June 21, 2024

Empowering students to navigate health misinformation and the rise in skincare tips on TikTok 

Be sure to check out the suggested Huddle question at the bottom of this article to discuss this important topic with your students in class, if you feel it is appropriate.

Now that summer has officially begun, many students are taking advantage of the sunny weather to work on their tans. With over a third of students sunbathing and around 68% of students having a skincare routine of some kind, it’s clear that students care about how their skin looks. Studies show that social media apps are one of the most common sources of news and advice for students. As a result, many students look to apps like TikTok and Instagram for online skincare tips. However, not all of the health advice given on social media is safe and accurate. Some recent health tips and trends on TikTok are spreading misinformation about tanning and skincare, and these tips have the potential to negatively affect student health. 

A new anti-sunscreen movement is trending on TikTok, claiming that sunscreen is harmful and shouldn’t be used to protect skin. TikTok is also becoming a popular place for tanning tips, some of which include potentially harmful advice like skipping sunscreen and using household oils for a better tan. It’s important for educators to equip students with the tools they need to avoid inaccurate health advice and other types of misinformation online. By empowering students to recognize misinformation on social media, educators can equip students to protect their health and use safe tanning and skin care practices throughout the summer. When students have the tools to identify misinformation, they can surround themselves with trustworthy, credible influencers on and offline. Let’s dive in! 

The anti-sunscreen movement and trending tanning tips on TikTok

Around 40% of students on TikTok say they use the popular app to see news and informative content, often turning to influencers who frequently share educational health content in the form of tips and advice. One topic often covered among influencers is skincare, with students receiving advice on skincare practices from fellow students and skincare experts.

Over 70% of students trust the social media influencers they watch online and are influenced by their opinions and behaviors. This trust makes it more likely that they will follow the advice of skincare influencers, even when the information given isn’t always safe. One of the most recent skincare trends on TikTok is the anti-sunscreen trend, where skincare influencers are promoting the idea that sunscreen is bad for your skin and overall well-being. These users argue that sunscreen contains harmful chemicals, creates a barrier between your skin and the sunlight your body needs, and ultimately is not necessary. TikTok is also seeing a growing trend of tanning tips that carry a similar sentiment about sunscreen, with influencers telling students not to use sunscreen when they tan. Instead, these influencers are advocating for using oils to tan, including household products like baby oil and olive oil. 

Videos promoting these trends amass hundreds of thousands of views and likes from influencers with extensive followings. Students may feel these tips are trustworthy because they come from influencers they already know, creators who have a large following, or fellow students who are of similar age. Because they trust these creators, students may not fact-check the claims made, which can put them at risk of following risky advice. 

The anti-sunscreen trend has the potential to increase students’ risk for skin cancer because sunscreen is essential for blocking the sun’s harmful rays. Not wearing sunscreen leaves your skin unprotected from these UV rays, which can cause cancer. The tanning tips about using oils also put students at risk of skin cancer because oils don’t protect against the sun in the same way that sunscreen does, and oils can also irritate the skin.

Educators can empower students to recognize unreliable health advice on social media by showing examples of misinformation, such as the anti-sunscreen trend. Demonstrating that even popular influencers can spread misinformation helps students develop the skills to find reliable sources and avoid harmful trends that can impact their health and well-being.

The positive impacts of avoiding health misinformation online

Students can find positive, helpful information and advice online, like valuable tips for skincare and health. However, there is also the potential for advice that is unsafe or inaccurate. By encouraging students to fact-check online health advice and stick to reliable sources, educators empower them to protect their health and that of their loved ones. Students can also apply their fact-checking skills to verify news and celebrity claims, which can positively impact their overall well-being and critical thinking abilities.

Much of the misinformation given on social media can be debunked by doing research online. By fact-checking claims, students ensure the advice they follow is accurate and safe. 

These tools not only empower students online but also in the classroom, as misinformation on TikTok spans various content types, not just skincare. Fake news can negatively affect students’ academic performance in that it can reduce their critical thinking skills and keep them from being able to recognize reliable sources. They might also end up using this misinformation on assignments, leading them to get answers wrong. When students learn to spot misinformation, it can boost their ability to think critically and evaluate their sources. It will also allow them to check the validity of the information they use on assignments so they can avoid making false claims and getting lower grades. 

Equipping students with the tools they need to navigate health misinformation online continues to become more important as misinformation continues to rise. When educators empower students to check the validity of the claims they see online, students can identify and avoid incorrect and unsafe advice. By cultivating these skills, students protect their well-being, access reliable sources, and surround themselves with positive influencers online. 

TSI’s Take

There’s nothing wrong with students wanting to find skincare and tanning tips this summer, as long as they come from credible and safe sources! TikTok and other social media apps are powerful tools for discovering information, but they can also spread misinformation easily. When educators equip students with tools for spotting false claims online, they empower students to avoid falling for misinformation and to protect their health. Students can also navigate social media more safely when they surround themselves with credible and trustworthy influencers.

Fact-checking skills can allow students to mitigate potential risks, such as becoming more susceptible to skin cancer to getting lower grades in school due to inaccurate information. Students can also avoid misinformation by surrounding themselves with influencers they can trust to give them positive, credible information. Here are some tips for empowering students to seek out reputable sources on social media:

  • Don’t judge articles by their headlines: Articles may use misleading information in their headlines to convince readers to click on the article and read more. When students see clickbait titles and don’t read the full article, they may unknowingly consume and spread misinformation. Encourage students to read the full article, fact-check it, and evaluate whether or not the claims made in the title are accurate before they decide to trust the article or spread the information it gives to other people. 
  • Fact-check any health tips regardless of a creator’s popularity: No matter how many followers or likes an influencer has, there’s always the chance that they may share misinformation. Whether it’s an influencer you like, an influencer with millions of followers, or an influencer who claims to be an expert, always research any tips or advice you see online. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
  • Use strategies like the SIFT method to spot misinformation online: Students who aren’t sure where to start with spotting misinformation can use strategies from experts, such as the SIFT method. SIFT stands for Stop, Investigate the source, Find better coverage, and Trace claims back to the original source. Methods like this are easy for students to remember and can help them evaluate the validity of the claims they see online. 

When we equip students with the tools to evaluate the credibility of the information they’re given online, we empower them to protect their health, avoid misinformation, and surround themselves with trustworthy sources. For more information on providing students with the tools they need to navigate misinformation online, check out the #WinAtSocial lesson on fake news: “Vetting videos, posts, and articles we find online to make sure they’re real.”

#WinAtSocial Huddle Question

Huddle with your students
What strategies can we take to find positive influencers and evaluate health advice on platforms like TikTok and Instagram?

The Social Institute (TSI) is the leader in empowering students by understanding students. Through #WinAtSocial, our gamified, peer-to-peer learning platform, we equip students, educators, and families to navigate their social world – in the classroom and beyond, online and offline – in healthy, high-character ways. Our unique, student-respected approach empowers and equips, rather than scares and restricts. We incorporate timely topics about social media, tech use, and current events that are impacting student well-being and learning. #WinAtSocial Lessons teach life skills for the modern day, capture student voice, and provide school leaders with actionable insights. Through these insights, students play an essential role in school efforts to support their own health, happiness, and future success as we enable high-impact teaching, meaningful family conversations, and a healthy school culture.