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TikTok has launched tons of trends. Will its influence last?


new york — TikTok and its bite-sized videos arrived in the United States as a global version of the Chinese app Douyin in 2018. Less than six years later, the social media platform is deeply woven into the fabric of American consumerism, having shortened the shelf life of trends and revamped how people engage with food and fashion. 

The popularity of TikTok — coupled with its roots in Beijing — led the U.S. Congress — citing national security concerns, to pass a law that would ban the video-sharing app unless its Chinese parent company sells its stake. Both the company, ByteDance, and TikTok have sued on First Amendment grounds. 

But while the platform faces uncertain times, its influence remains undisputed. 

Interest in bright pink blush and brown lipstick soared last year, for example, after the cosmetics were featured in TikTok videos with looks labeled as “cold girl” and “latte” makeup. An abundance of clothing fads with quirky names, from “cottagecore” to “coastal grandma,” similarly owe their pervasiveness to TikTok.   

Plenty of TikTok-spawned crazes last only a week or two before losing steam. Yet even mini trends have challenged businesses to decipher which ones are worth stocking up for. A majority of the more than 170 million Americans who use TikTok belong to the under-30 age group coveted by retailers, according to the Pew Research Center. Whether fans of the platform or not, shoppers may have a #tiktokmademebuyit moment without knowing the origin story behind an eye-catching product. 

Platform’s algorithm is ‘secret sauce’

What made TikTok such a trendsetter compared to predecessor platforms? Researchers and marketing analysts have often described the platform’s personalized recommendation algorithm as the “secret sauce” of TikTok’s success. The company has disclosed little about the technology it employs to populate users’ “For You” feeds.   

Jake Bjorseth, founder of the advertising agency Trndsttrs, which specializes in Generation Z, thinks the app’s use of an interest-based algorithm instead of personal contacts to connect like-minded people is what gave TikTok the edge. 

TikTok also changed the standard for what was considered desirable in social media content. The beginner-friendly platform featured videos made without filters, lighting setups or production-level audio. TikTok creators could develop more intimate relationships with their followers because they appeared more authentic, Bjorseth said. 

The platform has plenty of critics. Some experts argue that TikTok, like other social media sites, can be addictive and promote unnecessary spending. Others accuse TikTok of encouraging harmful behavior, like girls engaging in skin care rituals intended for older women. 

Yet for all the detractors who won’t mourn TikTok if it goes away, a vocal base of fans hopes it doesn’t come to that. 

Influencing fashion, accessories

Casey Lewis, a trend analyst based in New York, said TikTok’s clout in the fashion arena first became apparent to her when videos about Birkenstock’s Boston clogs overtook her “For You” feed in 2022.   

As the number of TikTok videos exploded, creators advised their followers where they could find the suddenly sold-out clogs. Lewis thought it was odd since her brother, whom she described as a “frat boy” and not a fashionista, wore the cork-soled comfort shoes in college.   

“I’m not a psychologist, but I’m sure there’s some psychology where your brain goes from thinking like, ‘How weird? Is that fashion?’ And then suddenly you’re obsessed with it,” she said.   

The pace with which TikTok-shaped trends pop can be dizzying. In the last year, the hot pink ensembles of “Barbiecore” coexisted with the deliberately unsexy looks of “dadcore” — think chunky white sneakers, baggy jeans and polo shirts. The linen-draped “coastal grandma” aesthetic gave way to “eclectic grandpa.”   

While the rotating cast of “cores” may not drive their adherents to buy entire wardrobes, they’re “influencing spending in small ways, and that adds up,” Lewis said.   

Influencers provide tips, tricks

Daniella Lopez White, 21, a recent college graduate on a tight budget, said TikTok influencers provided tips on finding affordable clothes but also connected her to plus-size creators featuring fashions for larger-bodied women, which made her more confident. 

“Those TikTok trends really helped me figure out what parts of my body I want to accentuate and feel cute in, and still incorporate my sense of style,” she said. 

A go-to spot

With easy-to-follow cooking videos and clever hacks, TikTok became a go-to spot for home cooks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The platform made humble ingredients a star and earned endorsements from some of the stars of the food world.   

“Every day, honestly, I am blown away by the creativity from the FoodTok community,” restaurateur and chef Gordon Ramsay said in a TikTok video late last year.   

Like the clothing styles of earlier eras, foods that had fallen out of fashion were resurrected via TikTok. U.S. sales of cottage cheese jumped 34% between April 2022 and April 2024 after videos promoting cottage cheese ice cream, cottage cheese toast and other recipes racked up millions of views. 

Ben Sokolsky, the general manager of sales and marketing for Dallas-based dairy company Daisy Brand, said cottage cheese is seeing its highest sustained growth in nearly 50 years. The curdled milk product used to be a “secret sensation,” but social media helped expose new customers to its benefits, Sokolsky said. 

Topics that went viral on TikTok have even spawned analog equivalents. Last summer, TikToker Olivia Maher posted what she called her “girl dinner” of bread, cheese, pickles and grapes. It was a hit, with more than 1.6 million views. A handful of “girl dinner” cookbooks soon followed.   

But the eagerness to try trendy foods had a downside. A 14-year-old in Massachusetts died after trying a challenge involving an extremely spicy tortilla chip that appeared on TikTok and other social media sites. An autopsy of the boy, who had a congenital heart defect, found that eating a large quantity of chile pepper extract caused his death. Paqui, the maker of the chip, pulled it off the market. 

Upending cosmetic industry

TikTok has upended the cosmetics industry by causing ingredients to get labeled as the next miracle cure or to be avoided and featuring videos of people gleefully applying or panning the contents of their latest shopping hauls. 

Influencers on TikTok and elsewhere have made freckles an asset with clips showing how to add faux ones with eyebrow pencils or broccoli florets. The “clean girl” aesthetic, a renamed version of the no-makeup makeup look, prompted both luxury and drugstore brands to rush out their own versions of skin tints and lip oils. 

Some veteran users of TikTok have noted the platform is almost too good in its role as both a tastemaker and a shopping search engine. A popular category of beauty videos shows influencers “decluttering” drawers filled with piles of barely used lipsticks, blushes and eyeshadow palettes. 

Though the desire for clicks can encourage creators to follow the same hair and makeup trends, TikTok’s defenders credit the platform with forcing brands to create products for a wider range of skin tones and hair types. 

Tiffany Watson, who currently has more than 31,00 followers on TikTok and has done paid partnerships with brands like Colourpop Cosmetics, said the platform has promoted a more inclusive image of beauty compared to other sites. 

“I see more diversity on TikTok because (with) every video you’re swiping, you’re seeing somebody new,” she said.