Ever looked in the mirror and wondered if you are pushing the boundary and wearing too much makeup? Worried your dramatic smokey eye is verging on early Halloween makeup?
How much makeup is *really* too much? Do men and women agree? Are we good at predicting how much makeup others think is truly too much?
After over 40 hours of deep research, we breakdown the academic research that reveals the answers to these questions and so much more!
What level of makeup looks most attractive? Can the heaviness of your makeup look influence how your personality is perceived, and can it even impact your performance at work?
Keep reading to find out!
Related: Read The Research On Why We Look So Different Before And After Makeup
Why Do Women Wear Makeup And How Do They Choose The Level To Wear?
The average woman uses 5 makeup products on a day to day basis.3 Research from 2017 found that over 50% of cosmetic consumers from all age brackets use makeup at least multiple times a week.4
So Why Do Women Choose To Wear Makeup?
Women often wear makeup to conceal imperfections, attract a mate, and as an intersexual competition tool to enhance their attractiveness – as those who wear makeup are judged as more attractive, with more prestige, and even healthier! 1
So women often use makeup to make themselves look more attractive. However, individual people overestimate the ideal amount of makeup to wear (in order to look most attractive) when they apply it themselves.2
Jones et al. (2014) found people generally have poor ability to judge others’ cosmetic preferences accurately. Women are likely wearing levels of makeup that they think appeals to the preferences of other people, especially men but also other women.
Both men and women assumed that men would prefer a lot more cosmetic use than women would on a woman’s face. In fact, men and women had similar cosmetic use preference levels in this study.2
Both men and women significantly overestimate how much makeup others would prefer. The actual models in the study wore significantly more cosmetics than the observers’ stated preferences, and even more makeup than what the observers estimated others would prefer. This suggests the misjudgments of others’ cosmetic level preferences were also held by the models wearing the makeup.2
How Light And Heavy Makeup Can Change Your Face
Tagai et al. 2017 explain that makeup can alter the symmetrical balance of the face, how the eyes and mouths appear configured, and the skin color and texture. Heavy makeup manipulates the face more than light makeup.17
Lighter makeup looks are typically associated with femininity and softness, for example, natural, light, and glossy looking lips and skin (signaling health and enhancing femininity), subtly filled in eyebrows, and natural-looking eyeshadow.
Heavy makeup is much more noticeable and typically exudes glamorousness and coolness. Often glamorous makeup features matte skin with dramatic dark colors on the eyes and lips with harsh edges and lines.17
When Is Your Makeup Too Much Makeup?
Choosing Different Makeup For Different Occasions
‘Attractive’ typically describes norms of a ‘feminine’ look, while sexualization refers to a sexy appearance with an emphasis on sex appeal and sexiness. Smolak et al. (2014) found that college women dressed up attractively (in light makeup and well-fitted clothing) for day-to-day wear. These same women said they dress up ‘sexy’ for parties at the weekend (heavy makeup, low cut dress, tighter clothing). Wearing heavy makeup can be a part of self-sexualization.5
Graham and Jouhar (1983) found that all types of cosmetics were deemed more attractive at nighttime than during the day.6
A heavier makeup can be appropriate in certain settings (for example to look sexier on a night out). However, wearing heavy makeup if it is not applied well can have a detrimental effect on attractiveness than using no makeup at all.6
More Makeup = More Attractive?
Light Or Heavy Makeup Makes You Look More Attractive Than None
In a study by Cox and Glick (1986), 7 women aged 22 – 30 applied a various amount of makeup (none, moderate, or heavy). 59 students viewed 2 or 3 pictures of these women and evaluated how sexy, feminine, attractive, motivated, emotional, and decisive these women were.
