Feeling Hormonal? Slap on the Makeup

New research links women's testosterone to cosmetics use.

Posted Nov 05, 2015

Greta Ceresini/Flickr
Source: Greta Ceresini/Flickr

NOTE (8th Feb 2016): The scientists behind this research have voluntarily retracted their paper. For more information, visit Retraction Watch.

Women use more cosmetics when their testosterone levels are high, according to new research by psychologists at the University of Glasgow.

Researchers have suggested that women may use more makeup at certain times of the month. But it is unclear which of the hormones that vary with a woman’s menstrual cycle best explain changes in behavior.

Progesterone levels are highest toward the end of the menstrual cycle, in the week before menses. Estrogen rises just before ovulation, when women are most fertile. Testosterone is sometimes known as the male hormone, but it is normal for women to produce testosterone in small amounts. Like estrogen, testosterone peaks midcyle and has been implicated in women’s sex drive.

In a paper published Monday in the journal Psychological Science, Claire Fisher and colleagues at Glasgow’s Institute of Neuroscience tested the hypothesis that makeup use is linked to women’s testosterone levels.

Fisher had 85 normally cycling women visit her laboratory every week for five consecutive weeks, to cover an average menstrual cycle of 28 days. During each visit the women provided a saliva sample, which the researchers tested for estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. The women were also shown 50 computer generated female faces that differed only in the attractiveness of their makeup style, and rated how much they would want to wear each style if they were going out to a bar or club that night.

During test sessions when their testosterone levels were high, women’s preferences for the attractive makeup styles were stronger. This effect persisted when the researchers statistically controlled for the influence of estrogen and progesterone.

The relationship between testosterone and women’s desire to appear more attractive may not be confined to changes in hormone levels over the menstrual cycle. Another team of researchers recently found that when women were asked to imagine their partner flirting with an attractive co-worker, their testosterone levels shot up. The authors of the new study speculate that jealousy-triggered bursts of testosterone may also promote makeup use.

Other appearance enhancement behaviors, such as wearing revealing or attractive clothing, change over a woman’s menstrual cycle. Fisher and colleagues say:

“Our data raise the possibility that these clothing-related behavioral changes might also be underpinned by changes in women’s testosterone levels”.

Cosmetics are thought to increase female attractiveness because they give the illusion of a more uniform youthful-looking skin tone, or because they exaggerate the female-typical color contrasts of a person’s face — eyelids and lips tend to be darker than the surrounding skin, but this difference is pronounced in women.


Fisher, C. I., Hahn, A. C., DeBruine, L. M. & Jones, B. C. (in press). Women’s preference for attractive makeup tracks changes in their salivary testosterone. Psychological Science.

Jones, A. L. (2015). Cosmetics alter biologically-based factors of beauty: evidence from facial contrast. Evolutionary Psychology, 13(1), 210–229.

Gueguen, N. (2012). Makeup and menstrual cycle: Near ovulation, women use more cosmetics. The Psychological Record, 62, 541–548.

Ritchie, L. L., & van Anders, S. M. (2014). There’s jealousy . . . and then there’s jealousy: Differential effects of jealousy on testosterone. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 1, 231–246.

Samson, N., Fink, B., & Matts, P. J. (2010). Visible skin condition and perception of human facial appearance. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 32, 167–184.