TikTok's New Mascara Trend Isn't About Makeup At All

TikTok is the new YouTube when it comes to makeup, skincare, and general beauty reviews and trends. If you've been perusing the app lately in search of the best makeup products and techniques or the latest developments in #mascaragate, you may have come up confused over some of the latest videos labeled "#mascaratrend." Rather than mascara reviews or application methods, these videos typically appear to be more about telling personal stories, often related to romantic relationships, than reviewing makeup. Users like Emmthevirgo have received millions of views on their #mascaratrend TikTok videos that don't feature mascara at all.


This specific type of innuendo, often created with the intent to work around online content moderation algorithms, is known as algospeak. It can be incredibly confusing for those who stumble upon it unknowingly. Here's what you need to know about what the #mascaratrend tag on TikTok really means and a few other examples of algospeak that may have thrown you for a loop around TikTok recently. 

What TikTok's mascara trend really means

If you've watched any of the videos labeled with the mascara trend hashtag on TikTok, you may have noticed that they tend to contain particularly sexual undertones. Many creators of these videos seem to use "mascara" as a euphemism for male genitalia, particularly when referring to a mascara wand. In some versions, the mention of a mascara tube is used to represent female genitalia as well. While most mascara trend videos are a tongue-in-cheek way for users to share the details of their sex lives, creators like Madigracept have used the opportunity to bring awareness to sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse.


Why don't TikTok creators just speak openly about sex on the platform? The terms of agreement all users of the app must agree to in order to use the platform strictly prohibits sexually explicit content of all kinds. These terms were made even stricter in December of 2022, as reported by TikTok's own newsroom. As a creative form of rebellion, TikTokers have used beauty — one of the app's most popular topics — to get around these content limitations right in plain sight. This has confused many, including actor Julia Fox, who found herself in hot water when she commented on a video under the belief that it genuinely meant mascara (via NBC News).

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).


Other popular TikTok algospeak terms

In the same vein as the mascara trend are other code words used to discuss sex and sexuality on TikTok without risking video removal or account bans. These include sex-positive creators like Alexrushin using the term "corn" or the corn emoji to refer to pornography, referring to their OnlyFans profiles as "lonely pans," or simply swapping out the word sex for "seggs."


Earlier in TikTok's history, you may have noticed creators using the code word "unalive" to refer to various forms of death, murder, or suicide. This is a result of the platform's equally stringent restrictions on content that perpetuates any type of violence or self-harm. Some users have even dealt with permanent account bans due to the presence of a gun or a knife in a video (via YouTube). Whether or not TikTok will attempt to crack down on any blatant content moderation workarounds still remains to be seen. 

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.