Over the past few weeks, TikTok has witnessed a surge in interest in the supposed health benefits of castor oil. With nearly 30,000 followers, TikTok creator Busy Belle has been at the forefront of this trend, advocating for the use of castor oil, particularly when applied to the belly button. She’s even endorsed Aliver Jamaican Black Castor Oil, a product that has seen over 33,000 total sales, largely attributed to her influence.
In one of her videos, Belle passionately defends the efficacy of castor oil, challenging skeptics who question the legitimacy of TikTok health advice. This trend has gained substantial traction, with a video garnering more than 1.5 million views, potentially translating into significant sales for the endorsed product. However, as with any popular trend, it has its critics and skeptics.
Castor oil, although historically considered a cure-all, has recently experienced a resurgence in popularity, largely due to influencers and online stores making broad claims about its health benefits.
TikTok, in particular, has become a hub for wellness trends and health advice. Users may find themselves drawn to these trends, feeling as though they’ve stumbled upon a remedy that could improve their well-being.
Recommendation algorithms play a significant role in promoting such trends. They create a sense of connection between users and the content they engage with. In the realm of wellness influencers on TikTok, it often feels like a particular treatment or cure has found you when you needed it most.
While wellness influencers have been a presence on TikTok for some time, the introduction of TikTok Shop in the US has shed light on how online TikTok’s trend cycles and wellness advice collaborate to reach new audiences. Creators have been pushing a variety of products and remedies, from parasite cleanses and detox drinks to oils and tinctures with vague health claims.
TikTok Shop, an in-app marketplace, boasts a vast array of products, ranging from verified brands to questionable copies of popular items. It capitalizes on the phenomenon known as #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt, where viral content drives users to make purchases directly within the app, as opposed to external online stores. Creators benefit from this too, earning commissions from sales instead of traditional sponsorships.
The targeting mechanisms for these products existed prior to TikTok Shop’s launch. Wellness creators have previously popularized potentially dangerous practices, such as drinking borax diluted in water, or promoting “dry scooping” protein powder. Some even used TikTok’s popularity among young viewers to market steroids and steroid-like drugs to a younger demographic.
Wellness trends thrive on TikTok because they offer cheap and accessible solutions, often explained in a pseudo-scientific manner that resonates with viewers. Personal anecdotes, a powerful tool on TikTok, have long been used to evangelize dubious wellness and health advice.
Castor oil, for instance, has seen a surge in popularity as a wellness hack, but claims about its ability to stimulate hair growth or dissolve tumors lack scientific backing. Nonetheless, TikTok creators are making these broader claims, often without any credible evidence.
By October, the hashtag #CastorOil had amassed at least 925 million views on TikTok, with top videos advocating its application to the belly button for a range of health benefits. Some even claim it can treat anxiety, boost the immune system, and address arthritis. Some videos that are sponsored use audio from dubious sources, like Barbara O’Neill, who promotes unfounded claims about castor oil’s health effects.
The rise of castor oil on TikTok Shop raises questions about the platform’s policies. While some videos promoting dubious wellness trends may violate TikTok Shop’s guidelines, it’s unclear whether these rules apply to the products themselves or the TikTokers paid to advertise them.
TikTok Shop represents a new era for the platform, where trends can be monetized in real time. However, rule enforcement, context, and caution still lag behind. As trends come and go, social media platforms must strike a balance between user safety and creative expression. For now, wellness trends continue to captivate TikTok audiences, making it essential for users to approach health advice with caution.