Last month, beloved beauty guru Jaclyn Hill went viral, as usual, for a tweet about her beauty routine. This time, the context wasn’t a new YouTube tutorial or her latest beauty brand collab. It was about mental health. “I swear doing my makeup helps my anxiety so much!!” Hill wrote. “If I start getting anxious for no reason & just sit down & start doing makeup, my anxiety settles down within 10 minutes. Every time! Thankful for makeup!” 6,800 people retweeted the thought, and almost 400 responded directly.
I swear doing my makeup helps my anxiety so much!! If I start getting anxious for no reason & just sit down & start doing makeup, my anxiety settles down within 10 minutes. Every time! Thankful for makeup!??
— Jaclyn Hill (@Jaclynhill) March 10, 2018
Makeup can sometimes get a bad rap. One study found a positive correlation between makeup and self-consciousness. Others show that makeup, and the perception of an improved physical appearance, can actually increase confidence. Aside from all the conflicting information, there are also patriarchal standards and outdated expectations of beauty to consider. With anti-Trump lipsticks for sale and a joke about the White House Press Secretary’s smokey eye making headlines, wearing makeup in 2018 can feel like a political act. But amidst all the criticism, it’s important to remember the agency behind the eyeshadow. Women, especially the beauty hobbyists who follow Hill’s every launch and stan Kylie Jenner Lip Kits, are choosing to get glam—and some are doing it for their mental health.
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“Beauty definitely serves as a mental health tool in more ways than one,” says 22-year-old Erica Anderson, a teacher in Dallas, TX. “I have a morning and night skincare routine. It gives me a positive start to every morning and gives me a way to collect and calm myself at the end of every day, which are the two most difficult times of day for my mental health. When I’m having a rough time, sitting down and doing my makeup helps me more than almost anything.”
Mental health professionals find that routine can be a critical component in reducing anxiety, whether it’s a soothing face mask after a tough day or a nightly meditation practice. “Daily routines like moisturizing or brushing your hair— however simple they may seem—can be calming because they focus your attention elsewhere and allow you to take a few moments to breathe and clear your mind,” says Cosette Taillac, LCSW and Strategic Leader for Kaiser Permanente National Mental Health & Wellness.
Mindfulness—the ancient-turned-buzzy technique of focusing on each moment—can be present in a thoughtful beauty routine. “When we are anxious, we are in our heads focusing on things from the past or the future. Mindfulness practices help reduce anxiety by getting us out of our heads and into our bodies, grounding us in the here and now,” explains Taillac. A beauty or skincare routine can help an anxiety sufferer ground into the body and pay attention to the sensations of each moment. “A skincare routine can focus our attention on our body and our senses: especially what we see in the mirror, what we feel as we apply lotions etc. and what we smell as we use various skincare products,” says Taillac. “The key is to be present to these sensual experiences and not allow your mind to continue with worried thoughts during your routine.”
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It’s this focus, and likely not the face mask or 30-step eye look itself, that helps to reduce anxiety. A new study has proven that even one 1-hour meditation session can reduce anxiety. A beauty beat that takes an hour isn’t the same as sitting down with HeadSpace or a meditation teacher, but for beauty lovers, that intense focus can serve a similar role.
Even simply watching a beauty tutorial can work as a shortcut to relaxation. ASMR, short for autonomous sensory meridian response, is a sensory phenomenon that’s turned into a social media sensation. Thanks to specific triggers — like the sound of tapping fingernails or folding paper — some people experience a pleasurable, physical response that’s been termed a “brain-gasm.” Early studies have shown that “tingleheads,” as they’re called, may also experience synaesthesia, the phenomenon in which stimulation of one sense results in an experience in another (for example, music might have a taste or a color.) The enjoyable sensation of “the tingles” is what leads millions of people to follow YouTube channels with names like ASMR Doll and Gentle Whispering. Beauty has its own category of ASMR videos like this “sleep-inducing haircut,” which has received over 2.6 million views in less than a month. Beauty lovers can also zone out to this “ASMR Ulta Store Beauty Associate Roleplay,” in which a YouTuber spends 30 minutes whispering phrases familiar to anyone who’s ever shopped in the beauty superstore: “I have a couple foundations for you that we could try, and they don’t leave your skin looking cakey or dry or flakey?” One study has even proven that ASMR can even lead to temporary relief from depression and stress. For beauty lovers who also experience ASMR, the videos could be a genuine coping mechanism.
Jaclyn Hill’s fans have shared that beauty routines help them cope with everything from anxiety to depression to disordered eating, and even watching Hill’s videos can help soothe. “ If its already to the point of headaches and slight shaking, I watch one of your videos (the talking calms me down from feeling alone) and then I might try something I struggle at, such as winged eyeliner, cause I always laugh at how bad it is lol,” a follower named Bri wrote to Hill on Twitter.
Same!! If its already to the point of headaches and slight shaking, I watch one of your videos (the talking calms me down from feeling alone) and then I might try something I struggle at, such as winged eyeliner, cause I always laugh at how bad it is lol
— Bri (@BSmakeupBS) March 14, 2018
Yet, in another example of how the beauty industry isn’t taken as seriously as it should be, there is a dearth of researching into the role beauty routines play in mental health. A 2008 study found psychological improvement in women with breast cancer who been through a cosmetics education program to help them deal with the visible side-effects of cancer treatment. Women in the program had higher body-image scores and fewer feelings of helplessness or hopelessness than the control group. Of course, there’s a difference between women with breast cancer and women living with everyday anxiety. Still, the way skin looks does offer clues as to a person’s lifestyle. “A healthy person literally does glow from the inside out, says San Antonio plastic surgeon Regina Fearmonti, MD. “Your skin is your largest organ and speaks to your overall hydration status, exposure to harmful UV rays, and nutrition status.”
Until the effect of a beauty and makeup routine is fully studied, the anecdotal information stands for itself. “[Makeup] gets my mind off of anything else going on and gives me something to do with my hands so it calms me both mentally and physically. It also helps me feel better about myself!” says Anderson. “And when I put on makeup, even if it’s just eyebrows and mascara, I automatically feel more confident and put together and able to take on the world!”