Watching YouTube Beauty Videos Is a Cool Way to Buy A Ton of Makeup You Don’t Need

YouTube makeup videos are one part Consumer Reports, one part social media, and one part performance art. Women as young as junior high post videos of themselves doing makeup “tutorials” giving step-by-step instructions on how to achieve a look, “hauling” items they bought on recent visits to the mall (a consumer capitalist show & tell), and reviewing beauty products.

I started watching the videos five years ago as a cure for insomnia. I soon had favorites whose videos I watched every week like I did TV shows. I grew to care about Xsparkage’s recommendations, even if I would never buy a $200 hair straighter or wear a Silk Spectre makeup look. I know SayAnythingBr00ke’s favorite lower lid liner (Stila Smudge Stick in Stingray, natch) and her favorite character in The Hunger Games, a book I’ve never read. I worry about Shaaanxo, a New Zealander my same age recovering from the discount boob job she got in Thailand.

I found the videos fascinating enough to devote some serious time to them—I’m now doing academic research about teen girls’ participation in the YouTube beauty community. I expected the project to dominate my time, but I didn’t predict how it would influence my spending. Financially, the situation is getting ugly.

At times, YouTube has provided honest reviews for products I responsibly weighed buying. It has also turned me on to indie makeup brands before they hit Sephora. Most of the time, though, I end up filling my drawers with junk I wouldn’t have bought were it not for a video: Lip colors I know will wash me out; mascaras from brands I don’t like; hair products not designed for my pixie cut.

By responsibly doing my work—right now, watching videos is my job—I wind up with “Oh crap, what did I buy?” regret after every trip to Rite Aid. When I buy high-end products at Sephora, the guilt multiplies.

After watching and dissecting hundreds of them, I figured, the videos would be powerless over me. Turns out I’m still a sucker. Product recommendations weasel into the dark corners of my brain. I am subliminally controlled by teenagers in Arkansas and Ontario.

A few purchases from the past two weeks:
Maybelline Color Whisper in “Oh La Lilac,” $8.43 These lipsticks are popular on YouTube right now, even though no one seems to like them very much. I think people just enjoy saying the name—”color whisper.” I bought the lilac one based off a review by a Canadian guru. I don’t like her taste in makeup, clothes, or hair, yet when I saw this product at Rite Aid I thought to myself, “Hmm, I remember someone telling me to buy this.” Way to go, lizard brain. The lipstick is not great—barely noticeable and short-lived on lips. Good for wearing to work, or at least I imagine it would be as someone who works from bed.

Coastal Scents Eclipse Concealer Palette, $14.95 Coastal Scents hopped on the “giving guru products for review” train early—like, five years ago—and at this point almost everyone owns it. It’s a given. I almost never get acne, but when I broke out late last month I caved and ordered the palette on Amazon. My face was back to normal by the time it arrived. I have not used it and probably never will.

Mario Badescu Drying Lotion, $17.00 From the same bout with acne. It fixed my face, which is good, but made the $15 concealer obsolete.

Revlon PhotoReady Concealer, $9.99 I bought this based on another recommendation by the Canadian when the Coastal Scents concealer was still in the mail. Save me from myself.

Bath & Body works Lilac Blossom candles, $77 This candle was in a California teen’s “February Favorites” video. At the end of each month, gurus create videos identifying their favorite beauty products from the past thirty days. These videos now stretch to include candles, songs, vacations, and other non-beauty recommendations. Instead of ordering this candle online, I decided the Very Best Idea would be to take the Metro North train from the city to a mall in Westchester. The train only costs $3 each way and it sounded like a nice day trip. At the mall, I learned that the more candles you bought, the better the deal. I ended up spending $77 on candles. Welcome to my shame spiral.

The total from the last two weeks: $127.37. Much more than I can afford, especially for products I hardly use. Items I wouldn’t have bought—or trekked to the suburbs to buy—were I not watching videos. Did Naomi Wolf get hooked on anti-aging goop when she wrote The Beauty Myth? Did Ralph Nader ever mindlessly buy a seatbelt?

Marisa Carroll lives in New York.

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23 Comments / Post A Comment

Emma Peel (#317)

Did that fix the BOLD?

And ugh, yes. I used to read a lot of makeup blogs, and all it led to was me spending tons of money at Sephora on things I didn’t want or need. I’m not even really a “makeup person” — I need ONE foundation, ONE concealer, two or three eyeliners that stay put, one blush, one mascara and two or three lipsticks. (OK, this sounds like a lot, but what I mean is: I don’t need to choose among seven different blushes every morning, because I never will!)

shannowhamo (#845)

@Emma Peel For real. Possibly someone who goes out to alot more varied fabulous places to see and be seen needs 5 blushes. But I go to work and maybe to a restaurants now and then so one blush (stupid Nars Orgasm that was expensive and the lid snapped off so it just sits exposed in my makeup drawer…but I will get my money’s worth!) is fine. I have 80 bazillion lipstick/glosses/crayons…why? I also meant to buy a black eyeliner the other day but accidently bought silver (?) And convinced myself it was cool looking but my husband thought I was trying to look like I was from the future.

