Three versions of Uncanny valley makeup

@mybroseph/Tiktok @demingai/Tiktok @alkiiwii/Tiktok (Licensed)

‘This looks terrifying but so good at the same time’: TikTok’s uncanny valley makeup trend, explained

The makeup trend is unsettling. But is it uncanny?


Audra Schroeder


Posted on Nov 8, 2023

TikTok makeup tutorials are typically fun and informative. But the uncanny valley makeup trend is… Well, it’s something.

Over the last few weeks, the uncanny valley makeup look has gone viral, just in time for Halloween. The hashtag #uncannyvalleymakeup has more than 40 million views, and the effect is definitely unsettling.

“Why does this remind me of coraline?” said a commenter on one popular TikTok showing the uncanny valley makeup effect, referring to the dark fantasy character voiced by Dakota Fanning in the film of the same name.

The uncanny look, at least in the TikTok tutorials, often requires making one’s skin and eyebrows pale, some creative contouring, and eye makeup that makes the iris appear to extend above and below the lash.

“What if I just go on a walk right now?” asks Abby (@mybroseph), showing off her unnerving look, which really leans on the emotionless, doll-like eyes.

@mybroseph having too much fun with the uncanny valley makeup trend #uncannyvalley #uncannyvalleymakeup #uncannyvalleytrend #trend ♬ original sound – Abby

But is this look actually uncanny?

What is the uncanny valley?

The uncanny valley is historically defined as the negative human response to humanoids or robots looking nearly human. This theory was proposed by Tokyo Institute of Technology robotics professor Masahiro Mori in 1970.

The rise of AI and computer-generated art has only accelerated conversations about the uncanny valley and what it entails, but there are still parts of the human body AI just can’t grasp, like hands and teeth.

The uncanny valley is also applied to bad CGI in movies and TV that give characters dead eyes; The Polar Express is often called out as an example.

The definition of uncanny valley makeup as it pertains to TV tropes might be the closest to what’s happening on TikTok: “The human face disappears into the makeup, leaving something profoundly unnatural: a clown, a porcelain doll, or a something just plain grotesque.”

Uncanny valley makeup trend on TikTok

A post on r/makeup last year about how to look uncanny actually contains some of the same guideposts that the TikTok trend does: no eyebrows, bigger irises, “make your skin as impossibly smooth and plastic-like as possible.”

Some people went for more of an AI chatbot vibe on TikTok, with movement.

@alkiiwii UNCANNY VALLEY #uncannyvalley #uncannyvalleymakeup #uncannyvalleyeffect ♬ original sound – Amiceaa

The song “Brutus” by the Buttress soundtracks many of these uncanny valley videos, and other participants went for the silent-but-dead-eyed look.

@sarahbeth.sfx I dont think it looked quite right yet, but what do yall think? What should i do differently? #uncannyvalley#uncannyvalleymakeup#makeup#mua#fyp#creepy#sfx ♬ Brutus (Instrumental) – The Buttress
@demingai Le Result for the UNCANNY VALLEY makeup ✨ #uncannyvalley #uncannyvalleymakeup #uncannyvalleyeffect ♬ Brutus (Instrumental) – The Buttress

The uncanny valley makeup trend apparently started with an Oct. 26 TikTok from @blonde.girlyy, who was “attempting to subtly not look human.” The look didn’t quite look inhuman, but she was apparently inspired to try again.

On Oct. 29, she posted an attempt at “uncanny valley” that was more successful.

“BRO THIS IS THE FIRST UNCANNY VALLEY MAKEUP VIDEO THAT ACTUALLY ATE IT UPPP,” said one commenter. Another TikTok from September, where @makeupbyevelin turned herself into a person who “doesn’t exist,” is a related trend.

@blonde.girlyy TRUST THE PROCESS… #fypシ ♬ Brutus (Instrumental) – The Buttress

Creator Abby Andrew had a different perspective on the trend, however. Andrew, who has alopecia, remarked on how people are essentially doing “what I do on a day-to-day basis as somebody with alopecia,” especially with regard to eyebrows.

Ultimately, many of these looks aren’t necessarily uncanny valley but they are entertaining. And both creators and commenters are open about being loose with the interpretation.

“Wait what’s uncanny valley??” asked a commenter on Emily Mazza‘s tutorial.

“Honestly I’m not even sure I know … LMAO,” she responded.

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*First Published: Nov 8, 2023, 3:56 pm CST