Words from a derm: Behind the “skinfluencer” social media trend

By Alpana Mohta, MD, DNB, FEADV, FIADVL, IFAAD | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published May 4, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Doctors who share evidence-based skincare information on social media have seen success as “skinfluencers,” garnering publicity and followers.

  • Doctors’ popularity on social media can also result in negative feedback, criticism, scrutiny for expressing controversial opinions, and legal implications.

  • Physicians should carefully consider their online presence by being transparent about the content they share, their interactions with followers, and the potential impact on their professional reputation.

A patient walked into my dermatology clinic, rattling off all sorts of exotic skincare actives she had been using. One of them was so obscure, even I hadn't heard of it. "Where did you learn about these products?" I asked. "From a skinfluencer on Instagram, of course!" she replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. 

This encounter got me thinking about what role physicians can play in the complex world of social media influencing. And how does their training as a healthcare professional help (or hinder) the journey to become a trusted influencer in the world of skincare?

What is a “skinfluencer”?

A skinfluencer is someone who has a large following on a social media platform, such as Instagram, YouTube, and/or TikTok, who posts about skincare products and routines.

The trend of delivering information in bite-sized videos gained momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic. Doctors and skincare enthusiasts were among the first to capitalize on this opportunity to increase their digital presence. 

A quick search on Instagram reveals more than 424,000 posts under the hashtag #skinfluencer, with a whopping 103 million under #skincare. 

Often, a HCP-turned-skinfluencer will gain popularity by debunking myths and highlighting the science of skincare in viral videos. 

From doctor to beauty guru

Some physicians don’t have the time or availability for face-to-face consultations outside of work hours but still want to connect with their patients. In these cases, digital engagement can be a helpful solution.[] 

Board-certified dermatologists are the primary source of educational content about skin on social media. This new breed of physician uses social media to deliver evidence-based information with fun and flair.[] They joke around and dance while giving crucial skincare advice.[] These “dermfluencers” (another name for a skincare-focused social profile or channel) are taking the internet by storm. 

At the same time, the digital space has also made it easy for unqualified users to spread incorrect information. 

It’s concerning to see people falling prey to dangerous trends such as sunscreen contouring and DIY lip fillers. On the whole, however, today's tech-savvy consumers scrutinize every expert's qualifications, credentials, testimonials, and more before trusting their advice. 

Benefits of being a digital star

There are several perks to being a digital doctor-skinfluencer. With a popular social media account, physicians can:

  • Skyrocket your visibility

  • Debunk myths and share facts about healthy skin, skin diseases, and important causes such as skin cancer prevention

  • Build your brand, showcase your personality, and make yourself stand out from other practitioners in the field

  • Collaborate and network by joining forces with other professionals

  • Generate income through sponsored content (#sponcon), affiliate marketing, product sales, and advertising

The cost of going viral: Pitfalls of being a digital star 

The allure of digital stardom may make it seem like a bed of roses, but the reality is more mentally taxing. 

Navigating the algorithms of social media while boosting profile views and sidestepping controversies is daunting. It drains energy, leads to oversharing, and causes both visible and invisible harm. 

The perils of being an internet-famous doctor include:

  • Negative feedback or criticism

  • Scrutiny or backlash for expressing controversial opinions

  • Conflicts of interest and legal implications

  • Cyberbullying

  • Online trolling

  • Slanderous assertions or character assassinations

While there is inherent risk in attempting to build an online presence, social media can offer a creative outlet, bring in extra money, and connect you with people from all over the world. 

Be as transparent as possible

Becoming an influencer in the medical field requires more than a large following on social media. While some doctors use social media as a creative outlet, for others, it is a side gig to bring in money. Regardless, there are a few ways a doctor can leverage their influence on consumers.  

A survey of Instagram followers found that users are more likely to buy a product if an expert influencer, such as a dermatologist, promoted it.[] Nonetheless, paid promotions can—and do—get iffy.

To maintain transparency with your followers, state whether your content is sponsored. As well, when reviewing skincare products, prioritize educating your audience about ingredients rather than promoting specific brands. To avoid legal pickles, always state any potential conflicts of interest. 

The AMA has some key recommendations for operating social media as a healthcare professional:[]

  • Protect your patients' confidential information. Avoid posting any identifiable details about them.

  • Use privacy settings to protect your personal information.

  • Remember the boundaries of the doctor-patient relationship and follow professional ethics guidelines.

  • Consider keeping your personal and professional content separate.

  • Be aware that the content you share online may affect your reputation. 

What this means for you

Not everyone is cut out for social media stardom. Yet the benefits are boundless for those ready to brave the criticism and create a successful digital presence. For skinfluencers with a thick skin, social media offers the opportunity to expand the reach of your physical practice and make an impact beyond its boundaries. You can build closer relationships with your patients and humanize the medical profession.

Share with emailShare to FacebookShare to LinkedInShare to Twitter