Psychology of Makeup

Believe it or not, but the faces of all people have pores (gasp), and freckles (NO!), and even blemishes (oh, the humanity)!

Many people are not willing to accept this so Makeup to the rescue!


It starts at an early age and depending on the rules of the house a child may be allowed to wear makeup at varying ages.

It generally starts with wanting to copy Mommy, or a friend from school, or to look like a favorite entertainer.  Historically this was mostly girls, but today includes both boys and girls and is starting much younger.


Starting so young it is possible to understand how this becomes such an important part of an individual’s identity and why it becomes difficult to go without.

In an article on, Bree Lopes wrote that a professor once told her “Gender is something we put on every morning. We are who we dress ourselves to be before leaving our homes. This is how we identify; this is how we want the world to see us.”

The Culture

There is a television series on Amazon Prime called “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” that depicts a woman who every night when she goes to bed she has her full makeup on, but then after her husband has gone to sleep she gets up and takes off her makeup.  Then she positions the window shade so that the light from it wakes her up in the morning.  This is done so that she can wake up before her husband and put on makeup then get back into bed before his alarm clock goes off.  In this way she can have the illusion of always looking “perfect”.

Initially this seems like a practice of our previous generations, however according to Zack Walkter  “A recent survey found that one-third of women get up before their partner to apply makeup in secret, while 3 percent would never let a man see them au naturel at all.”

How does it all start?  Notwithstanding the current addition of boys or grade school girls, it generally starts with the onset of puberty and sudden onslaught of blemishes.  Wanting to hide the blemish a cover-up or foundation is purchased.  Likely due to cheap products, ineffective or inconsistent facial cleansing routines and lack of appropriate guidance the cycle begins and more blemishes arise causing a desire to use more makeup.

Of course using foundation alone can cause the skin to look pale and featureless, so additional techniques are needed to add a flush of color on the cheeks and lips.  This then needs to be balanced out with eye liner and mascara.  Then as the expertise of peers grows so does the arsenal of products needed to achieve comparative looks.  Today women of all ages attempt to make their livelihood off of their vlogging of makeup reviews and tutorials on Youtube.

Among those who are makeup devotees there are specific protocols as to what is worn for  different occasions.  One such devotee on Elite Daily exclaims that makeup is her “f*cking war paint” and asks how she can negotiate a raise without lipstick or headline a meeting without power brows.  She calls it ‘sharing the very best version of herself.’

The Department of Fashion Design refers to this as “clothing for the face”.  They found that there was a correlation between higher self-esteem and following makeup trends.  On the flip-side however there was a correlation of lower self-esteem and makeup involvement in general.  Lastly there was a inverse correlation of self-esteem and satisfaction with makeup usage.  In other words, if the self-esteem is low, the individual may not feel satisfied with the results obtained by using makeup.  Their conclusion follows. ‘Positive self-esteem tends to lead to a strong desire to follow leading makeup trend, whereas negative self-esteem seeks pleasure through makeups and transform one’s feelings of inferiority and depression into positive emotions. Thus, rather than treating makeup as an act of following a trend or mass media, deep consideration of “how to develop proper makeup involvement and satisfaction could affect elementary students” is necessary for desirable values.’  

The goal of using makeup is to achieve appearances that meet cultural standards  by enhancing or hiding features.  The evolutionary perspective is that certain physical features indicate signs of reproductive fitness, health and youthfulness.  There is a perception that people who have skillfully applied makeup are healthier, more confident, have greater earning potential and more prestigious jobs.  We can understand then the strong incentive to use makeup and why it is difficult to go without, though I do not understand how a grade school child needs to look healthier, more fit for reproduction, or more youthful.

The Stats

Studies regarding self-esteem and makeup usage are inconsistent most likely depending on the methods used to collect the data as well as the variability of the subjects in the surveys.

Alexis Sclamberg (2012) reported on a survey conducted by the Renfrew Center which found that 44 percent of women felt more unattractive and uncomfortable when they didn’t wear makeup than when they did; 16 percent reported feeling unattractive; 14 percent reported feeling self-conscious and 14 percent reported feeling naked without makeup (Renfrew Center Foundation, 2012). This study also found that only 3 percent of women reported that going without makeup made them feel more attractive.