The raters changed their perception of the woman’s external characteristics depending on the level of makeup she wore. Evaluations of greater sexiness, femininity, and attractiveness all positively correlated with more makeup use.7
Etcoff et al. (2011) also evaluated how perceptions of qualities (competence, likability, trustworthiness, attractiveness) change depending on the levels of makeup worn by a woman in a photograph (natural (none), professional (moderate), glamorous (heavy).8
Cosmetics use correlated positively with all of the factors (competence, likability, attractiveness, trustworthiness).8
The authors suggest that if you are trying to impress a date, wearing heavier makeup can help you look sexier, more feminine, and more attractive.8
Workman and Johnson’s (1991) research investigated the effect of cosmetic level on first impressions – especially with regard to femininity, attractiveness, morality, personal temperament, and personality traits.9
Their finding revealed a large difference in perceived attractiveness between the ‘no makeup’ look, moderate makeup, and heavy makeup style. Those wearing moderate and heavy looks were perceived as a lot more attractive. Plus, there was little difference in rated perceived attractiveness and femininity between the women wearing moderate makeup vs heavier makeup. 9
These results suggest that once a certain threshold of makeup usage is reached, perceived attractiveness and femininity remains pretty constant.9
Graham and Jouhar (1981) investigated the impact of makeup on perceived appearance and personality. Men and women rated photographs of four women (all rated beforehand as of average attractiveness).11
They rated these women more feminine, cleaner, tidier, and more physically attractive when wearing makeup than without makeup. Additionally, they were perceived to be more organized, posed, more popular, secure, sociable, and more interesting.11
Lighter Makeup Is Often More Attractive Than Heavier
In Tagai et al.’s (2016) study, 38 Japanese women rated 36 other Japanese women’s levels of attractiveness with no makeup, a light application of makeup, and heavier makeup. The light application was rated the most attractive, with the heaviest application in second, and the no-makeup faces were deemed least attractive.10
The authors hypothesize that heavy makeup could be more memorable than the person’s actual facial features, while the lighter application actually enhances the attractiveness of the facial features.10
Why The *Type* Of Makeup You Wear Matters
Men Like Perfume – Women Like Mascara
The type of cosmetics rated most attractive by men in a 1983 study was perfume (both at night and during the day). Women rated mascara as the most attractive for both day and night time. 6
Full Face > Eye Makeup > Foundation > Lips
Mulhern et al. (2003) revealed that the kind of makeup worn has an influence on perceived attractiveness. Women were deemed more attractive with a full face of makeup compared to no makeup at all. Makeup only-on-the-eyes had a bigger effect on perceived attractiveness than just—foundation makeup. Both the eye and foundation makeup influenced attractiveness more than lip-only makeup.12
Lipstick Colors Matter
Heavy Or Too Much Makeup = More Sexualized?
Research conducted by Bernard et al. (2020) revealed that women who wore eye-makeup-only were judged to be wearing more makeup than those in the lipstick-only condition, and the latter was also judged to be wearing more than those with no makeup at all.14
Those with the eye-makeup-only and the lipstick-only were judged as sexualized to the same degree, and both were judged to be more sexualized than those without makeup. In the eye-makeup-only condition, viewers were focused more on the eyes while they were focused more on the mouth in the lipstick-only condition. 14
Faces wearing heavy makeup were rated as more sexualized than those without makeup, however heavy makeup was found to have only a small effect on sexualization ratings. 14
An earlier study than Bernard et al. 2020 also examined the relationship between makeup and sociosexuality.
Women perceived to be wearing more makeup were rated (by men and women) as more attractive and having a less restricted sociosexuality than that same woman with less makeup.
The more makeup worn, the more that person was perceived as being comfortable with casual encounters with different partners. However, the rated level of attractiveness fully explained the link between more makeup and sociosexuality for the male raters.15
More Makeup = More Body Positive?
38 female college students in the US took a body image survey and were photographed before and after makeup. The women were more body image positive with the makeup on than without. The more makeup worn by the women, usually the bigger the difference in body image happiness between wearing makeup and no makeup. 16
Sixteen fellow college students rated the attractiveness of these women either with or without makeup. The male raters rated the women less favorably without makeup than with makeup, but the female judges showed no significant difference. 16
Heavier Makeup Impacts Perceived Personality Traits
More Cosmetics = Perceived Worse Personality
Certain perceived personality characteristics negatively correlate with increased cosmetic usage. Different studies find different traits negatively correlate with increased makeup use.
