Is this what would have been called “fetish” in the ’90s, but the modern world sees it for its wellness-friendly benefits? I wonder to myself as I research ASMR beauty content, from whispering beauty tutorials to hair brushing videos to clips of lipsticks being pulverized. Anyone who’s logged onto the World Wide Web in the past decade has, whether they know it or not, come across the phenomenon. Made famous by the sweeping “brain tingles” that ensue from your senses melding together, the mysterious reaction was given its formal name, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, in 2010 thanks to buzzing internet forums. Scientists are just now catching up to the hype, and new research is showing that those who experience ASMR are using it as a means of zoning in, chilling out, and calming down.
So why do some feel it, and some don’t? A psychological study on personality traits associated with ASMR noted that those who have the response scored significantly higher on openness-to-experience and neuroticism (and significantly lower on conscientiousness and extraversion) than their matched control groups. Since openness-to-experience can be tied to “an enhanced sensitivity to aesthetic matters,” ASMR’s surge in the beauty space makes sense. And when you consider that neuroticism can be associated with anxiety, depression, and self-consciousness, it’s no surprise that the same study found that participants suffering from depression and anxiety “reported using ASMR-triggering stimuli to temporarily attenuate symptoms.”
Even this early research was able to conclude that “the relaxation associated with this phenomenon would likely prove to be an effective remedy for stress and stress-related disorders.” No wonder, then, that ASMR is steadily gaining popularity as the high pressure, low morale moments of the late twenty-teens are creating more stress for Americans than ever reported, with millennials topping the charts. One of the most well-studied ASMR stress-busting triggers? Watching another person apply makeup or nail polish. More on that right now.
Keep scrolling for more intel on the beauty ASMR moment happening on Instagram and around the internet.
Explaining the ASMR effect
For a closer look at the IRL experience, I reached out to Arielle, a budding ASMR beauty buff who goes by the handle @asmrpeach_. The homeschool-turned-music-school grad and Newcastle native focuses on solo creative endeavors like singing and playing piano when she isn’t creating content. Like many who swear by the practice, Arielle suffered from “pretty severe anxiety” for years before stumbling upon ASMR, yet as she watched them, she found them to be soothing.
“I normally tell people that ASMR is any sounds or visuals that just make you feel good,” she explains “Like that tingly feeling you get when somebody plays with your hair or whispers something in your ear.” All of this is of course, with the idea of stress reduction in mind. “It’s different for everyone, but it’s basically whatever sounds and visuals make you feel super calm and relaxed.”
Capturing the right ASMR cues
Inspired to launch her own ASMR account, Arielle drifted toward beauty content for its versatility. “There’s a huge range of sounds you can achieve purely using different beauty products, and it makes for some of the most visually satisfying and intriguing videos you could possibly watch,” she enthuses. “Satisfying” is the key word here, as #strangelysatisfying is often the way that devotees describe the sensation created with the right stimuli. “The beauty world is really centered around things that are visually appealing, so crushing eye shadows or lipsticks or cutting up bars of soap can really cater to that,” Arielle explains. “Some of my most popular videos have been cutting tiny fruit shaped soaps, a bath sponge covered in shaving cream (already at over a quarter of a million views, which is pretty insane) and a little heart shaped bath bomb.”
Sound vibrations like whispers, tapping, and scratching are equally important triggers. “I pick things that I think have a cool texture and sound—right now, colorful sponges, bars of soap, and bath bombs are my favorite things to use,” she enthuses. For those who question the sustainability of destroying perfectly good products, Arielle notes that everything isn’t wasted in the cutting process—she turns the bits of sponge into “cute cushions” and melts down the soap pieces to create new formulas.
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Being part of the ASMR community
Even with its purported benefits, confusion around this developing form of entertainment still pervades the ASMR space. “I’ve definitely had people being pretty rude or saying they don’t get what I’m doing. I think it’s really important for them to understand how helpful it can be for those who suffer from anxiety or insomnia, and that it isn’t some weird fetish.”
Thankfully, an atmosphere of camaraderie offers an added bonus to these oft misunderstood stress-relieving rituals. “A lot of people feel like they’re weird for enjoying these specifically beauty-related ASMR videos,” Arielle admits. “I think once you discover this whole community of people who enjoy the exact same things, it creates a real sense of unity for a lot of people.” And with this new alliance in mind, @asmrpeach_ shares her personal favorites to follow for an insider’s guide to anxiety-soothing beauty content:
“The main one that springs to mind for me! She has a bunch of really cool videos where she cuts up all these glittery lipsticks and lip balms with hot knives. The visuals are mesmerising.”
“She always uses really cute and colorful soaps and sponges in her videos. It makes them super enjoyable to watch and the sounds are always so relaxing.”
“They uploaded some really cool videos recently where they reused all the tiny soap pieces, from cutting videos, by making new bars of soap with the little pieces inside.”
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