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Who wants to know the real reason women like makeup?

CL says: I just read your post on perfume predicting mental illness. Why do they have to waste time on studying about perfume? I wear perfume because I like the smell. It makes me feel good and I’m not depressed. Oh my maybe if I use to much I’ll go off the deep end. Give me a break. If I want to be depressed I’ll look in the mirror and and see myself with no makeup in the morning!

The Right Brain makes up a reply:

We know you’re making a little joke, CL, but your comment about seeing yourself without makeup reminds me of an interesting study from the Journal of Cosmetic Science. It’s about researchers in France who have studied why women wear makeup.

Stimulate yourself

According to the article, makeup stimulates three of our senses. First, it stimulates the sense of sight because of the visual impact of the pretty colors we smear all over our eyes, lips, and cheeks. (Smashbox O-Glow blush is NOT a good example of a pretty blush color!)

Second, depending on the kind of makeup, it can also stimulate our sense of smell. While too much fragrance is a turn off I also don’t want a foundation that smells waxy or oily. A little bit of a fresh scent in makeup can be a nice touch.

Third, and I’ve never stopped to think about this before, makeup also stimulates our sense of touch. That happens during the application process (Mmmm, the feel of a soft sable brush against my cheek) or long after the product has been applied (my lips still feel plumpy and dewy way after a fresh coat of Boghese Radiant Moisture.) The study also raised the intriguing notion that makeup can stimulate not only our hands and fingers but literally all our body surfaces. (Are you listening Sarah Bellum??)

Why women use makeup

But the most interesting aspect of this study was the way it tried to understand why we like makeup so much. The researchers say that makeup’s effect on our senses results in two different psychological effects: camouflage and seduction.

Camouflage is all about reducing anxiety, supporting our internal defense mechanisms, and helping with emotional stability. Seduction is about being more socially assertive and extroverted. The way you use makeup depends on your individual psychological profile.

Here are some sample questions from the researcher’s survey. We think it would be fun if our Beauty Brains community left comments with your answers. Next week we’ll summarize your answers and give the results from the actual study.

Warning: this study was originally done in France so there’s a cultural bias and the language on some of the questions doesn’t translate very well.

To answer, just leave a comment with the number of the question and one of the following responses (you can copy and paste if you’d like):

Strongly Disagree

Slightly Disagree

Neither Disagree or Agree

Slightly Agree

Strongly Agree

Here are the questions:

  1. When I’m made up I feel glamorous
  2. With makeup I want to smile.
  3. I make myself up in a more intense way in the evening.
  4. Without makeup I’m insipid.
  5. When I’m made up I want to allure.
  6. A woman who does not make herself up is a woman who over rates intellectual dimension to the detriment of appearance.
  7. I use makeup to control the image of myself.
  8. Without makeup I don’t feel like myself.
  9. I don’t like my face without makeup.
  10. I always make myself up when I’m going to be in contact with other people


“Why Women Wear Makeup: Implication of Psychological Traits in Makeup Functions”

(J. Cosmet. Science, 59 127-137 March/April 2008)