It's tricky to pinpoint the exact date beauty influencing became a career (and a million-dollar industry), but it goes back to the early 2010s. As a young beauty assistant, I remember scrolling through Instagram, suddenly flooded with YouTubers, curly-hair routines, and more. Brands became even more prominent through the content I consumed, thanks to organic reviews and sponsored content.
Huda Kattan, Kandee Johnson, Patrick Starr, Michelle Phan, and Jackie Aina (to name a few) became household names. Influencers grew in notoriety on every digital platform as the years went by. Creators with huge followings monetized their beauty business through views, collaborations, and beauty brands of their own.
The beauty influencer boom created a new world of opportunity and exploration for content-curious creators and consumers. Social media allowed for these personalities to become the new celebrities—but it also allowed anyone who declared themselves an expert to be perceived as one. Still, as the world evolved, gray areas grew like any massive trend.
As a result, consumers have grown more knowledgable about the information they absorb, especially regarding ingredients and ethical practices. This growth has added yet another layer to the ever-evolving social media space. Consumers demand more knowledge and transparency from all areas of the beauty industry, including brands and influencers. And thus, another shift.
On buzzy platforms like TikTok and Instagram, there's been an uptick in the number of doctors and dermatologists creating content for their audiences. The #dermtok hashtag currently has over 59 million views on TikTok, with tons viral videos from dermatologists debunking myths, explaining ingredients, and bringing it all back to the importance of science. In addition to traditional media placements, dermatologists are now also sharing #sponcon and busting a dance move (or two) on the internet. This showcases these doctors in a new light and has organically carved out a new category of trusted beauty influencers.
The unofficial term for dermatologists transforming the influencer space is "dermfluencer," and ahead, we talked to some of our favorite industry experts utilizing social media to set the skincare record straight.
Dr. Michelle Henry
"I started consistently posting on social media around 2015. Around this time, I worked for a large practice where I was the youngest and only Black dermatologist. I wanted to grow, and social media provided an opportunity to expand your exposure to patients, which is how it started for me. I tried to educate and normalize specific topics in skincare. So I began by discussing certain treatments and injectables that destigmatize some of those things, and it grew from there. I got valuable feedback from my patients, who would tell me I felt like their best friend who was knowledgeable about skin. That is when I learned that having that presence would be compelling to people, and I leaned into it.
"The beauty of social media is that you can be whoever you desire. When I am invited to lecture on social media, I always tell people to be authentic, which will draw in your audience. For me, that means walking the line of being hyper-professional but approachable enough to build rapport. I want people to feel like my platform is a safe space to ask questions.
"Growing a platform on social media has also opened many sponsored and branded opportunities. However, the opportunities I accept boil down to discretion. I don't work with companies where I'm not too fond of the product, it doesn't work, or I haven't seen data to support claims. However, this discretion isn't new to medicine. We always have to make a call on what's best for our practice and patients. Generally, I do not promote a single thing that I haven't tested on myself. I am aware my skin isn't encompassing all skin types and concerns, but I like to make sure that nothing is alarming about the product. If it's not for me, but I understand the potential, I'll give it to others.
"I am still actively working on balancing the art of running my practice and staying active on social, and I won't lie—it gets complicated. I try to be hyper-organized and delegate specific days to focus on particular tasks. So, for example, on Mondays, I am doing admin stuff, meeting with companies, and trying to bulk-capture content.
"It's a lot to juggle, but social media has helped change my career trajectory. Most of my consultations turn into treatments because my patients have already researched me and know my techniques because they've been following me. Clients can see how I speak, engage, and make decisions after that. Some statistics show that many people look online for doctors and experts, so if you're not—at the very least there for someone to find you—then you may be doing more harm than good."
Dr. Joshua Zeichner
"I have been posting on social media—Instagram primarily—for many years, and I only recently started dedicating more time to it. Social media has become one of the biggest marketing platforms we have, and it's growing in healthcare and dermatology. I've always genuinely enjoyed social media, and I've always been interested in public education. I recognize that this is the direction that people are using to consume information. To continue to be relevant, I needed to utilize these channels.
"When I decided what type of presence I wanted to have on social media, I knew I wanted them to be educational and direct. I like to be an unbranded encyclopedia that is easy to understand but not unapproachable. I made a conscious decision to have my videos filmed closely to my shoulders. I wanted to give viewers the feeling that I'm talking to you as if you're my patient.
"Over the years, I've discovered that one of my strengths is digesting complicated medical information and making it easily understandable. I've done this for consumers and traditional media, and I want to do the same thing on social media. I aim to make brief clips my audience can understand. I make a conscious effort not to be too promotional and barely mention products at all on my page. I think that doctors are held to a unique standard that other professions aren't, so it's easier for me not to talk about any products but rather stay ingredient-focused in my content.