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The results from Robertson and colleagues (2008) found the trends to be reversed with a positive correlation between frequent use of cosmetics and anxiety, self-consciousness, and conformity. Women who reported wearing makeup less frequently tended to have higher social confidence, emotional stability, and self-esteem.

The Natural Look

While the 80’s had more bold and dramatic looks, the 90’s ushered in looks that are less vibrant.  Natural, effortless beauty was the goal.  The ironic and almost comical idea is that the “natural look” that we so often see is “effortless”.  An awful lot of time is spent trying to achieve an “effortless” appearance. It may be more difficult to successfully create the natural look than a dramatic look. The natural look has been enduring and successful, though.  It has been so successful that there are many people who can’t tell the difference between the natural look and what it looks like to have no makeup on at all.  These are likely those who’ve never used makeup.

An article on Buzzfeed showcases six women who have decided to show the difference.  They were inspired by some twitter posts that indicated men stating they preferred Taylor Swift with no makeup.  What was obvious to these women was that Taylor Swift was wearing makeup, but that it was a natural look that was depicted in the photo that was referenced.


Here is one of the women’s before and after picture.  Notice the definition of the eye brows, the color of the lips and the pop of the eyes from the mascara.  All six women showed the same types of embellishments with their natural look makeup which had been done by a professional makeup artist taking approximately an hour per face.

In 2016 Alicia Keys came to a realization that she had been writing a lot of songs about masks and metaphors about hiding.  In an article in Keys writes

‘In one song I wrote, called “When a Girl Can’t Be Herself,” it says,

In the morning from the minute that I wake up
What if I don’t want to put on all that makeup
Who says I must conceal what I’m made of
Maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self-esteem

She goes on to say “No disrespect to Maybelline, the word just worked after the maybe. But the truth is … I was really starting to feel like that — that, as I am, I was not good enough for the world to see.  This started manifesting on many levels, and it was not healthy.”‘


With this self-realization she decides to do a photo shoot without any makeup.  This took a lot of bravery.  She had to confront the bare and honest look of freckles, and unadorned eyes and lips. She says it was the strongest, most empowered and most beautiful she had ever felt. She says ‘(…) I don’t want to cover up anymore. Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing.’


This raw image inspired other well known artists to follow suit.  Cameron Diaz, Christie Brinkley, Drew Barrymore and others started to share their images as well.

This was revolutionary.  Not only do we get to see that their faces are truly transformed when their makeup is applied, but that their faces are not that different from our own.  What a boost to women’s and girls’ self esteem to know that what they are comparing themselves to is not “natural”.  Of course we all know this, but deep down the comparisons are still made and self judgments are still harsh.

When one comes to a realization of how much money and time and effort is involved in applying makeup every day, multiple times every day depending on situations, it shines a light on the overwhelming affect it has on a person’s life.  Depending on the person and the situation, someone can spend anywhere from five minutes to an hour daily.  At five minutes per day a person would spend 30 hours per year.  Most people spend more than that.  At 20 minutes per day a person would spend 121 hours per year or over 5 days.  There are those who spend an hour each day and then more time goes in to reapplication and touch ups throughout the day.  The time really starts to add up.

The cost adds up as well.  The average spend is $30 to $100 per month depending on the individual habits and income.

Even with the lack of satisfaction of their results from makeup reported by most people as well as the cost and time, why do most people continue?

It appears that there is a self-conscious perception that they would be treated differently without makeup.  Two different women decided to find out what it would be like to go out with varying levels of makeup including no makeup.  Their results varied depending on the situation.  One of the videos was trying to figure out if people treat you differently based on the makeup you wear.  The other video is trying to see what reactions you get from coworkers and friends when you stop wearing makeup.

There were varying opinions from the first video.  The opinions from those who saw her in “full” makeup thought she was concerned about what people thought of her and that she likely spent a lot of time getting ready. They mostly wondered if she was on her way to an event and if so, where was she going? The most frequently used words were confident, intimidating, and party girl.

When the same women wearing the same clothes and hairstyle went out with her “normal” look most people thought she likely was headed for work, that she was professional and did not seem to judge her too much.  When she went out with no makeup most people didn’t make much of it even though initially she was quite stressed at the idea of no makeup.  Until she mentioned it they said they didn’t even notice that she wasn’t wearing any.