Unwrap that Coastal Scents palette. It’s practically designed for concealing horrifying graduate-thesis-defense undereye circles.

Madge (#1,677)

lisa eldridge made me buy 2 $36 chanel eyeshadows.

admittedly, they are beautiful, and i love them and wear them a lot. but i definitely am on a makeup-buying sequester for the rest of the year. i have ridiculous amounts already.

laurafayesmith (#3,012)

I love this article -I have had the EXACT experience with makeup blogs – and sometimes Pinterest has the same effect on me, though I’m getting better…

Lily Rowan (#70)

RETURN, RETURN!

You can even return stuff you’ve used! Return like the wind!!

cei-face (#3,316)

@Lily Rowan Especially for Sephora. Their return policy is a freaking GODSEND.

cryptolect (#1,135)

I accidentally spent $50 on makeup this weekend, and I don’t even LIKE makeup. Okay, $25 of it was a hair conditioner that I do like, but then when I was on line for the register I bought some $15 on powder, which I don’t even use, and then I was so hopped up on Sephora that I went into CVS and spent another $10 on an eyeshadow kit that promised to brighten brown eyes.

@cryptolect Sephora is my pusher. Seriously, those bastards have a PhD in getting me to spend money. Walgreen’s is also a known villain.

cryptolect (#1,135)

@Sunny Schomaker@facebook I bought some nail polish there last summer, and it cost way more than I was expecting it to (like, probably $12 or $13). I said, “Whoa, fancy nail polish!” and the cashier got an excited look on her face and said, “Where?!”

jmarl (#3,479)

Ugh, this is going to be so enabling and shallow considering your post, but your makeup in your headshot under contributors does look really great!

honey cowl (#1,510)

@jmarl I love this comment.

@jmarl Shouldn’t there be a MacArthur Foundation type organization that will subsidize my talent (of putting makeup on my own face)? I will take the award money on a Sephora giftcards, thanks.

lalaland (#437)

Ahh! I follow a bunch of fashion blogs, and for awhile, I bought a LOT more clothing because of them.

I still buy stuff I see on fashion blogs every now and then (that I wouldn’t otherwise), but what helped is that I started following minimalism blogs (my life is dictated by strangers on the Internet) and that offsets the desire to buybuybuy.

Thankfully though, those makeup/shopping hauls are terrifying to me…and my attention span is too short for a 5 min youtube video.

rorow (#1,665)

@lalaland would love your recommendations on said minimalism blogs.

Renleigh (#2,110)

How many candles did you buy and were they all lilac blossom? I’ve fallen into candle shopping comas (I blame it on years of not being allowed to have candles) and left approximately that many dollars lighter, but they were all different scents. Though lilac blossom is one of my favorite scents and I do have one from Bath and Body Works and one from Yankee Candle, so I can’t really talk.

@Renleigh I bought six candles! Only two were lilac. One of the others is called “Poolside” and smells like sunblock. Why? Because why not make a candle that smells like sunblock–we have the technology! I’m quite fond of it, actually. If they made a gasoline candle I would buy that, too.

Renleigh (#2,110)

@Marisa Carroll@twitter I bought that exact same candle for the exact same reason! Everyone who has been to my apartment and smelled it thinks I’m crazy, but they are wrong.

Maladydee (#909)

I keep thinking I will learn how to use liquid eyeliner, and it will look good on me instead of incredibly jarring, and I have yet to learn from my mistakes. Each time I move I purge all the old makeup that I never used, or that made my eyes itch, and at least once a year I think, “I should try and learn how to be more feminine, and learn to wear more than the absolute basics of makeup,” and each year I go through the cycle again.

inspector_tiger (#2,651)

I have made a conscious decision to not watch those videos. Makeup is like chocolate truffle to me. I really don’t need it ’cause I’m far to shy to get out with color on my eyelids (I mean, imagine the stares…) but if I see all the colours waiting to make me more beautiful I’m drawn like a magnet. I buy storebrand stuff almost exclusiv, to counteract my weird longings.

I consciously stopped following makeup blogs because of this. Too much makeup I never wear! At least most of it’s powder eyeshadow that will last forever.

Hannah (#5,946)

I know the feels, ladies… I know the feels…

Now can you imagine how much worse it is for me, considering that I WORK at Sephora? You don’t want to know how much stuff I have…

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