If teenagers aren’t sourcing chemicals to make slime at home, they’re watching people make it on Instagram
There’s not usually a happy ending if your teenager develops a sudden interest in buying industrial quantities of glue and inspecting the labels on cleaning fluids.However, this is the no-smoking, no-drinking Generation Clean, so perhaps parents should not be surprised to find out that the reason a large proportion of the nation’s 11 to 15-year-olds are obsessing over chemicals is that they are making slime.
The craze emerged on Instagram in the Far East last year; teenagers would post short videos of themselves poking, prodding, stretching and folding their homemade slime. It has since spread to the US and Britain. Search Instagram for slime and you’ll get nearly two million posts.
It has spawned an unlikely cottage industry: enterprising high school students are selling their creations on Etsy for up to $10 (£8) a tub, and there is plenty of covert trading in playgrounds.
To the uninitiated, it’s slightly baffling: slime isn’t just slime. It can be fluffy (the secret, apparently, is to add shaving foam), buttery (good for cutting) or crunchy, either by adding tiny polystyrene balls to make “floam” or clear plastic beads. Some is scented (peach, mint, and “birthday cake” are popular), some is glittery, and there’s kudos to be had with clear slime.
The key ingredient is PVA glue. Sales of America’s leading brand, Elmer’s, more than doubled in December. Recipes vary (and those Instagram slimers with #slimeshops are notoriously protective of their formulae) but most involve mixing glue and water with a dollop of shaving foam or foaming soap, then carefully adding small amounts of the chemical borax mixed with warm water.
However, there’s a problem for UK slimers: borax, a cleaning and starching agent, is not available in the EU. This has led to ingenious experimenting: Aldi’s Almat laundry gel used to work, but now doesn’t because the formula was changed, and borax substitutes sold online don’t work either. Contact lens solution, eye wash and Kershaw’s Traditional Laundry Starch — which contain small amounts of borax — seem to do the trick. “Our starch contains 7.4 per cent borax, and we’ve been told it works really well for slime,” says Kershaw’s owner, Claire Donoghue.
Slime fan Erin Rees, 13, from south London, favours a mix of Optrex and bicarbonate of soda, but is still searching for the perfect formula. “Some recipes online are completely dud. I think a lot depends on the glue you use,” she says.
This new pursuit has bemused her mother, the publishing executive Sarah Bennie. “I have been buying ridiculous amounts of bicarbonate of soda and glue. But let’s face it, there are worse things they could be doing. I’d rather they were making something than going on their phones all day.”
Although many slimers watch Instagram videos and tutorials on YouTube most don’t post their own, except to friends on Snapchat.
“The videos on Instagram are very professional — the girls have beautifully manicured hands and the sound quality is immaculate,” says Cathy Roberts from Dorset, whose 12-year-old daughter, Zoë, has been making slime for the past six months. “Zoë says there’s no way she can reach their standards so she doesn’t post her creations. But she does have about 17 different slimes now.”
Like most slimers, Zoë and Erin say they love the sensation of poking their fingers into the slime, and the “schlopping” noise it makes. Slimers often describe how they feel relaxed, almost hypnotised by it.
“If you look at the comments people leave below slime videos, they talk about it being relaxing and relieving stress,” says Dr Nick Davis, a psychologist and neuroscientist based at Manchester Metropolitan University, who carried out the first study into the emerging phenomenon of autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) — that relaxing, tingling sensation on the scalp and back of the neck that some people report when exposed to certain stimuli. He and his co-author, Emma Barratt, believe the slime craze may be causing an ASMR response in some people.
There is a sub-genre of videos on YouTube featuring people enacting common ASMR triggers: whispering, turning pages, wrapping presents and playing with slime. Some channels have more than 250,000 subscribers. “There are certainly features that the slime videos share with ASMR videos, such as the repetitive slow motions,” says Barratt.
Davis adds: “People often say they haven’t heard of ASMR and don’t experience it. But when you describe that relaxed, slightly tingly state, people often say, ‘Oh yes, I get that when I get my hair cut or my nails done.’ ” Their study of people who experience ASMR responses found that the majority used videos to relax or deal with stress. “Teenagers are dealing with external stress from exams and internal stress as they figure out who they are, so that would explain why slime is popular with this demographic.”