CULTURE

How Influencers Are Harming You: Kylie Jenner and Toxic Beauty Products

Criticism that Kylie Jenner's new "walnut face scrub" is unsafe only points to a symptom of the wider problem of social media influencers becoming mouthpieces for companies who don't care about consumer safety.

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Another member of the Kardashian-Jenner clan is promoting a dangerous beauty product.

From "fat burning and weight loss" tea to vitamins that promise to transform your hair into a unicorn's mane, the extended Kardashian family has promoted toxic beauty products for years. Now, Kylie Jenner's preparing to release her own skin-care line, Kylie Skin, on May 26, but the early promotions for her first product, a walnut face scrub, have already alarmed consumers with its health risks. In truth, the most shocking aspect of the backlash is the implication that anyone expects a reality TV star and Instagram celebrity like Jenner to promote a beauty product that isn't dangerous.

The 21-year-old beauty guru followed her family's usual pattern of using Twitter and Instagram to advertise. She posted, "Walnut face scrub. My secret to a fresh face. Xo, Kylie."

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In 2016, a widely-publicized lawsuit against the skincare company St. Ives brought attention to the damaging long-term effects of walnut powder, the key ingredient in Jenner's product. Critics, including both consumers and dermatologists, immediately pointed out that walnut powder can cause "microtears" in the outer layers of the skin, causing inflammation, long-term damage, and bacteria growth deep inside pores. While the case was later dropped by a judge, who said "plaintiffs haven't shown that the alleged microtears themselves are a safety hazard," the Kardashians' own dermatologist suggests "avoiding exfoliants with almond or walnut shell powders, as they may contain sharp, uneven particles that are too harsh on facial skin."

But even if Jenner was aware of the dangers of her simple facial scrub and she promoted it anyway, hypocrisy wouldn't be the most offensive aspect of the reality star's new venture. After all, who truly believes that influencers use the products they're paid to promote (even the ones they stick their names on)? Rather, this latest criticism serves to highlight the health risks associated with online beauty culture at large. Every day, celebrities and "beauty gurus" promote products with less-than-safe ingredients and others that encourage dangerous dieting habits.

One of the most recognizable products, SugarBear Hair Vitamins, is a staple in the Kardashian-Jenner's social media feed, as Khloe, Kim, Kylie, and even momager Kris Jenner create sponsored posts for the company. Described by Kylie as "the most delicious vitamins," the gummies' sugary taste is their largest selling point, with experts attributing their appeal to the cultural health craze of the last decade, as well as celebrity endorsements. Recently, such profitable promotions even resulted in the cancellation of YouTube beauty guru James Charles, as bickering between him and fellow influencer Tati Westbrook over her brand of hair vitamins led to public condemnation of his character. Too bad hair vitamins don't even work.

The result from hair vitamins are merely subjective, as there's no definitive proof that a vitamin can significantly change one's hair condition, at least not any more than diet changes and sun exposure can. However, there is proof that Sugarbear Hair Vitamins contain an alarming amount of lead. Lab analysis has found that, aside from being inaccurately labeled in its percentages of nutrients, the lead content was "relatively high" compared to other dietary supplements. Specifically, the recommended dosage of two gummies per day contains 0.38 micrograms of lead; the legal limit of lead content in any product in California is 0.5 micrograms. Eating three gummies (as many testimonies report doing so since they're "the most delicious") makes the product dangerous. Arthur Grollman, director of the chemical lab at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, told BuzzFeed News, "Lead is not safe at any level. There is no way those pure vitamins could or should have lead. Just because California voters put a number on it it doesn't mean it's safe. I would not take anything that has lead in it."

Other staples in the Kardashians-Jenners' Instagram feeds are "magic" weight loss teas, like Flat Tummy Tea, Fit Tea, or Teamiblends. All products feature similar claims to be a "blend of all natural ingredients" that "promotes fat burning & weight loss," while it "improves your immune system" and "soothes & cleans your digestive system." Widely promoted by Khloe Kardashian and Kylie Jenner, among other reality TV stars from Teen Mom and even singer Cardi B, the teas are, of course, nothing more than snake oil products designed to cash in on weight loss trends.

On Instagram, Kylie abides by the Federal Trade Commission's policy to label sponsored posts as #ads, captioning selfies with, "I'm on day 7 right now... I have way more energy and it is like a magic tea to get rid of tummy bloat. I'm in love with their cute pink travel bottle💕. If you're looking for a natural detox, this is it." Meanwhile, experts like nutritionist Lisa Drayer have long pointed out, "If you take a really close look at it, these teas are just a bunch of herbs. Some contain caffeine; others may function as a diuretic or laxative. And so any of the weight loss that occurs is due to water weight, and it would quickly be regained once people either stop [drinking] the tea or start hydrating again."

Taken into context, Kylie Jenner's skincare products being "unsafe" isn't outrageous or even out of the norm. Sister Kim Kardashian West's KKW Beauty line was widely criticized for "egregious quality, including its exorbitant prices for very little product, the company mistakenly sending used products to customers, and the formula's tendency to flake off skin within 30 minutes of use. Even if she is knowingly encouraging her 135 million Instagram followers to scrub their faces with abrasive walnut shells.


Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher, and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.


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