Beauty tutorials that have taken over the internet aren't actually making you better at makeup

Alexandra Mondalek
People tend to overestimate their own abilities after watching online tutorials. Here’s why. (Photo: Getty Images)
People tend to overestimate their own abilities after watching online tutorials. Here’s why. (Photo: Getty Images)

There are hundreds of millions of beauty tutorials on YouTube. Yet new research suggests that watching them ad nauseam might not make you any better at doing your own hair and makeup.

In recently reported work done at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, researchers Michael Kardas and Ed O’Brien conducted six tests that found, “When people repeatedly watch others perform before ever attempting the skill themselves, they may overestimate the degree to which they can perform the skill, which is what we call an illusion of skill acquisition.”

Kardas tells Yahoo Lifestyle the findings of his research — which focused on how well people perform tricks and play games and comprehend tasks through visual and other sensory tools — apply to those beauty tutorials viewers devour online.

“People tend not to learn complex motor skills effectively by merely watching, in part because different components of the skills are accessible through sight versus touch — and so people are prone to miss critical information while merely watching,” Kardas says. In the study, Kardas and O’Brien find that there exists a disconnect between what you’re watching and how an activity feels, which results in failed attempts at a task. The confidence people feel after visually studying another person’s behavior means they might “budget too little time for practice or hastily attempt risky activities, naive to their low chances of success (especially on initial attempts.)”

While you could watch a beauty tutorial from start to finish and then try it, mastering each part of a look as you’re following along might be more beneficial.

“For skills that involve many steps that need to be memorized and then performed in the correct sequence, like cooking a dish (I personally am less familiar with beauty tutorials!), pausing to practice each step in isolation may be effective because the sequence may be more straightforward to execute in its entirety after the viewer masters the individual components,” Kardas says.

In addition to following along with a video, there are tools you can buy that supposedly make achieving certain looks easier (like this cat eye stamper) and classes you can attend at Sephora, for instance, to master techniques with someone well-skilled to guide you in person.

But ultimately, practicing on your own is the key to improving.

“I find that everyone has a different learning curve. Through repetition or if you explain why you’re doing something, something clicks for them,” says beauty and fashion blogger Danielle Gray. Gray’s YouTube channel, with more than 9,300 subscribers, includes several “Makeup 101” guides geared toward beginners.

Gray continues, “I ask people, ‘what’s the makeup technique you still haven’t mastered?’ So many people still don’t know how to contour or put lashes on. But they keep buying makeup. I tell people that practice makes perfect, and I didn’t figure any of this out overnight. Everything keeps evolving, so keep practicing.”

It’s worth pointing out that while some of the biggest names in beauty blogging — Patrick Starrr (three “r”s), Jeffree Star (one “r”), and Nikkie de Jager — are professional makeup artists whose skills are, well, professional, not all of them are. Deepica Mutyala, a 28-year-old beauty blogger with more than 151,000 YouTube subscribers, says part of the allure of her tutorials is that they’re relatable, coming from a nonprofessional.

“I’m not a makeup artist by any means, but I am a beauty enthusiast and product junkie,” Mutyala, who launched a beauty community for women of color called Tinted, says. “Even when I watch some of my friends who are massive YouTubers, I watch their videos in awe because I think they’re aspirational, but it’s not something I could do myself. Like, I still don’t know what the hell a cut crease is or how to do it!”

Mutyala’s advice to those who want to improve their makeup skills without feeling overwhelmed by expert technique and expensive products? “I’m showing the busy girl on the go a 5-minute face or contouring for dummies or basic colors that look good on my skin tone. It’s important to find someone whose tutorials you can look at and think, Hey, I can do this, too.”

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