The Science of Makeup And How To Use It
Christopher Philip

16376859859_858d41d5ec_bIt might surprise you to know that makeup dates back at least 10,000 years. In fact, throughout history people used rouge, deodorants, hair dye, wrinkle removers and even breath fresheners.

Modern makeup functions much like it did in the past- to make women more beautiful by accentuating positive features and hiding blemishes or negative features.

Some recent science has shed light on exactly how makeup works and why. Here are a few samples studies.

1. Healthier and More Confident Appearance – Nash et al. 2006

Researchers led by Rebecca Nash, Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College conducted a study examining the perceptions of makeup. They found that women who wore makeup were perceived by subjects as healthier and more confident. Additionally, they were awarded more a more prestigious job with greater earning potential than the same women without cosmetics.

Say the researchers, “The results suggest that women can successfully employ cosmetics to manipulate how they are assessed, which may be advantageous in social situations where women may be judged on their appearance, such as job interviews.”

Previous research has shown that women of all ages, from 18-30+ benefit from use of cosmetics. Both men and women rate women who wear makeup as more attractive. Eye makeup and foundation produced the most significant effects.

Further to this, women often report feeling better about their appearance and themselves when wearing make-up, and even report greater felt confidence.

The data overall suggests that while, in some cases, using makeup may boost femininity and thereby reduce assertiveness and self-reliance, in most cases, the use of cosmetics effectively creates positive outcomes for women who use them.

2. Better Contrast Between Features – Russell, 2010.

In a study published in Perception, Russell demonstrated the existence of facial contrast differences between the two genders. By measuring photographs of men and women, he found that female faces have greater contrast between eyes, lips, and surrounding skin than do male faces. This difference in facial contrast was also found to influence our perception of the gender of a face.

“Cosmetics are typically used in precisely the correct way to exaggerate this difference,” Russell said. “Making the eyes and lips darker without changing the surrounding skin increases the facial contrast. Femininity and attractiveness are highly correlated, so making a face more feminine also makes it more attractive.”

In one study, Russell and his team measured images of 289 faces ranging in age from 20 to 70 years old, and found that through the aging process, the color of the lips, eyes and eyebrows change, while the skin becomes darker. This results in less contrast between the features and the surrounding skin — leaving older faces to have less contrast than younger faces.

The difference in redness between the lips and the surrounding skin decreases, as does the luminance difference between the eyebrow and the forehead, as the face ages. Although not consciously aware of this sign of aging, the mind uses it as a cue for perceiving how old someone is.

In another study involving more than a hundred subjects in Gettysburg and Paris, the scientists artificially increased these facial contrasts and found that the faces were perceived as younger. When they artificially decreased the facial contrasts, the faces were perceived as older.

Cosmetics are commonly used to increase aspects of facial contrast, such as the redness of lips. Scientists propose that this can partly explain why makeup is worn the way that it is — shades of lipstick that increase the redness of the lips are making the face appear younger, which is related to healthiness and beauty.

3. Eye Makeup Most Powerful – Mulhern et al, 2003

Research by Mulhern, Psychology Department, Chilterns University College found that women who wore full makeup were most attractive.

The study involved five cosmetic conditions including (i) no make-up; (ii) foundation only; (iii) eye make-up only; (iv) lip make-up only; and (v) full facial make-up.

Men and women then viewed the 10 sets of five photographs and ranked them from most to least attractive. Again, faces with full makeup were judged as more attractive than the same face with no makeup. Women judged eye makeup as contributing the most to attractiveness while men rated eye makeup coupled with foundation as being most significant. Additionally, lipstick did not have an effect on boosting attractiveness when used by itself.

4. Women Wear More Makeup When Fertile – Guéguen 2012

French researcher Nicolas Guéguen, Université de Bretagne-Sud conducted two studies looking specifically at makeup use and fertility.

He first evaluated the quality of makeup of participants who volunteered for the study with the help of two female professional makeup artists. Coupled with this evaluation, the subjects reported an estimate of the length of time they spent putting on makeup that day.

The results showed that as women neared ovulation, they spent more time putting on makeup and makeup artists rated their level of use to be higher and of better quality.

In the second half of the study, cosmetic use by women in nightclubs were evaluated to provide additional support. The results were replicated finding that women near ovulation used more makeup than their non-fertile female counterparts.

In summary, “The results of the first study indicate that the participants estimated that they spent more time putting on makeup near ovulation. In addition, the evaluation performed by professionals revealed that, near ovulation, the estimated level of cosmetics use and the level of attractiveness of the makeup were higher,” says Guéguen.

The results suggest that women, whom are nearing ovulation, are actively working to increase their desirability and physical attractiveness to solicit attention from men.

