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


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

Feb 28, 2020

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
Sheryll Donerson

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.



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