TikTok creators walk us through trends from foundation frothing to the red-nail theory.
Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: by The Cut; Photos: @helinndosk, @lovetrenna, @the.olivia.sage, @michellekhxn/TikTok
How many times have you asked yourself this year, “What the hell is happening on TikTok?” If doom-scrolling all of the beauty trends swirling around social media have made you even more skeptical, then same. Popular internet fads, like turning your vaginal fluid into fragrance and frothing foundation, quickly rose to virality this year. The truth is that TikTok has become a platform that determines trends, whether they’re good, bad, or simply bizarre.
To be clear, not all trends born from TikTok are terrible. In fact, some hacks are actually dermatologist-approved, like skin cycling, a TikTok of which has over 3.5 billion views on the platform and was created by New York City–based dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe. The issue with certain TikTok trends is when misinformation spreads like wildfire, like how to do at-home surgery procedures and using menstrual blood in ways that could potentially cause harm. And oftentimes, the root of the trend is coming from a popular creator who doesn’t have the credentials to be discussing these topics. Following every beauty trend you see on social media can result in extreme irritation, a damaged skin barrier, health complications, and more. Trying new things is cool, but doing proper research and relying on professional experts is equally as important – especially when it comes to caring for the skin, the body’s largest organ. Here, our year in review of TikTok beauty trends: some we love and some we could’ve gone the rest of our lives without.
Seeing a lot more red nails lately? Well, it isn’t by coincidence. TikTok resurfaced the “red-nail theory,” a philosophy that claims women with red nails attract more men. A 2008 study by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that the bold crimson color actually enhances men’s attraction to women. It doesn’t have to be about men, though. Red is simply a stunning color that will make you feel like a boss, whether you wear it on your nails or lips.
Skin cycling is a process that involves using active ingredients in your products on certain days followed by “rest days” where you incorporate no actives in your routine. The purpose of this technique is to help prevent the skin’s barrier from being exposed to too many active ingredients, which can lead to overexfoliation and irritation. This trend was created by Dr. Whitney Bowe, a board-certified dermatologist, not a TikToker with millions of followers — because the follower count does not always mean the advice is accurate.
Hailey Bieber really likes correlating food to beauty. In addition to her glazed-skin look, TikTokers quickly took a liking to her “glazed-donut nails,” which are essentially glossy, metallic chrome nails coined by her longtime manicurist Zola Ganzorigt. Down to try this trend yourself this holiday season? Use OPI’s chrome-effects top coat over the color of your choice.
Leave it to TikTok to take something that has been around for generations in the Black community and name it something new. Insert: slugging, which is using petroleum-based products, like Aquaphor and Vaseline, to lock in moisture. This shouldn’t be called a “trend,” because lathering the skin in Vaseline has been a practice passed down for generations in Black culture.
Cryo facials, a highly researched skin-care practice that incorporates cryotherapy at specific temperatures to tighten the skin, is not a foreign concept. But TikTok started the trend of dumping your face in ice-cold water as a multi-benefit treatment to try at home. TikTokers claimed it made their skin brighter, reduced puffiness, soothed irritation, and relieved anxiety. Trying this trend at home with no water-temperature regulation can be extremely harmful and cause irritation to the skin. Cryotherapy, although expensive, is the safest option. Or consider using cryo-freeze tools, which is a more cost-effective alternative.
Now for the weird trends: enter “vabbing.” The idea is to dab your vagina and use those vaginal fluids as perfume to attract potential partners. Thankfully, an OB/GYN weighed in and declared this practice unsafe, which you probably could have guessed. If you’re searching for a signature scent, instead try blending essential oils or layering fragrances that are already in your collection. Anything but vabbing, please.
TikTok took self-care to the extreme when users turned their period blood into a DIY face mask, claiming that there were skin benefits found in the micronutrients and stem cells in menstrual blood. Those who tried it said they felt more of a connection to themselves. Honestly, if you want a good face mask that is formulated with healthy stem cells that will actually benefit your skin, then splurge on Augustinus Bader. Other than that, period blood is a huge no-no.
One thing about TikTok is that creators often encourage wasteful beauty behaviors, like putting your foundation in water and blending it up to supposedly remove excess oils for a more hydrating and long-lasting finish. TikTokers warned that the process gets a bit messy because of the thin, liquified texture. But we can’t help but wonder this: Why not just buy a good water-based foundation?
Apparently, looking cold is cool now? The cold-girl makeup trend, which recently took over everyone’s timelines as the season changed, is an overly flushed look done by applying highly pigmented blush on the cheeks and nose, topped off with pink lipstick to mimic chapped lips and a smidge of highlighter on the cheekbones.
Makeup enthusiasts have been creating an illusion of larger eyes or more lifted eyes with products way before TikTok, but this year, two eye types rose to popularity: siren eyes and doe eyes. Siren eyes refer to a sexy, seductive eye shape, dramatically created with dark eye shadow followed by winged liner for a narrow, cat-eye-like appearance. Doe eyes are quite the opposite: large, innocent-looking eyes that have a bit more emphasis on curling eyelashes and ditching winged eyeliner so eyes appear bigger. But makeup products weren’t enough to achieve these eyes, and it prompted some to turn to eye-lift surgery to permanently achieve the eye shapes. It also triggered the Asian community to speak out on popularized slanted-eye trends becoming desirable when the look has historically been mocked by racists.
Everything became an aesthetic this year, which was problematic because a lot of the aesthetics that became trendy have been around for decades. For instance: “clean girl” makeup, which was meant to evoke a minimalist yet polished look with light makeup, blush, brushed eyebrows, and lip gloss. Then, the idea was to pair that makeup look with a slicked-back bun and hoop earrings to fit the mold of a “clean girl.” But it really was following the blueprint of a style Black women have been donning for decades. Like most TikTok aesthetics, being a “clean girl” is a look that’s co-opted from Black culture and has existed far longer than TikTok.