how not to f*ck up your face

Why Popular TikTok Beauty Trends Don’t Speak to Me

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Getty Images

It’s hard to look at TikTok trends and not feel … well, out of touch.

In more ways than one. For example, several of the trends involved solutions no longer relevant or physically possible for me. Starting with the witchy-named moon masking (or menstrual masking), the application of menstrual blood as a facial mask. Though I saved various mementos of my son’s physical development — a few of his baby teeth, a lock of his hair — it never occurred to me, even when I knew it would soon be unavailable as a commodity, to save my menstrual blood. Plus, it’s been so long since I produced any, how would I know, if I had saved it, whether it still possessed the essential qualities that are supposedly beneficial to the complexion? As for benefiting the complexion, smearing your face with dead tissue — the same material that was previously lining the uterus ’til the egg it might’ve hosted found itself unfertilized during the monthly cycle — happens to be a favorite food for bacteria, says facial plastic surgeon and ENT Michelle Yagoda, M.D. You might as well swipe yourself with decomposing rubbish, she says. Bottom line: A menstrual-blood face mask carries the risk of infection without any benefit to skin quality, says dermatologist Heidi Waldorf, M.D. She wonders if we are confusing moon masking with another spooky trend, the vampire facial — which, after an in-office microneedling treatment, involves an application of platelet-rich plasma or platelet-rich fibrin matrix separated from your own blood?
Please unconfuse yourself and insert a tampon.
(Rating: Unacceptable.)

Raise your hand if you’re up for an armpit mask! Not me, as I no longer seem to perspire. I understand this trend might be attractive if you’re still sweating the small stuff; the odor of sweat can communicate stress and fear — which you’d want to avoid on a first date. But you might want to ask yourself what exactly you’re trying to accomplish with an armpit mask, says Waldorf. Lining your pits with clay or some other kind of mask won’t reduce the need for antiperspirant or deodorant. And if you’ve noticed a significant or odd odor when you sweat, pick up the phone, not clay, and make an appointment with a dermatologist who can rule out specific bacterial colonization. Otherwise, daily use of a gentle cleanser is sufficient to remove normal underarm sweat and odor, says Waldorf. Also, calm down! There’s nothing pouring out of your underarms to “detoxify,” nor are there pores to “unclog.”
(Rating: Needs Improvement.)

Are you the queasy type? Or my son? Please stop reading now. If, however, you’re a big fan of the portmanteau, here’s one worthy of its own biopic.
Vabbing — dabbing your pulse points with vaginal secretions to attract a sexual playmate — is the trend that may have received the most ridicule in spite of the fact that some (albeit controversial) research has shown that men can have a heightened response to women’s vulval odors around the time they’re ovulating. But this trend assumes you have, if not an abundance, then at least a modicum of secretions. When I recently checked, I was delighted to detect a pulse — but due to my postmenopausal condition, I find myself permanently low on vabbing matter.

Frankly, even if I were still blessed with that particular fountain of youth, I’d avoid splashing it around. The very idea elicited a pitiable entreaty from dermatologist Laurel Geraghty, M.D., who says, “Please, for the love of God, save your natural secretions for what they were designed for — lubrication, not some troubling and misguided attempt to attract a partner. Lucky for you, your body is already busy producing pheromones from all your secretions, including sweat, and releasing them into the air around you.” These pheromones are believed to be sensed (and more specifically, smelled, though often unconsciously) by people near us, and are thought to play a role in sexual attraction, she adds. Not unlike menstrual-blood face-masking, says Waldorf, vabbing increases the risk of skin contamination with organisms and cellular debris living for the most part uncomplicatedly in their cuntry [sic] of origin.
(Rating: Outstandingly Unacceptable.)

Many of these trends I rate, simply, Head-scratchers.

Radiator curls: What is that, a hostage situation?

Octopus haircuts: I sported one of these when I was 3, courtesy of my 5-year-old brother. Unflattering, even then.

Removing your own moles: If you’re the kind of person who feels confident performing surgery on your dog, then sure. In other words, are you f–king kidding me? Put down the steak knife and see a board-certified plastic surgeon.

Eye-bag makeup: This one actually appealed to me as I’m very fond of my noticeable eye bags. But it sounds like something necessary only after Slugging.

Lube as primer: Is this how your partner keeps their skin so good? Probably not, and here’s why, according to Waldorf: Though a vaginal lubricant could work as a primer because it contains glycerin (a humectant) and dimethicone or cyclomethicone (silicones that act as emollients to give the skin slip), there are likely other ingredients helpful in a vaginal lubricant that are unnecessary (or unhelpful) in a facial primer and vice versa. For example, a lubricant won’t contain mattifying ingredients that reduce oil and help makeup last longer. And lubricants don’t go through the same testing as facial products, including whether they’re comedogenic (acne-causing) or safe used near the eyes.

There are other reasons — beyond my innate skepticism of anything I see on social media — why these trends don’t speak to me. Humans are novelty-seekers in general, says evolutionary biologist Bernhard Fink, and the young are fairly uncritical of social-media content they might consider trying out of curiosity. Less risk-averse than older people, they’re more susceptible to left-field suggestions (and thoughts). And this — obviously — can lead to very unusual activities based on random information.

Finally, the DIY aspect — menstrual blood, secretions, pioneer beauty hacks — reminded me of an earlier time: the ’70s, to be exact, when the first edition of Our Bodies, Our Selves landed in our laps, along with a hand mirror and a speculum. But — and I don’t mean to throw shade on the creative youth generating unusual ideas today — the overriding trends of my generation seem far more responsible and evolved. Though OBOS suggested what might have seemed shocking options for discovering one’s own reproductive organs (that hand mirror and speculum), there was also a robust critique of the cosmetics and plastic-surgery industries and beauty culture as a whole. “While there are many things that divide us as women,” the authors wrote, “the perception that our bodies are never good enough is something almost all of us share.” That’s a trend, sadly, both younger and older generations seem vulnerable to, still.

Valerie Monroe was beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the monthly “Ask Val” column for nearly 16 years. Now she writes the weekly newsletter How Not to F*ck Up Your Face. Her goal continues to be to shift our thinking in the beauty arena from self-criticism to self-compassion and to learn how to be loving witnesses to ourselves and one another as we age.

More From This Series

See All
Why Popular TikTok Beauty Trends Don’t Speak to Me