Overall, the study authors found that about 6 in 10 posts highlighted only the upside of slugging, while only 2 in 10 mentioned possible risks.
“What we found was not necessarily misinformation, but often a lack of information,” Pagani said. “A lot of the time, there was just no inclusion of risks.”
Beyond a heightened risk for facial acne among acne-prone patients, Pagani said there is also the risk that any topical skin medication applied before slugging would essentially become trapped underneath petroleum ointments, and therefore potentially absorbed more deeply — and for longer periods of time — than originally intended.
“Now, slugging is one of the relatively harmless things that can be found on TikTok,” Pagani acknowledged. “But even in the case of mostly benign beauty trends, the hope is that viewers are going to get accurate information from reliable sources, information backed by science based on data and research. Because other trends or beauty products may certainly be more potentially harmful than something like slugging.”
The findings were published recently in the journal Clinics in Dermatology.
It’s that broader issue that concerns Kelly Garrett, director of the School of Communication at Ohio State University.
“It is no wonder that people end up looking for health information in these digital spaces,” said Garrett, who pointed out that social media is familiar, easy to use and can be an empowering way to do research.
And medical professionals are not the sole purveyors of useful health information. “For example, someone who is living with a cancer diagnosis can have important insights, too,” Garrett said.
But the problem, he noted, is that “on social media, content creators’ goals are not always obvious.
“Posts by health care providers are often intended to inform, but other creators may be more interested in providing entertainment, persuading consumers to buy something, or just generating traffic to their content,” Garrett said. “Consumers who misunderstand the creators’ goals can end up being misled about the content, too.”
All of which means it’s critical that social media users be aware of the risks involved when searching for health information online, said Garrett, who was not involved in the study.