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YouTube stars play with soap in videos to spark tingly feelings and relaxation

Soap cutting videos trigger ASMR tingling sensations in some but for many others, it simply helps them relax and sleep better.
Soapbar collection in wooden box.
Set different flavored soap bars in wooden box.Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Soap smells good and fights off germs. But not many people know that it has another unusual use: Watching a bar of soap being cut or peeled into hundreds of tiny pieces might help you relax.

Sounds kind of weird, right? Not to the thousands of people who watch beautiful soap cutting videos on YouTube and Instagram. The method of slicing, dicing or shaving colorful bars of soap is one of the most popular trends in autonomous sensory meridian response videos.

“How the soap crumbles into pieces and the noise it makes is very appealing,” Z.E., aka ASMR Soap Queen, told TODAY via email. “The reason why people enjoy these types of videos is because of satisfaction and how it releases stress away.”

For the past eight months, Z.E., 23 — who asked to remain anonymous — has been posting soap cutting videos on YouTube and Instagram, using the moniker ASMR Soap Queen. She also shaves and cuts chalk, congealed paint and floral foam.

While she doesn’t have a formal way of selecting soaps, her audience enjoys soft soaps because they peel off in curls like potato skins. A video of her carving a soft soap with a vegetable peeler has almost 326,000 views.

“It looks pretty smooth and visually is very satisfying,” Z.E. said.

It takes her about 40 minutes to create a video. While Z.E. experiences ASMR, a full-body tingling sensation, which many call a “brain orgasm,” she knows many of her fans don't. They simply watch soap cutting because it's super relaxing.

“It is a great way to let go (of) all the tiredness and stress,” she said.

And experts agree.

“Distraction is one of the more reliable ways in the short term to cope with feeling anxious and to relax,” said Lauren Hallion, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, who studies anxiety. “If people are paying attention to the video and the sounds and sensations, they are not able to dwell on the things that bother them.”

Researchers in England, Nick Davis and Emma Barratt, published a peer-reviewed paper on ASMR in 2015. Their study described ASMR and what triggers it: They discovered that people with ASMR enjoy watching videos because the images and sounds soothe them.

“The people who participated in our research reported using it mainly for relaxation, and to get a better night's sleep,” Barratt, a science writer, told TODAY via email. “There was a fair amount of people who also said they used it to lift their mood — we found that those who experience depression can get a pretty big boost in mood from watching and listening to ASMR content.”

While the study did not explore why ASMR videos are so relaxing, Barratt shared some theories.

“Some scientists seem to think it's because the personal attention in some of these videos reminds us of having parents fuss over us, so I can see why that might be relaxing,” she said.

But the actual sensation of ASMR might cause people to feel calmer, too.

“It may be that triggers are relaxing because of the physical tingling they induce, more than any sort of nurturing aspect,” Barratt said.

Even those who don’t experience ASMR flock to soap cutting channels, like ASMR Soap Queen’s. When she first started, she wondered if she was embarking on something “stupid” but now that her videos receive thousands of views and tons of feedback she likes that she “helps people get relaxed.”

People worry she’s wasting soap — she's not. She keeps all the shavings and either makes them into new soaps, which she gives as gifts, or tosses them in with her laundry because “Soap is soap, right? It also smells good.”