"However, I work behind the scenes with brands, and I am very public about that. Still, I am not a spokesperson for any brand on social media. I am very selective and never want my feed to feel advertorial but more of a source of information and education.
"Many people assume many creators work with a team, but I work alone. Most of the time, topics I cover on social media come from conversations with my patients, and if I think that it's something other people are curious about, then it's worth a video.
"Overall, dermatologists' presence on social media has changed the media landscape, but it boils down to two critical words: Fact-checking. On social media, you can have a platform to share information without anyone vetting who you are and without being adequately credentialed. Many people claim to be skincare experts and give skincare advice that isn't correct. So I do think that it helps that more board-certified dermatologists are sharing information to sift through the noise.
"Again, I think it's most important to discover who you want to be and stand firm in that. Do you want to talk about celebrity plastic surgery? Do you want to dive into product reviews and ingredients? Do you want to do a combination of both? There is no right or wrong answer. Everyone has their narrative, and mine is remaining as professional as possible. When I think about social media, I think: Are you a dermatologist, or are you a person who happens to be a dermatologist, and how much of that do you want to show?"
Dr. Corey L. Hartman
"My Instagram account initially was not about dermatology. As I've adapted and found my voice, I think I carved out a unique space that simultaneously keeps people engaged and educated. The pandemic transformed how I interact with social media because it forced everyone to slow down. Many of us weren't working and needed a way to engage with our patients and community. Suddenly, a lot of the things and content that was prominent seemed unimportant.
"It was a great opportunity for dermatologists to give people an alternative to the content that has dominated historically. Social media is like the wild, wild west, and the dermatologist community could come in and dispel many myths and misinformation. Generally, I think many of us underestimate the power of social media. I don't want to speak for everyone, but I know many of my peers felt above it. Even now, I still think there's the fear of being judged by our peers.
"Before the pandemic, I was much more aware of what I posted. Now, I'm much more lighthearted about it. I post what I like, and if you don't like it, that's fine—but we're going to laugh and expand our horizons over here. I have less fear of who will understand me and more confidence that I'll naturally attract people who get me.
"While brands approach me with sponsored opportunities, I do believe in the power of posting things organically. I don't want my page to be an ad every day. I want people to trust me, and I want to have integrity and speak freely on things I want. If you're only getting paid, you lose that sense of freedom.
"Ultimately, I believe 2020 put a huge focus on skincare. So many people were reevaluating their lives with extra time on their hands. So much information was being sought out, which hasn't necessarily been a bad thing. A community of dermatologists has grown, and I'm grateful to be part of it. It's been great to collaborate with other experts and support each other in getting accurate information out there. One key difference between this community of 'dermfluencers' versus other influencer spaces is that it's less competitive and cutthroat and more about sharing knowledge. There's enough for everyone to go around."
Dr. Mamina Turegano
"I started my professional social media account in 2016. I was newly living in New Orleans, and I wanted to make a name for myself. I created an Instagram account to provide tips and ways to help your skin through food and nutrition. I realized it was nice to share information with a broad audience without repeating myself numerous times throughout the day.
"My Instagram started to build traction around 2019, but TikTok is what exploded for me during the pandemic. The platform reached out to me to be part of its first cohort of expert creators. I put out a few videos as part of a six-week program, and funny enough, my first viral video was a random one of my mom applying a banana peel to her face. That insight let me know that people enjoyed relating to personable things. I decided to start a series of anti-aging tips I learned from my Japanese mom, and I'd always put a science spin on it. That propelled my TikTok account and spilled onto Instagram as well.
"I never imagined social media to be such a massive part of my job, but it's something I enjoy. Not only am I discussing topics I love, but I have learned so much about myself along the way—including that I am not as introverted as I thought.
"One of the challenges is finding that balance between being personable and professional. I have fun on TikTok, and, yes, I dance in some of my videos, and I see comments like, 'Omg, doctors dancing on TikTok.' I do sometimes doubt myself, but my patients always express how happy they are to see this side of me. I've developed closer bonds with people who express comfort after seeing me on social media. So there's a fulfilling aspect of being vulnerable, but there's always a certain level of professionalism that we should maintain.
"My health and healing philosophy is that there are many wonderful medicines, but joy and laughter work wonders. Those things are good for the soul and at the foundation of my approach. This new world has made me excited about where dermatology is going. I love seeing fellow dermatologists on social media, and I learn a lot from them. I love the authentic awareness brought to skincare. A few years ago, sunscreen was not even considered glamorous, and now wearing sunscreen is cool, and I attribute a lot of that awareness to social media."