The second video was a person who has always worn makeup since her teen years and decided to go a week without.  This scared her as well.  She was relieved when people said she looked good without it, however was skeptical and didn’t really believe them.  As time wore on she became more comfortable with her own unique features.  She happens to have freckles and had been covering them for years.  Her final thoughts were that the effect of makeup is subjective.  While she likes to wear it and it makes her feel good, there is really no effect on the other people.


There are mindfulness techniques that help to not only allow a person to become comfortable with their naked face, but it also serves as way to develop a kinder self-awareness.  The way it works is to observe yourself in a mirror for a set period of time on a daily basis.  Generally for ten minutes at a time when you’re doing this on your own.  There are also group sessions that you can attend.  The intent is to look at oneself with “openness, kindness, and compassion.”  We tend to objectify ourselves and if you find that you are being self-critical, look into your eyes and see yourself as the person being criticized.  You will potentially feel compassion and empathy rather than the hyper-critical self-loathing we tend to slip into.  I have never tried this though I may some day.

I myself have gone through a great change over the past few years and have not only stopped wearing makeup on a daily basis, but I started by letting my hair go gray.  I had been coloring it brunette most of my adult life.  I found my first gray hairs when I was quite young in my early twenties.  Since my hair grows rather quickly, it became a ritual I performed every 10 days toward the end.  Some people refer to this as chasing the skunk. I was tired of the expense, the wasted time and the concern for what effect the chemicals were having on my health overall.  I was becoming concerned they were causing my hair to thin.  But the worst was the time, oh so time consuming.  I stopped wearing makeup simply out of a desire to simplify my daily routine.  The freckles were never quite natural looking underneath foundation anyway.

I now have more time for other priorities.  My skin is healthier than before and I have come to enjoy the varying steely colors in my hair.  I do still enjoy makeup on occasion such as when I go out for the evening, but I am no longer self-conscious and I don’t think anybody treats me any differently one way or the other.  Below is a no-makeup, natural makeup collage.  The hair needs a bit of work, but it wasn’t the point of the pictures anyhow.  My opinion is that if more people went without makeup then less people would feel self conscious about following suit.  It would become more of a norm instead of the exception.



Alicia Keys: Time to Uncover – Lenny Letter

Diseases My Male Coworkers Diagnosed Me With On The One Day I Didn’t Wear Make Up

Why Women Waste Time on Makeup – Jessie Char – Medium

8 Surprising Things That Happen When You Stop Wearing Makeup Every Day

Put Your Makeup On So They’ll Like You – Substance

Kids and makeup: Is there a “right” age to start using beauty products? – FASHION Magazine

Too Much Makeup: The Psychology of Cosmetics – One Mind Therapy

7 Need-to-know Facts about Facial Dysmorphia …

New study says men like women who wear less makeup | Time

Half of Women Won’t Let Partners See Them Without Makeup for a Year. Really?


Makeup and its Affect on Self Esteem | SiOWfa15: Science in Our World: Certainty and Controversy

How It Works | Mirror Meditation

Confidence Self-Awareness Mirror Meditation For Anxiety

Marvelous Mrs Maisel Pilot 1950s Housewife Double Life

Eye Makeup Trends Through History

There’s a bigger problem with young boys wearing makeup.

Women Admit Their Husbands Have Never Seen Them Without Makeup | Do You Remember?

The Connection Between Makeup and Mental Health

The Surprising Psychology Behind Makeup | Psychology Today

I Will Never Let A Man See Me Without Makeup On

The Beauty Industry’s Influence on Women in Society

Why More Women Are Happily Going Without Makeup | Psychology Today

Why Women Feel Bad About Their Appearance | Psychology Today

The Effects of Self-Esteem on Makeup Involvement and Makeup Satisfaction among Elementary Students

15 Real Women on Why They Go Barefaced | Byrdie

What Men Really Think About Women’s Makeup | Shape Magazine

Honestly, do boys prefer girls with or without makeup? – Quora

We Tried Natural Makeup Looks To Show Men What “No Makeup” Looks Like

Psychology Says Makeup Is Cheaper Than Therapy but Just as Effective | Byrdie AU

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