At some point, you exist on social media for long enough that targeted advertisements start to become hard to distinguish from sponsored content within crowded spaces like Instagram. Now, it’s even more challenging for brands to make their own mark, as the landscape is shifting away from being commercially influencer-driven and consumers turn toward the platforms of seemingly “normal” people that promote authenticity.
The wellness category is an overly saturated space where the lines between fact and fiction are often blurred if a company’s branding looks Millennial™ enough to an untrained eye. Last year, Rae entered the market as a holistic wellness company determined to “help women feel their best from the inside out through pure and powerful nutrition.” The brand’s target demographic is adult women that are 18 and older, and their inventory selection of beauty, wellness, and hormonal products includes vitamins, powders, and ingestible drops that are all vegan, non-GMO, and gluten-free.
Oftentimes, products of this nature have an inaccessible price point, but the average cost of a product from Rae’s collection is $14.99. At the top of the year, the brand expanded its reach when it became stocked exclusively at Target, where a selection of items can be found on store shelves nationwide. (Co-founders Angie Tebbe and Eric Carl previously held executive positions at Target, as the senior director of merchandising and enterprise wellness strategy lead.)
“I just want to try it to be trying it.”
The Metabolism Drops have quickly become one of Rae’s best-selling items, but have suddenly gotten into the hands of teenage girls. While all of the attention has positively impacted the organic growth of the brand’s popularity on TikTok, this young crop of customers only seem interested in the product for the purpose of slimming down.
While boosting metabolism with the help of highly caffeinated products does cause the body to burn more calories, studies have shown that this isn’t an effective method for weight loss. Dr. Andrea Shakarian, a chiropractor, spiritual intuitive, and hypnotherapist, told us that “any weight loss that occurs from using this product is from appetite suppression and an increase in physical stamina during exercise as opposed to an increase in metabolism.”
When I reached out to my 17-year-old cousin who lives in Los Angeles to see what she might know about the drops, I was surprised to hear that one of her friends uses them. Apparently, she doesn’t even know what it’s supposed to be for, but they found out about the product through TikTok. “I just want to try it to be trying it,” she told me in a DM.
@breexannaGiving what TikTok made buy a try!! #BeatTheZombieFunk #gummygame #SnickersFixTheWorld #suchascientist #rae #skinnyszn #foryoupage #fyp♬ original sound – jqdq
In addition to being a teen frenzy, TikTok is also an unregulated zone, with speedy exposure, accessibility, and circulation. Last year, the company settled a $5.7 million lawsuit with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for violating the Children’s Privacy Law by illegally collecting information from children below the age of 13. After receiving the penalty, TikTok announced that it would be launching a separate section on the app for underage users that “introduces additional safety and privacy protections designed specifically for this audience.” This situation definitely raises flags for stricter guidelines to be enforced to prevent the spreading of harmful misinformation and promotion of unhealthy practices.
Maitreya Brooks, a freelancer living in Portland, Oregon, pointed out how the “For You” section on the platform has been an interesting space for fostering a community around wellness with skincare tutorials and product recommendation videos. Because most people have yet to understand how to navigate the terrain, and with an audience aged 13 to 25, there’s lots of room for error.
“I think there’s more risk on TikTok than there is on Instagram, just because the demographic is really young, susceptible, and they don’t see a ton of products on there yet,” she said. “It’s interesting to see how harmful it can be for a brand… When you’re all hands-off, and people are taking [your] brand in a way that’s not how you intended. It is not for the demographic that you intended [it for] at all. It’s super scary, honestly. It sucks.”
when spring break is a month away 🥵🤧 #skinnyszn
♬ My Heart Went Oops – Tiagz
Dr. Shakarian emphasized the importance of brands labeling products as being specifically formulated for women over a certain age as it poses health risks when misused and abused. Tebbe acknowledges that “metabolism isn’t a static state” so there are many reasons why adult women would become interested in finding better ways to support it from general health to hormonal changes.
The active ingredients listed in Rae’s metabolism drops are green tea, taurine, and ginseng. Based on what Dr. Shakarian read from the formula, she would not advise teenagers to be using it for metabolism boosting purposes. While green tea is known for its antioxidant properties, the caffeine that it contains actually “causes appetite suppressing and gives the sense of more energy and mental alertness.”
Taurine is an amino acid naturally found in meat, fish, and dairy products that aids in hydration, digestion, immune system function, muscle endurance (and fat burning during exercise), but does not increase metabolism rate. As for ginseng, it’s imperative to know the type because “Korean ginseng tends to be more stimulating than American Ginseng.” Either way, it won’t significantly alter the lipid panel though.
@uncorrelatedplease don’t put the whole dropper in your mouth that’s gross #skinnyszn #fyp #SnickersFixTheWorld #suchascientist #foryou #foryoupage #xyzbca♬ original sound – 6reoon
Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian who serves on the advisory board for Smart Healthy Living, finds the whole situation to be troubling for a handful of reasons. First and foremost, “there are many myths about boosting metabolism and there’s really no one food or vitamin or product that will yield a boost in your metabolic rate.” Apparently, the best way to maintain a good metabolic rate is by “getting a well-rounded diet and plenty of physical activity” because “a daily multivitamin does not replace a healthy diet.”