Cox and Glick (1986) revealed that increasing makeup usage correlated positively with perceived sexiness, femininity, and attractiveness. However, greater makeup usage is also negatively (or non-correlated with) decisiveness, emotionality, morality, and likeability. 7
Self-presentation, introversion, conformity, self-consciousness, and anxiety were found to induce greater makeup usage. 7
Workman and Johnson’s (1991) research investigated the effect of cosmetic level on first impressions – especially with regard to femininity, attractiveness, morality, personal temperament, and personality traits. Wearing makeup had no impact on temperament or personality traits. Additionally, there was a negative correlation between more makeup use and perceived morality. Certain perceived personality characteristics negatively correlated with increased cosmetic usage. 9
Introverts, Conformists, and The Anxious Use More Makeup
Fieldman, Hussey, and Robertson (2008) aimed to find out which personality traits are associated with three levels of makeup use (low, medium, or high). 18
Extroverts typically use less makeup than the introverted, and the authors state that this is because extroverts are more confident. Conformists wear greater amounts of makeup to blend in and not stand out in the crowd. It’s possible to interpret these results as those wearing more makeup do so in order to try to cover up flaws or insecurities. 18
Scott (2007) found that when women experienced anxiety it lead to greater cosmetic use. This same study revealed that women lower in confidence and those feeling insecure feel anxious with lesser amounts of makeup on. 19
Makeup & The Job Market
A woman’s level of makeup use impacts her perception of ability at the workplace.
Related: Read More About The Science Into The Best Looks To Get Ahead In The Workplace
In a classroom setting, those wearing “too much makeup” are assessed by team members as more focused on themselves than teamwork, more likely to provide low quality work, not show up on time, and not be serious about the work. 22
The Gender Balance In a Workplace Can Influence How Heavier Makeup Is Percieved
Cox and Glick (1986) found greater makeup use negatively correlated with the perceived performance ability of women applying for women-dominated jobs. Increased cosmetic usage did not correlate with the perceived performance level of women applying for gender-neutral type jobs. 7
Wearing a greater amount of makeup can have negative effects on your perception at work. Kyle and Mahler (1996) found that women applying for professional roles wearing a greater amount of makeup or glamorous makeup were deemed to be not as capable as those choosing to wear little or no makeup. 20
Women wearing no makeup were assigned a greater starting salary than those opting for light to moderate levels of makeup. Based on these results, women should not use makeup when attending job interviews or work meetings in order to be treated more seriously. However, all of the participants in this study were college students. Dynamics in a workplace with older adults may differ. 20
Wearing Heavier Makeup As A Salesperson Can Lead To Less Trust And Reduced Sales
In another experiment study, people judged salespeople with glamorous or extreme makeup to be much less trustworthy than those with other levels of makeup – including none at all. 21
The more makeup worn by the salesperson, the lower the perceived level of trustworthiness, which then resulted in lower purchasing intention and sales effectiveness. 21
More makeup predicted significantly less trust, and the less trustworthy the salesperson seemed, the less likely people were to buy from them. 21
Women salespeople with extreme or glamorous makeup styles were deemed as significantly less trustworthy than when that same saleswoman wore no makeup at all or the natural look. This was the case even controlling for gender, age, and disposable income of the buyer. 21
This suggests wearing little or no makeup is the best choice for female salespeople who want to make more sales. Even moderate amounts of professional-level makeup present a possible risk of fewer sales, and very high levels of makeup are directly damaging to sales performance for saleswomen..21
Wearing Makeup = More Tips For Waitresses
Jacobs et al. (2010) attempted to find out whether a waitress’ makeup influenced tipping behavior. Wearing cosmetics was associated with a significant boost in tipping from male customers compared to the same woman without makeup.23
First Impression Vs Closer Glance At Makeup Influences Co-Workers’ Opinions
Etcoff et al. (2011) found that cosmetics use correlated positively with competence, likability, attractiveness, and trustworthiness. However, when the participants took more time to analyze the pictures, they no longer positively associated with greater makeup usage with likability and trustworthiness. 8
Makeup that indicates natural beauty was perceived as more socially cooperative and higher in warmth, and those with seemingly enhanced attractiveness (dramatic makeup) did not appear more warm and cooperative. 8
This suggests that using makeup (and how much makeup you choose to apply) is a tool to influence the way you are perceived. if you are trying to win people over or get a job, a minimal amount of makeup is optimal. However, if you are trying to impress a date wearing heavier makeup can help you look sexier, more feminine, and more attractive. 8
Consider The Difference Between A Powerful Lip And A Shiny Muted Color
Following the Etcoff et al. (2011) study, one of the co-authors, Sarah Vickery, advised in an interview with the New York Times:
“There are times when you want to give a powerful ‘I’m in charge here’ kind of impression, and women shouldn’t be afraid to do that.” 24
A powerful lip color can help exude this energy.
