(NEXSTAR) – Bioré, a skincare brand known for its blackhead-removing “strips,” is facing backlash over a sponsored TikTok post that encouraged customers to “strip away the stigma of anxiety” — including the anxiety faced by survivors of school shootings.
The post, shared by TikTok influencer Cecilee Max-Brown last week, began with Max-Brown referencing her own experience as a survivor of a Michigan State University school shooting in February.
“Life has thrown countless obstacles at me this year, from a school shooting to having no idea what life is going to look like after college,” Max-Brown said in the post, in a voice-over that played over clips of her exercise routine.
“In support of Mental Health Awareness Month, I’m partnering with Bioré Skincare to strip away the stigma of anxiety,” she continued, while the video transitioned to clips of Max-Brown placing a Bioré Pore Strip over the bridge of her nose. “We want you to get it all out. Not only what’s in your pores, but most importantly what’s on your mind too.”
In the remainder of the video, Max-Brown went on to describe the terror and anxiety she experienced in the weeks after the shooting.
“My message to you guys is that it’s OK not to have it all together. Life continually changes and your thoughts will too. Do things that make you happy and know that everything will work itself out,” she said at one point.
Max-Brown has since deleted the post, and her TikTok account is now private. But the video had already been re-uploaded and shared widely across social media, with critics taking Bioré to task for what they believed was an insensitive attempt to market its beauty products.
“Bioré is using a school shooting to sell skincare products,” said Neil Shyminsky, an English professor at Ontario’s Sudbury College, in a viral TikTok response to what he called a “truly bleak” ad.
“Yes, this is real,” he reiterated after showing a clip from the original post. “This is not some satirical product placement.”
Mia Tretta, who was injured by gunfire during the 2019 Saugus High School shooting in Santa Clarita, California, responded on Twitter with a sarcastic post skewering the ad.
“I don’t know why my therapist or docs didn’t tell that Biore pore strips could have helped heal the bullet wound on my stomach, or my anxiety after being shot, or my fear of loud noises, or stop my nightmares, or help me feel ok at school. Firing them and buying in bulk!” she wrote.
Bioré, in response to the backlash, issued an apology on social media, claiming the company has previously worked with social-media influencers to support mental health initiatives, but “did it the wrong way” this time.
“We lacked sensitivity around an incredibly serious tragedy, and our tonality was completely inappropriate. We are so sorry,” the company wrote in a statement posted to social media.
“We believe that our platform allows us to connect with those willing to share their mental health challenges. It’s part of the expert-backed concept that sharing mental health journeys helps not just the sharer to feel heard, but others to feel seen. We are committed to continuing our mental health mission, but we promise to do it in a better way,” Bioré wrote.
“This is our mistake, and we own it. We let our community down and we let our creators down by not providing better guidance.”
The company also acknowledged the “anger” felt by some viewers, but asked “that you direct any anger our way, not towards the creators themselves.”
Max-Brown, too, has apologized, writing in a statement that her partnership with Biore was “not intending to come off as the product fixing the struggles I’ve had” since the shooting.
“I did not mean to desensitize the traumatic event that took place as I know the effects that it has had on me and the Spartan community. I take accountability for this and will ensure to be smarter in the future.”
The shooting at Michigan State, on Feb. 13, 2023, left three students dead and five others injured. The gunman died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
The following day, the university issued a statement urging students to seek counseling, if needed.
“It’s important to remember that the grief some individuals may be experiencing is normal and there are a number of ways in which individuals can seek support, including talking with friends, family and colleagues to process this,” the school wrote, before listing the contact information of several counseling and mental health resources.
“We will stand together as a community and support one another during this difficult time.”