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Photography Donna Trope

Inside the oddly satisfying world of ASMR beauty

If you’re into watching videos of lipsticks being sliced up, this one’s for you

From YouTube clips of people scratching their dandruff to those pimple popping videos that exist in the dark recesses of the web, we all have those things that make us tick. Beauty Fetish is a regular column where we uncover the weirdest beauty trends the internet has to offer and meet the people behind them.

Four different shades of lipsticks are neatly laying on a table, all in a row. Suddenly, a big silver butcher knife comes down and starts slicing the tips off and continues cutting towards the metal tubes until there’s nothing left. The knife is heated, creating an artful blur of waxy colours and, the occasional sizzle sound too.

Another video shows a perfectly manicured chrome metallic finger holding onto a make-up palette as a knife digs deep into the metallic coloured eyeshadow pans. The knife keeps digging until the palette becomes completely devoid of anything but a loose powdery mess, with accompanied scratching noises.

These videos are part of a sort of underground community—a group of influencers who are steadily getting more and more popular. The aforementioned lipstick video, for example, has nearly 75,000 views on Instagram at the time of publishing this article. The palette video has nearly 60,000. They're both hashtagged with words like “#SleepAid #AnxietyHelp #StressRelief #SoothingSounds”.

If you’re not already familiar with the ASMR community, you might find these kinds of videos strange. ASMR content creators are still relatively new to most people, and because of that, the comments on Instagram, YouTube and other platforms are often strongly divided from the people who understand it and support it versus the people who just don’t.

ASMR stands for “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response”, a term invented by Jennifer Allen, a member of the community, in 2010 according to Smithsonian. It’s generally categorised as a physical tingly feeling or hyper-relaxed state that moves through the scalp, neck and upper spine, triggered by certain noises and visuals. Many people watch the videos as a form of stress relief or even to help them sleep.

“There is an interesting paradox concerning ASMR,” explains Victor Shamas, University of Arizona psychologist, consciousness researcher and author of four books, including Repose: The Potent Pause. “Although it is often described as ‘brain orgasm,’ those who experience ASMR do not consider it to be sexual. Research into the physiology of ASMR shows that it slows down heart rate and produces calm relaxing feelings, as well as the release of oxytocin, known as the ‘cuddle hormone.’ It more closely resembles the tingling of orgasm and the afterglow that follows. Imagine what would happen if you were to skip over all the steps of sexual stimulation and arousal and go straight to the tingling afterglow. That is what I think is happening in ASMR.”

The first aforementioned videos are from Sugar_Boogerz, an ASMR creator with over 228k followers on Instagram. Beauty videos are not the only kind of content she creates, but she definitely has a heavy focus on it and her chrome nails are almost always a signature feature in her videos. Holding up the Subculture palette from Anastasia Beverly Hills in one video, she whispers, “Ok, so, here are the colours. I have this brush, it’s perfect for smoky because it’s very loose,” before flicking it to release powder towards the camera. “I’m going to start out with this colour here,” she continues, before going into a full make-up tutorial, ASMR style.

With over 100k views on that video alone, the comments still remain divided. “I have severe anxiety and your videos have helped me so much. After 30 years I finally found ASMR and am thankful for people like you who do videos like this,” says xomrsmurphyco. Another commenter, dannijaydemiller, posts “What the flip r u doing!!! Stop whispering jeez!”

ChynaUniqueAsmr is another one of the most popular ASMR influencers, with over 260k followers on Instagram, who mainly focuses on beauty, based out of Texas in the United States. One of her signature styles of videos is an ASMR-style application of lipgloss. She’ll tap the tube with her long nails and apply it into the microphone, smacking her lips to reveal the texture. She started doing ASMR a little over a year ago. She’ll also do ASMR haul videos about what kinds of make-up and skincare she bought, whispering, tapping and making hand motions throughout the whole video. In terms of incorporating beauty into her ASMR videos, she takes it to the next level doing everything from slowly brushing her own hair into the microphone to peeling off face masks.

“My first ASMR experience happened when I was watching this hair brushing video,” she said during in a Q&A. “The girl was gently, gently brushing her own hair. It was in Spanish. I don’t know how I came across it but I did, and it put me to sleep. Ever since then, I’ve been watching ASMR.” However, in terms of whether she feels the same sensation when creating her own videos, she responds: “I don’t get ASMR when I watch my own videos. I find my own voice very cringy.”

ASMR Glow, likewise, is another ASMR account with a very strong connection to beauty and make-up. The channel on YouTube contains everything from ASMR spa and skin treatments done on camera to salon style head massages and shampoos. On Instagram, she mainly highlights photos of her own make-up and, not surprisingly, she works in a salon. She has nearly 700k subscribers on YouTube.

Make-up, and beauty, in general, seems to easily lend itself to ASMR. There’s intrinsically a lot of colour and texture, especially within eyeshadows, lipsticks, powder brushes and hair brushes. These things are all objects that very naturally can be used to make videos that entrance and relax viewers, whether intentionally playing on ASMR or not. One example of that is Emily Dougherty, the editor in chief of New Beauty magazine, based in New York City. She’s gained a little over 100k followers on Instagram for her videos in which she cuts up lipsticks and mushes them together into a satisfyingly new colour. She also pours different nail polishes together to create stunning pools of colour that transform into something new. She bottles each of her creations to eliminate waste and though she doesn’t label herself as an ASMR content creator, her videos have attracted a few from that crowd simply because of how easily the rich colours and chopping and tapping sounds lend themselves to the sensory experience.

ASMR Darling, an ASMR YouTuber with over 2.2 million subscribers is also pushing the boundaries of what can be done when it comes to beauty and ASMR. She frequently posts make-up tutorials in which she whispers the entire time and applies make-up to the camera (or viewer) in an attempt to create a tingly, relaxing feeling.

What these videos all have in common, however, is that they show that ASMR within beauty and make-up application is at the forefront of what’s new about beauty content creators. It’s everything that’s different, and at the moment, ASMR beauty YouTubers and Instagram accounts are one of the most niche collections of content creators. Practicing ASMR as it relates to beauty – the sound of brushing one's hair, putting on lipstick, even tapping one's nails on different palettes – is becoming a powerful, boundary-breaking movement; it’s breaking the mould when it comes to being a beauty blogger or influencer and the best part is, it’s helping people all over the world at the same time too.