How to shop for skin care on Instagram, because you can’t believe everything you see


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It’s hard to believe that 10 years ago, the word “shelfie” didn’t exist.

Over the course of the last decade, Instagram has completely changed our relationship to skin care. An industry that once only existed in drugstores and department stores has now become a social media stronghold, with everyone from Kim Kardashian to Alexandra Oscasio Cortez taking to the ‘gram to show off their routines.

If you want to discover a new brand, all you have to do is scroll through your discover page. To learn how to use it, just consult your favorite beauty blogger. To buy it, you can now even do that directly in the app. Instagram has changed the way we interact with skin care in literally every possible way, and is as much a part of many people’s routine as the actual slathering on of products is.

While there are a lot of positives to the fact that this is now at our fingertips in an entirely new way, there are also some major setbacks, because—and say it with me now—you can’t always believe what you see on IG. “Social media is a powerful marketing tool for small brands, and it is actually the way that many people receive their news. So it makes sense that consumers learn about skin-care products through their social media channels,” says board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. “However, it is important that a product is well formulated and actually benefits the skin. Social media is still full of smoke and mirrors, and a pretty Instagram feed does not mean that a product will be right for your skin.”

Being Instagram friendly has seemingly become a pre-requisite for many brands in the last few years, with pretty packaging and gimmicks like glitter face scrubs and peel-off masks becoming commonplace. But just because a product looks good in a picture (and even I have to admit that those bubble masks are really, really fun to watch) doesn’t mean that they actually work. Like, at all. “Pretty packaging on the outside has nothing to do with the quality of the product on the inside. In an age of social media everyone wants to take a pretty ‘shelfie,'” says Dr. Zeichner. “But in the end it’s the product, not it’s packaging, that will help your skin.”

The most important part of the puzzle, say dermatologists, is know what kind of skin you have (oily, acne-prone, dry, sensitive, and so on) and knowing if that’s compatible with a given product. While the ‘gram is a great way to discover interesting brands and innovations in beauty, you really can only use it as step one. Then, you have to do your own research to find out if a product will work for you and your skin.

Of course, when you see someone with flawless skin give any product a glowing review, it’s tempting to take them at their word. Aren’t we all secretly looking for some miracle solution that will make our skin its most radiant in 24 hours? These days, it’s more important than ever to have our bullshit meters turned way up.   “As a viewer on Instagram, it’s fun to shop because it’s coming right to you, but just like with any catalogue you open, you know it’s there for sale,” says board-certified dermatologist Ellen Marmur, MD. “It’s a sales pitch. So you really have to be a more informed consumer.” Over the last few years, the Federal Trade Commission has cracked down on influencers hawking products on their feeds, and now requires them to disclose that they’re taking part in a #ad for anything they’re being paid to post or in any situation.  But even so, in a climate where anyone can be an influencer, it’s increasingly hard to police the platform.

Case in point: Earlier this year, a celebrity with more than 26 million followers (who I personally love and trust) posted a photo of a skin-care product to her story with a quote about how much she loved it. But there was one problem: She forgot to delete the portion of the caption with a directive from the brand, which certainly made it seem like they had asked her to post it. It’s unclear what, exactly, this arrangement entailed, but what is clear is that there was no indiction of #ad in sight.

Before and after photos aren’t to be trusted either, because, #facetune. “They’re like beautiful movies, but they’re a lot of fantasy,” says Dr. Marmur, explaining that these types of photos tend to be more about the shock value or visual value than showing off how a product actually works. “Know that skin care usually it takes at least a week for a product to make a difference, so it shouldn’t be an instantaneous before and after [difference],” she adds.

So what can you do to ensure the product you’re spending a portion of your paycheck on is actually worth the $70 your favorite #beautyinfluencer says it is? For starters, your research. “If you discover an interesting brand on social media, take a step back and do a Google search to research the brand before purchasing the product,” says Dr. Ziechner. “Is there something new and different about the product itself? Does it seem to be the same as the products you already have in your medicine cabinet? Are there any independent reviews or media coverage of the product? These are all questions to consider before you make a purchase.” And also? Don’t believe everything you see on the ‘gram.

Instead of shopping for skin care on the ‘gram, shop for it at the drugstore. Here are our editors’ 10 favorite clean products under $10, plus the ones derms don’t go a day without recommending

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