The Dangers of Influencer Wellness Fads

Simon Cowell’s oxygen injections and Mariah Carey’s “purple diet” were not the last bizarre wellness fad to spread from pop-culture to the public. Today’s social media platforms make it easier than ever for celebrities to advertise strange wellness practices and shortcuts to a healthier life. Influencers frequently promote strange health fads and quick-fixes, many of which catch on in urban areas. One of the latest Hollywood fads, known as drip bars or IV lounges, calls into question the ethics of elective medical treatments that are not under the supervision of a licensed practitioner. 

This trend of voluntary IVs first took off in Las Vegas in 2012 as a treatment for hangovers. Since then, the trend has evolved and is now used for everything from treating the flu to attaining clearer skin. Essentially, these medical spa treatments claim to deliver a number of vitamins and electrolytes in saline through intravenous catheters. 

A visit to a drip bar can cost up to $1000, depending on the treatment given. While these services have grown in popularity, including in Austin, their effectiveness hasn’t been proven. After some backlash, drip bars such as NutriDrip have more explicitly displayed on their sites that their claims are not FDA approved, and they note that their product is not “intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”

In addition, many customers of IV lounges aren’t aware of the lack of regulation in the facilities they’re visiting. In contrast with healthcare offices that are maintained in accordance with standards set by the government and local medical boards, IV lounges have little oversight. In Texas, the services at drip bars are considered “nonsurgical medical cosmetic procedures,” which require a medical provider to own the lounge. Texas and California are among the most restrictive states when it comes to IV lounge rules, but most take a relaxed approach to regulating the drip bars. Customers of these lounges may not know the exact composition of treatments or their effects, which may lead to severe reactions, as some speculate occurred with multiple customers including Kendall Jenner and a man in Missouri. 

Along with the fear of insufficient regulations, some worry that IV lounges pose a greater risk to patient health due to misinformed treatments. Like many supplement companies, so long as they are not claiming to cure a specific disease, IV therapy providers are not required to prove the safety or effectiveness of their treatment in order to offer it and advertise it as effective. Healthcare professionals warn about the dangers of a quick fix to a hangover, which might incentivize further drinking and unhealthy habits. In fact, most drinkers are not dehydrated from drinking, but rather they are overwhelmed by toxins that affect their kidneys. Drinking more water or increasing fluid intake through an IV might alleviate some of the symptoms of a hangover, but it does not increase the rate at which your body expels the toxins, and thus it could lead to repeatedly overdrinking

Furthermore, those who have used these treatments and claim to have been revitalized likely have experienced a placebo effect and an ineffective use of several hundred dollars. Since there is no hard evidence to support the effectiveness of IV therapy for most individuals, it seems best for them to drink a bottle of water or take a multivitamin, and avoid the risk that comes with needle injections that flow directly into the bloodstream with little of the body’s natural defensive barrier able to act.

This celebrity-driven fad calls into question a growing ethical issue in medicine: the erosion of the provider’s role in patient treatment. Influencers are misleading the public into buying wellness products that are not only not proven to be effective, but also might have adverse effects. Consequently, some patients are turning to non-medical sources for medical treatments. While voluntary IV treatments are not covered by insurance and generally are not recommended by physicians, they are still medical treatments. It’s important for patients to feel comfortable and trust their provider to give the best treatment recommendations. However, these IV bars are evidence of patients looking for healthcare outside of the recommendations of their provider, which can be dangerous. 

The same policy goes for products besides IV therapy. On social media, celebrities and influencers will market products like appetite-suppressant lollipops, Flat Tummy Tea, and Bootea. Users should beware of the actual ingredients in some of these products, which often include laxatives that can cause long-term dependency. While the Kardashians might be great entertainment on reality TV, they aren’t qualified to give these medical and health recommendations. Whether the product is for hangovers or weight loss, these quick fixes are appealing to our culture’s demand for instant gratification for our health, when in reality, exercise and a healthy diet can go a long way without the risks and waste of money.

While the role of medical providers has changed over time, the responsibility of the provider requires medical knowledge, careful analysis of the patient, and attention to the details of the patient’s conditions. The scope of authority of the celebrity should stay in entertainment and not prescribing special anecdotal teas with ingredients of which the average person knows little. Drip bars and celebrity advertisers don’t have the same investment in patient care as physicians since their main motivation is profit. When it comes to drip bars, patients are trusting these profit-motivated companies to inject treatments into their bodies without any real evidence of success nor the recommendation of their providers. Even in Texas where more regulations exist, it’s best to talk to a healthcare provider before hooking up to an IV at a local drip bar or turning to celebrities for medical advice. 

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