Young TikTok users have become obsessed with a “metabolism-boosting” tincture from a nascent wellness brand called Rae, claiming to have dropped weight rapidly (three pounds in five days, five pounds in a week) and curbed overeating thanks to the metabolism drops.
Viral diet products play very well on social media, even when the results they produce are nonexistent or even extremely negative; past examples include waist trainers and diarrhea-inducing tummy tea. While many posts about these products are paid marketing, the rules and regulations about health claims are poorly enforced online, which allowed them to race ahead of any realistic expectations or long-term impacts.
Internet culture reporter Rebecca Jennings first tweeted about the growing TikTok ubiquity of Rae metabolism drops on Thursday. “Last night my timeline was full of teen girls buying these ‘metabolism drops’ to lose weight, and while I know very little about science I am pretty sure they are a bad idea,” Jennings wrote. And indeed, a quick search turns up hundreds of videos of teen girls buying, trying, and reviewing the metabolism drops—opining earnestly on the TikTok “trend” they “had” to try in order to become a “skinny queen.” The surfaced posts contained no sponsorship disclosures.
Update 2/24, 12:15 pm: "Rae Wellness was surprised to see the TikTok community organically embrace its Metabolism Drops, especially because the brand does not advertise on TikTok or to women under the age of 18," a PR representative for Rae told VICE via email. "The brand's Metabolism products are formulated to bring balance to one’s metabolism and intended for adult women 18+."
So, what’s inside the tincture that’s making the rounds online? According to its FDA-mandated supplement facts label, the active ingredients are raspberry ketones, taurine, and caffeine, anchored by vegetable glycerin, water, and citric acid. It’s a short list of ingredients, with effects that are likely just as limited.
Caffeine has only been shown to be temporarily effective when it comes to metabolism boosting. But while it can increase one’s resting metabolic rate (depending on other factors like weight and age), the fact that the body builds up a tolerance to it over prolonged, consistent use means that metabolic boost doesn’t translate into significant weight loss. Neither taurine nor raspberry ketones have been proven to have any impact on weight loss, the stated goal of the TikTok teens ingesting it.
This is both good news and bad news. The good news is that, for most users, the metabolism drops will probably do nothing. According to the disclaimer on Rae's website tagged in many of its product descriptions: "These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.” The bad news is that teens are spending money on and providing free guerilla advertising for them.
Taurine and raspberry ketones are both relatively common ingredients: Bottles of raspberry ketone-based supplements are available on Amazon for around the same price as Rae metabolism drops, and taurine is actually found in energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster and Rockstar. But while they’re technically non-toxic, diet products and appetite suppressants still come with a whole slew of negative side effects: digestive issues like gas and bloating, diarrhea, jitters, lightheadedness, and sleep disruption.
What Rae’s metabolism drops do have are all the trappings of an indie skincare brand. The product is housed in aesthetically pleasing packaging (perfect for a flat lay, or an excuse to flaunt acrylics); it’s vegan, gluten-free, and non-GMO (probably thanks to the teeny ingredient list). The product description for the metabolism drops includes phrases like “food is fuel” that obfuscate its actual, intended purpose, which is to minimize food’s physical impact; even though it’s pretty clearly a diet drug, it never even mentions weight loss. And Rae itself, which was launched in 2019 by former Target execs Angela Tebbe and Eric Carl, has already tried to rack up cool-girl cred, running sponcon on The Everygirl and hosting an event at The Wing.
Rae’s metabolism drops retail for $14.99 on its website, though the product is currently on backorder and won’t be available until late May. The drops—along with other Rae products, which include collagen supplements, probiotics, “In the Mood” capsules, and hyaluronic acid-based “hydration drops”—remain in stock at select Target locations for the same price.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 2.7% of teenagers are diagnosed with an eating disorder between the ages of 13 and 18, and teen girls are twice as likely to be diagnosed as their male counterparts. It was only a matter of time before the sketchy supplement industry, which faces plunging sales at brick-and-mortar stores like GNC, would get better branding to keep up with the Care/Ofs and Goops of the world. And it also makes sense that something that costs $14.99 at Target (easy to buy without arousing parental alarm!) and looks very pretty would appeal to teens, who have long been consumers of diet pills.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Katie Way on Twitter.