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.


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."


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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Body Positivity: Seven Celebrities Who Think You're Hot Just the Way You Are

Your cellulite is excellent, and these days not even Barbie has a thigh gap.

The age-old truism that media is designed to make you feel like shit about how you look is still mostly true in 2019.

At least now a growing number of celebrities use their social media influence to shame toxic messages. Body positivity is a well-intended movement designed to promote self-confidence. High-profile activists include supermodels who've been pigeonholed into "plus size" categories, as well as actors and fashion designers who publicize their own struggles trying to meet the Hollywood's unhealthy beauty standards.


With the core message of combating unrealistic beauty standards, the topic of body positivity is an active conversation on Instagram and Twitter, with both men and women calling for a "revolution" in media. These are seven of the most outspoken celebrities protesting the need to label body types and who promote self-acceptance.

7. Sam Smith

Sam Smith recently shared his personal struggles with body image on Instagram, posting the first shirtless images of himself. "In the past, if I have ever done a photo shoot with so much as a t-shirt on, I have starved myself for weeks in advance and then picked and prodded at every picture and then normally taken the picture down," Smith wrote on Instagram. "Yesterday I decided to fight the f*ck back. Reclaim my body and stop trying to change this chest and these hips and these curves that my mum and dad made and love so unconditionally. Some may take this as narcissistic and showing off but if you knew how much courage it took to do this and the body trauma I have experienced as a kid you wouldn't think those things."

He also spoke to actress and activist Jameela Jamil about the pressures to fit male body standards and struggling to accept himself.

I Weigh Interviews: Ep 1: Sam Smith speaks to Jameela Jamil about body image and self acceptance.

6. Amy Schumer

The controversial comedian has always made self-confidence and self-love the topic of her work. From her recent film I Feel Pretty to her ongoing sketch comedy show Inside Amy Schumer, her satire mocks the unrealistic body standards promoted by the media, as well as the self-hate it engenders in young women.

Inside Amy Schumer - New Body

5. Demi Lovato

The 26-year-old pop singer has long been vocal about her own struggles with an eating disorder and the practice of fat-shaming on social media. Recently, she criticized a headline that focused on her weight. "Unlike in the past, I'm not triggered, I'm not upset that someone wrote a headline about my 'fuller figure,'" she posted on Instagram. "I'm angry that people think it's OK to write headlines about people's body shapes. Especially a woman who has been so open about being in recovery from an eating disorder. I'm not upset for myself but for anyone easily influenced by the diet culture."

She added, "Too many people today base their ideal body weight off of what OTHERS tell us we should look like or weigh. Articles like these only contribute to that toxic way of thinking," she wrote. "If you're reading this: Don't listen to negative diet culture talk. You are more than a number on a scale. And I am more than a headline about my body shape."




4. Iskra Lawrence

"Beauty is not perfection," the 28-year-old model posted to Instagram. "It took me a long time to realise that. I want to see the texture of my skin, the folds, wrinkles, scars, tiger strips, celluLIT - all the things that make me me. Our skin is a journal of our lives, our expressions, a timeline of how we got to this point."

The English model has publicly criticized Victoria's Secret for their lack of size inclusivity. She's also been outspoken against labeling women as "plus size," particularly in response to the term being ascribed to her. She posted, "To me unretouched and raw images always make me feel more connected to the subject - I feel like I'm truly seeing them. I hope that you're feeling OK today even if you've been scrolling through airbrushed and perfected images, please remember the real you is best you can be and how God created you to be perfectly imperfect. Sending you all love in all ways❤️"

3. Chrissy Tiegan

The former Sports Illustrated model often shares candid photos of herself, including the realities of her post-pregnancy body. She posted "Mom bod alert" on Twitter with a proud, full view of her stretch marks.

She went on to explain, "Instagram is crazy. I think it's awesome people have killer bodies and are proud to show them off (I really do!!) but I know how hard it can be to forget what (for lack of a better word) regular ol' bodies look like when everyone looks bonkers amazing." Teigen continued, "Also I don't really call this 'body confidence' because I'm not quite there yet. I'm still super insecure. I'm just happy that I can make anyone else out there feel better about themselves!"

2. Jameela Jamil

The Good Place actress is extremely active in promoting body positivity and protesting toxic diet culture, including detailed takedowns of the Kardashians' promotional products targeting young women. She also runs a body positivity project called "I Weigh" that encourages people to judge their worth based on something other than a number on a scale.

She's also been frank about criticisms of her own changing shape. "Now that I'm slimmer, people are listening to the same thing I've been saying for six f*cking years, and that's the biggest problem," Jamil said. "When a bigger woman speaks out against the way society, the industry, the media and everyone around us shames us, you call them 'jealous' and 'bitter,' and you victim-blame them and make them feel like they're a failure. But suddenly a slender actress on an NBC sitcom says it and everyone acts like it's the first time anyone has ever heard it."

1. Ashley Graham

Initially labeled as a "plus-size" supermodel, Graham has become an author, motivational speaker, and fashion designer to promote body positivity. When Mattel honored her by designing a Barbie in Graham's image, she demanded that the doll didn't have a thigh gap. From her Instagram account to her TED talk, she insists on normalizing body rolls, cellulite, and other perceived imperfections as elements of natural beauty.


Plus-size? More Like My Size | Ashley Graham | TEDxBerkleeValencia

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

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