5. Women Wear More Makeup To Impress Attractive People – Pamela 2011

Researcher Pamela Regan, California State University-Los Angeles that women care whom is about to view them and that they adjust their use of cosmetics to reflect their intentions. As such, she devised a study looking at the level of makeup and its quality with respect to the type of person women expected to meet.

Subjects were ostensibly told they were to meet with a stranger over a 15-minute videotaped interview to measure “initial encounters between strangers.” They were then photographed and then offered a photograph of the unknown candidate they were to meet in the following encounter. This person they were to meet was either an attractive women, unattractive woman, attractive man or unattractive man. As the participant was busy evaluating the image of their potential meeting partner, two confederates evaluated the cosmetic use of the participants.

Upon return to the anticipated meeting, independent raters again evaluated the use of cosmetics. They coded for the amount and type of makeup worn: lipstick/lipgloss, mascara, eye shadow, eyeliner, foundation/powder, blush, and fingernail polish.

The results showed that the sex and physical attractiveness of the target influenced the amount of makeup used by women. Women who anticipated interacting with an attractive target of either sex increased their use of cosmetics. However, women who expected to meet an unattractive man changed their use of makeup by significantly decreasing the use of makeup used. The only time women did not change their use of makeup was when they expected to meet and unattractive female target.

6. Women Receive 33% More Approaches From Men With Makeup – Guéguen, 2008

In a study by social psychologist Nicolas Geuguen it was found that women who wore makeup in a night club received 33% more approaches than the same women without makeup. The women were instructed to dress the same and not use any nonverbal signals to solicit attention.

In the study, one condition involved just face cleaning and moisturizer while the other received full makeup.

In the no makeup condition, the women were hit on 1.5 times per hour with contact made after an average of 23 minutes.

With makeup, approach was boosted to 2 times per hour and first approach was after only 17 minutes.

Overall, the results showed a significant difference between the makeup and no makeup conditions.

Image Credit: Sharon Wesilds


1. Nash, Rebecca; George Fieldman; Trevor Hussey; Jean-Luc Le Ve Que and Patricia Pineau. Cosmetics: They Influence More Than Caucasian Female Facial Attractiveness
Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 2006. 36(2):493-504.

Cash, T. F., Dawson, K., Davis, P., Bowen, M., & Galumbeck, C. (1989). Effects of cosmetics use on the physical attractiveness and body image of American college women. Journal of Social Psychology, 129, 349-355.

Chao, A., & Schor, J. B. (1998). Empirical tests of status consumption: Evidence from women’s cosmetics. Journal of Economic Psychology, 19, 107-131.

Franzoi, S. L. (2001). Is female body esteem shaped by benevolent sexism? Sex Roles, 44, 177-188.

Holme, S. A., Beattie, P. E., & Fleming, C. J. (2002). Cosmetic camouflage advice improves quality of life. British Journal of Dermatology, 147, 946-949.

Kyle, D. J., & Mahler, H. I. (1996). The effects of hair colour and cosmetic use on perceptions of a female’s ability. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 20, 447-455.

Mulhern, R., Fieldman, G., Hussey, T., Le´veˆque, J.-L., & Pineau, P. (2003). Do cosmetics enhance Caucasian female facial attractiveness? International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 25(4), 199-205.

2. Russell, Richard. (2010) Why cosmetics work. In Adams, R., Ambady, N., Nakayama, K., & Shimojo, S. (Eds.) The Science of Social Vision. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 186-203

Porcheron, Aurélie; Emmanuelle Mauger; Richard Russell. Aspects of Facial Contrast Decrease with Age and Are Cues for Age Perception. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (3): e57985 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057985.

4. Guéguen, Nicolas. Makeup and Menstrual Cycle: Near Ovulation, Women Use More Cosmetics. The Psychological Record. 2012, 62, 541-548.

5. Regan, Pamela C. Cinderella Revisited: Women’s Appearance Modification as a Function of Target Audience Sex and Attractiveness. Social Behavior and Personality. 2011. 39(4): 563-576. DOI 10.2224/sbp.2011.39.4.563

3. Mulhern, R; G. Fieldman; T. Hussey; J.-L. Lévêque and P. Pineau. Do Cosmetics Enhance Female Caucasian Facial Attractiveness? International Journal of Cosmetic Science. 2003. 25(4): 199-205. DOI: 10.1046/j.1467-2494.2003.00188.x, August 2003;jsessionid=C3C044959C0FE4394BB8903B4B65281A.f01t04

6. Guéguen, Nicolas. Brief Report: The Effects of Women’s Cosmeticson Men’s Approach: An Evaluation in a Bar North American Journal of Psychology. 2008. 10 (1): 221-228.