“Unfortunately most over the counter products like supplements are not tightly regulated by the FDA. So, this can call into question the potency, concentration and misinformative labeling. Also, there tends to be a lack of substantial evidence pertaining to a supplement’s blend of ingredients,” Miller explained in an email. “I see a huge problem with teens using these drops as this is yet another way for young teens to manipulate their weight due to body issues and via extreme measures, treading on the verge of eating disorders.”
To veer from further skepticism, Miller urges wellness companies like Rae to be more transparent about what doctors, dietitians or other professionals are involved in the process of producing their supplements to instill more credibility. It should be noted that while none of Rae’s products are FDA-approved, this does not translate to being unsafe to consume. The brand allegedly follows the FDA’s regulations for dietary supplements under the current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) from 2007 and tests their goods for “gluten, microbes, allergens, and other contaminants.”
Dr. Sashini Seeni, a general practitioner of medicine at DoctorOnCall, would advise that people looking to improve their metabolism include protein in every meal, drink more cold water, and do regular and high-intensity workouts. In theory, the drops are harmless, but the wider conversation around the reasoning behind taking them is certainly not.
“Moreover, the mindset of using this product to lose weight reflects a bigger issue faced by teenagers nowadays,” she said. “It’s almost like they are supporting the idea that one should be skinny to appear beautiful. What should be implemented is being healthy physically and mentally is what’s it take to be beautiful.”
it’s skinny szn #SnickersFixTheWorld #wintervacay #afterthefunction #CepacolSickBeats #xyzbca
♬ Skinny Legend Anthem – Ava Louise
Brooks has never sampled the drops in question, but typically adds 15 milligrams of the Beauty and Hydration drops in her matcha whenever she makes a cup. She recently posted them in a sponsored post on Instagram, but had been using them on her own dime for several months prior to establishing a paid partnership with the brand. Brooks doesn’t view it as a controversial choice because the main ingredients, biotin and hyaluronic acid, are commonly consumed by women. As someone who is “somewhat deficient in biotin” and disinterested in taking hair care gummies, Rae offered a simple solution.
“I’m very strict about what [products] I accept, especially if it goes inside my body,” she said. “I get offers from big brands and I don’t accept anything that feels inauthentic… I share what’s actually in my routine. I think a lot about what is and isn’t appropriate to recommend.”
Brooks doesn’t believe in curating product sheets or promoting diet, nutrition, or health tips on her social channels. While she doesn’t reveal every aspect of her lifestyle routine, she “recognizes the responsibility that people hold about sharing stuff” which is why she’s transparent about the fact that in addition to taking supplements in a variety of forms she regularly exercises and eats healthy. “Something might work really well for someone, but it also might not be because of that product,” she added. “There’s so many things that are involved.”
Of course, diet fads and trends are nothing new to women. Even though we’re living in a post-body positive era, there’s still societal pressure around the physical appearance of women, regardless of age. Brooks recalls how many of her peers in high school would try some variation of a “skinny tea” to alter their weight, but the difference is that back then, they “didn’t have apps to share about it,” because they followed a discreet word-of-mouth approach.
“There just wasn’t as much exposure for what you did and I don’t think that these random girls on TikTok are thinking about how much it has, especially when TikTok isn’t really follower-based,” said Brooks. “All these brands have this product. I think it’s more that [Rae’s] products are so reasonably priced, that’s the only issue here… These products exist in every market and every brand, it’s just that a good product that a lot of women would go to is at least $80 and people aren’t going to post something on TikTok that costs so much.”
In response to the recent activity on TikTok, Rae suspended all sales of the metabolism drops on the grounds of being “antithetical to our values,” as it was never the brand’s intent to perpetuate this toxic culture. (A full statement on the controversy from the brand can be found here.) By addressing the issue head-on and following these actionable steps, Rae has essentially avoided the crisis of becoming the next Juul by holding themselves accountable and course-correcting before the situation spirals out of control.
“We became concerned when we started to notice a conversation emerge on TikTok: teenage girls misusing the product alongside conversation about weight loss,” Tebbe said in a statement. “The well-being of all women and the promotion of positive body images are essential to the foundation of this brand… With this action, we hope to remind young girls that they are strong and beautiful just as they are, and encourage them to shine from the inside out.”
Alyssa Neilson, a New York-based social media and content strategist, was recently gifted some of the brand’s vitamins along with the Hydration and Beauty drops, which she has no complaints about. “I really like the brand and how they’ve treated me through sponsoring my post and sending me my gift,” she tells me in an email. “They seem to really want to get ‘out there,’ especially since the wellness category is so crowded on Instagram, but primarily for older women making more informed purchase decisions.”
While she would never condone teenagers using any of the products in order to diet, she does see the potential of a brand like Rae successfully tapping into the teenage market “more intentionally if they tried.”
“The packaging and price point on top of it being retailed in Target makes it more accessible than lots of other premium wellness tincture or vitamin brands advertised on social media,” she added. “I have a 13-year-old sister and I could see it being useful for her to have access to PMS-focused vitamins for skin and such that she could buy for less than $15 at her local Target.”
Since launching in 2019, Rae has been donating five percent of its revenue to Girls Inc., a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire and empower young girls to be “strong, smart, and bold through direct service and advocacy.” Tebbe asserts that as a brand, they “strongly believe in championing health, nutrition, wellness and confidence not only for women today, but also for the women of tomorrow.”