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Are Women More Attractive in Red Lipstick?

How the color of makeup makes a difference.

Key points

  • Women have more luminance contrast between facial features and skin than men, which is enhanced through make-up.
  • Research indicates that red lips are universally appealing, possibly due to a perceived association with sexual arousal.
  • Highly attractive women were perceived as even more attractive in red.

We have all seen the glamor shots. From models to movie stars, red lips look red hot. Why? And is it true for everyone? Or only those who would look good in anything? Research seeks to determine to what extent colors matter, and to whom.

Image by Oliana Gruzdeva from Pixabay
Source: Image by Oliana Gruzdeva from Pixabay

Red Lipstick Attracts Men

Nicolas Guéguen, in a study entitled “Does Red Lipstick Really Attract Men?” examined whether men in a bar would be more attracted to women wearing red lipstick as opposed to other colors.[i] He had female subjects wearing red, brown, pink, and no lipstick at all, sit in bars for an hour between 8:30 p.m. and midnight, on Wednesday and Saturday nights in a popular hot spot in France. Sure enough, women wearing red lipstick were linked with more solicitations by men judged to be between the ages of 20 and 28, as well as a shorter lead time between the time they arrived and the first approach.

Was there is something about a bar, whether the time of day, presence of alcohol, or other connotations that made red lipstick stand out? Would these women be perceived the same way in the grocery store or gas station? Other research has indicated the attraction of red lips really is the color, not the setting.

Ian D. Stephen and Angela M. McKeegan examined how lip color impacts perceived facial attractiveness.[ii] They began by noting that women have more luminance contrast between facial features and skin than men, which is enhanced through make-up. They noted that in black-and-white photographs of women’s faces, a higher amount of luminance contrast enhances perceived femininity and attractiveness. For Caucasians, Stephen and McKeegan note that a significant portion of the contrast between lips and facial skin is evidenced by redness, and red lips are universally appealing, possibly due to a perceived association with sexual arousal.

How much do red lips matter if a woman is already attractive? Adam D. Pazda et al. examined that question in connection with the color red in general, in a piece aptly entitled The Effect of Red on Attractiveness for Highly Attractive Women (2021).[iii] They began by recognizing prior research showing the color red can enhance a man’s perception of female attractiveness unless a woman has older, unattractive, or masculine features. Confining their examination to the other end of the spectrum, they studied young women who were highly attractive and provocatively dressed.

Through a series of three experiments, they manipulated the color of lingerie on highly attractive models and examined men’s perceptions of the models’ sexual appeal, sexual receptivity, and attractiveness. Among other findings, they found that women in red received higher ratings relative to green in all three experiments. They concluded that overall, their results demonstrate that red can enhance the appeal of women who are already perceived as attractive and desirable. We might assume a similar result if we added red lipstick.

More Than Color

Lasting relationships require much more than color, whether showcased through makeup or clothing. There is nothing wrong with everyone looking their best, but initial perceptions of attractiveness do not reveal the most important things about relationship potential. The reminder that beauty is skin deep can help ensure people do not overlook the importance of character, kindness, compassion, and compatibility. Unlike makeup and clothing, which someone puts on and takes off, inner qualities are either there or not, proving that the most attractive qualities come in black and white.

References

[i] Guéguen, Nicolas. “Does Red Lipstick Really Attract Men? An Evaluation in a Bar.” International journal of psychological studies 4, no. 2 (2012).

[ii] Stephen, Ian D., and Angela M. McKeegan. “Lip Colour Affects Perceived Sex Typicality and Attractiveness of Human Faces.” Perception (London) 39, no. 8 (2010): 1104–1110.

[iii] Pazda, Adam D., Christopher A. Thorstenson, and Andrew J. Elliot. 2021. “The Effect of Red on Attractiveness for Highly Attractive Women.” Current Psychology: A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues, July. doi:10.1007/s12144-021-02045-3.

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