now play a key role in promoting impulse shopping. They dictate whether or not a product goes viral, and if they give a raving review on TikTok, they can sell out a new blush, mascara or face cream within a matter of minutes. However, not only is it difficult to tell whether a review is genuine or an undisclosed paid advertisement, the sentiment that you "must" buy a product to stay on-trend can have a negative effect on not only the consumer's wallet, but on our environment.

Environmental Impact

Gen Z cares more about the planet than any other generation, according to a McKinsey and Company survey. But they also make up over half of all TikTok users, falling into the trap of overconsumption thanks to viral video trends such as "Sephora Hauls," "Things TikTok Made Me Buy" and "Beauty products that need to go viral on TikTok."

There is no doubt that the two are connected, as the U.S. cosmetic industry was worth an estimated $49 billion in 2022, according to Statista, and TikTok was the top app by consumer spending in 2022.

But the more these consumers buy, the more they are throwing away. According to a 2022 report from Zero Waste Week, beauty packaging amounts to 120 billion units of waste every year, including plastic, paper, glass, and metals, all of which end up in landfills year after year. And TikTok trends are contributing to this waste.

The #beauty hashtag on TikTok has over 120 billion views, and the "I want it, I got it" hashtag has over 157 million views. These popular videos encourage users who see an item online to buy it for the sake of making a trendy video and gaining a few hundred likes, making the app feel more like you're walking in the beauty aisles of a large department store rather than watching a video recorded on a phone in someone's bedroom.

Additionally, many of the popular products influencers are promoting have a high price tag (see the viral Dior lip oil, a glorified lip gloss that costs around $40). This causes creators to make videos suggesting knockoffs or "dupes." Not only does this promote double the consumption, but these products are frequently produced by unethical businesses using inexpensive, toxic and non-sustainable materials.

Take, for example, the Dyson Air Wrap, a viral hair tool that retails for $599.99. Users have found "dupes" for as little as $26, but these cheaper options are laden with plastic and non-recyclable parts, lasting all of five minutes before being thrown into the trash.

Combatting Overconsumption

To counteract this wave of consumerism and consumption, another trend on TikTok has emerged: "Deinfluencing." With over 50 million views, this tag has garnered thousands of videos by TikTokers trying to dispel the need for these cult-like internet items, focusing on the beauty industry.

Ultimately, it's impossible to prevent social media from affecting people's purchasing decisions. Social media will still be used by brands to sell their goods and influencers will continue to provide interactive content that encourages consumption since they rely on brand partnerships to make money.

Audiences can try to be more aware of the content they consume and the degree to which it influences them, but as long as TikTok influencers continue to gain tens of millions of followers, the beauty industry will continue to promote waste and overconsumption.

Even a small shift in how audiences use social media to purchase beauty products can have an impact on the environment, whether it be simplifying your routine, using up what you currently have before buying something new, or holding brand's accountable for the sustainability of their products.