Just five minutes scrolling through images of celebrities on social media is enough to make young people unhappy with their looks, a study by London scientists has revealed.

Dental experts at King’s College London found exposure to Instagram pictures of stars and even everyday civilians with “ideal” smiles made participants unhappy with their own faces.

The study, published in the Journal Of Orthodontics, aimed to investigate the speed of effects of social media on young people’s self-esteem and satisfaction with their body, face and smile. It is part of research showing the “negative effect of social media on body image, particularly in young women”.


Students aged 18 to 35, the age of most Instagram users, spent five minutes viewing images of “idealised smiles” or nature on Instagram as part of the ­randomised controlled trial.

Sixty-one were shown natural landscape photos and 71 saw stars including Margot Robbie, Jake Gyllenhaal, Alicia Keys and the Duchess of Cambridge, as well as civilians, all picked by orthodontists for their “full, attractive smiles and well-aligned teeth” which were hashtagged #smile on Instagram.

Afterwards, participants completed surveys on their feelings about how they looked and how happy they felt. A “significant increase in facial and smile dissatisfaction” was found among those exposed to the “ideal” images of stars’ faces.

The study, supervised by Professor Tim Newton, showed it was the types of images viewed rather than time spent viewing that caused problems with negative body image, suggesting that “any use of social media can have an impact on body dissatisfaction”.

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Jake Gyllenhaal was one of the celebrities students looked at as part of the study (Getty Images)

But it also found unhappiness with looks reduced in the group viewing nature images, suggesting the natural world helped improve mood and ­contentment.

Lead author Ariane Sampson, a masters graduate at the faculty of dentistry, oral and craniofacial sciences, said: “This study adds to the growing evidence showing the detrimental effects of social networking sites on self-­image.” She added: “This information may help develop a better understanding of patients’ motivations to seek treatment.”

The study follows UCL psychology research that found looking at images of cosmetically enhanced celebrities on social media risks encouraging young women to have similar procedures.

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