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NOW READING Do Beauty Influencers Have a Responsibility to Not to Spread Misinformation?
February 28, 2020

Do Beauty Influencers Have a Responsibility to Not to Spread Misinformation?

Uh, yeah. Especially when it has to do with, say, a potential pandemic.


A few weeks ago, Michelle Phan, beauty guru, YouTube legend, bitcoin connoisseur, and owner and founder of Em Cosmetics, made a rather dubious claim on her Instagram story. In response to the coronavirus (or COVID-19) outbreak, she took a picture of her essential oil burner with the following caption: “Our first point of contact for viruses is our nose. If you are burning antiviral essential oils around you this will kill off the virus before it enters your system. Tea tree, Lavender, Clove Bud, Lemon, Ravensara, and Eucalyptus Globulus.”





Well, as expected, the internet swiftly came to attack Phan and her claims about essential oils. Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper) took to her Twitter page and shared a screenshot of Phan’s post, simply stating “Sorry, antiviral essential oils DO NOT EXIST”. Michelle responded and said her intention wasn’t to purposefully mislead, and that her nurse friend gave her this information.





But then, she later doubled down on her pseudoscience beliefs in another series of Instagram Story posts, stating:


“I used to be a skeptic, until my limited options lead me to giving alternative medicine a try. [Side note: This is in reference to a medical issue Michelle was having a few years ago.] The moral of the story isn’t to discredit modern medicine, science or any industries. The point I’m making is, we don’t know everything. In the name of science, we should always question everything in pursuit of truth. Even if it goes against what you know and believe. So, if you wanna use essential oils. Use crystals. Do soundbaths. DO YOU.”


Which okay, fine, cool, do you, but none of these things are proven to help any sort of illness or disease, which she is, in so many words, claiming they do.


So. This is all just incredibly disappointing coming from someone who’s regarded as the pioneer of beauty YouTube and has millions of followers that listen to her and take what she says seriously. Just in case you were wondering, no, burning essential oils WILL NOT protect you from COVID-19 (or any virus for that matter). This isn’t a matter of opinion, this is a known fact. And as the virus has the increasing potential to become a global pandemic, this isn’t just misinformation, it’s a cruel way of promoting your beliefs to people who are currently living in fear and are desperate to try anything to avoid getting sick. And not only that, now you have a bunch of people potentially burning essential oils instead of washing their hands properly and sanitizing their homes, two of the real, proven ways to prevent getting sick. A mess!



michelle phan coronavirus



And listen, I’m here for beauty gurus and influencers chasing waterfalls, but this is a time Michelle should have stuck to the lakes that she’s used to. In other words, sometimes (most of the time) we don’t need influencer hot takes about current events. This is why we have group chats! Tell your friends about burning essential oils, not your millions of young and impressionable fans! When I want to know about how to prevent contracting the coronavirus (P.S. there’s really no need to worry, the flu is deadlier and is actually more of a threat here in the U.S.), I’ll contact a doctor or medical professional.


So I want to open the floor for discussion. What do you think about this Michelle Phan coronavirus issue? And what do you think about influencers spreading misinformation online in general? Do you think they should be held responsible in tangible ways like deplatforming or being banned? Let me know what you think in the comments!



Sheryll Donerson got her start as a beauty writer by writing K-beauty reviews for her blog, The Wanderlust Project. These days, she's lifting heavy weights, eating tacos, drinking (too much) coffee and is 1/4 of the beauty podcast, Beauty Beyond Basics (or Triple Bees for short). You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at @sheryllrenata.



Everyone makes mistakes. However, Influencers should only talk about things they are familiar with and understand! Even me as a Beauty Advisor would not recommend or speak about products I don't know. It's important we all stay true to information we share via social media.

This is really interesting and timely article. As we all know, (or should come to realize) Influencer does not equal informed professional. With the internet being the way that it is, anyone can claim anything... and then just wait to be corrected. I don't know what the answer is, however. Michelle is obviously an intelligent, highly successful entrepreneur, but making a medical claim during the height of a pandemic was definitely a huge misstep. She definitely isn't the first and most certainly won't be the last. The best we can do is to educate... Read more

I do think they have a responsibility not to spread misinformation but at the same time obviously they are not professionals in every field so followers should take everything they say with a grain of salt. Its also up to the followers to educate themselves and not just believe everything they hear.

I do believe influencers are held at a higher standard and have a social responsibility to not spread false information. However, at the end of the day, we should all be cautious about what we post as “matter-of-fact.” Luckily, we have Google and can fact check anything someone posts before we take their word for it 😊

No one is perfect, Michelle made a mistake and she's forgiven in my book. I do a lot of research as I love to read, however for myself, I know that everything in text may not be true. It's about facts and intuition really is everything. I would advise us to be careful but do not fear. Look up to yourselves and tune out what may be negative or doesn't serve you. Everyone is on their own journey, life is about learning.


This was disappointing when I came across Michelle's info about her essential oils. The power of big influencers is HUGE. Spreading misinformation like that can actually be harmful. Influencers should absolutely be held responsible for their audience and what information they spread.


I feel Michelle should have informed people that this is her opinion and it works for her, versus implying this is the be all, end all solution. Some people do respond positively to natural treatments and medicines more than man-made ones, which is fine. But this incident does make her lose credibility as a trustworthy person in the beauty world. I used to like her tutorials and her mix of high and low end products. Once she moved away from this because she needed a break, I'll admit I drifted away from her and lost interest too. Doesn't mean I... Read more

I think that influencers should absolutely be held responsible if they spread misinformation online. Their job as an influencer is to influence people. If they influence their followers to partake in potentially dangerous activities, they should be held responsible in tangible ways so they know there are not just consequences to their followers but themselves too. In today's world where people as young as 10 years old and below have access to the internet, influencers need to be aware of their audience and understand they have a responsibility to them.


I believe that the definition of influencers means that you have responsibility to your audience in the domain of your expertise. We are always influencing no matter what so YES, I believe influencers have a responsibility for what they post and how they spread information or misinformation.