“Other times you want to give off a more balanced, more collaborative appeal.” 24
A more muted lip stain is better in a situation like this (to add some contrast against your skin, without being overly shiny or artificial-looking). 24
Women At Work Sometimes Perceive Women With Makeup As More Dominant
Mileva et al. (2016) revealed that women perceive other women who wear makeup as more dominant while men view women who use cosmetics as more prestigious. Some evidence suggests the impression of dominance is influenced by jealously – that women feel more jealously towards women wearing makeup. 25
Later, the authors explained that these results have implications for the labor market, especially job interviews. If you are interviewing for a subordinate position with a female majority staff, consider wearing a natural makeup look. If you are trying to get a job promotion, wear a more powerful makeup look (more eyeliner, deep lipstick), in particular when an interviewer is a straight man. 26
.1. Makeup usage in women as a tactic to attract mates and compete with rivals by Looman Mafra et al. (2020)
.2. Miscalibrations in judgements of attractiveness with cosmetics by Jones et al. (2014)
.4. Frequency of makeup use among consumers in the United States as of May 2017, by age group by Statista (2017)
.5. Sexualizing the Self: What College Women and Men Think About and Do to Be “Sexy” by Smolak et al. (2014)
.6. The Importance of Cosmetics in the Psychology of Appearance by Graham and Jouhar (1983)
.7. Resume evaluations and cosmetics use: When more is not better by Cox & Glick (1986)
.9. The Role of Cosmetics in Impression Formation by Workman and Johnson (1991)
.10. Faces with Light Makeup Are Better Recognized than Faces with Heavy Makeup by Tagai et al. (2016)
.11. The effects of cosmetics on person perception by Graham & Jouhar (1981)
.12. Do cosmetics enhance female Caucasian facial attractiveness by Mulhern et al. (2003)
.13. Does Red Lipstick Really Attract Men? An Evaluation in a Bar by Guéguen (2012)
.15. Evidence that makeup is a false signal of sociosexuality by Batres et al. (2018)
.16. Effects of Cosmetics Use on the Physical Attractiveness and Body Image of American College
Women by Cash et al. (1989)
.17. The light-makeup advantage in facial processing: Evidence from event-related potentials by Tagai et al. (2017)
.18. “Who wears cosmetics?” Individual differences and their relationship with cosmetic usage. by Fieldman et al. (2008)
.19. Influence of Cosmetics on the Confidence of College Women: An Exploratory Study by Scott (2007)
.20. The Effects Of Hair Color And Cosmetic Use On Perceptions Of A Female’s Ability by Kyle and Mahler (1996)
.21. Makeup or mask: makeup’s effect on salesperson trustworthiness by Mittal and Silvera (2020)
.22. Social cues of (un)trustworthy team members by Neu (2015)
.23. Waitresses’ facial cosmetics and tipping: A field experiment by Jacob et al. (2010)
.24. Up the Career Ladder, Lipstick In Hand NYT article (201)
.25. Sex Differences in the Perceived Dominance and Prestige of Women With and Without Cosmetics by Mileva et al. (2016)
.26. How make-up makes men admire but other women jealous [Press Release, 2016]