Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

The Surprising Impact of No-Makeup Selfies

Psychologists unpack the effects of the #NoMakeupSelfie movement.

Source: Freestocks-photos/Pixabay

Think back to 2014, and you may recall the #NoMakeupSelfie movement that took social media by storm. What started out as an effort to raise money for cancer research quickly morphed into a phenomenon of self-expression—liberating many women from the chimera of modern beauty ideals.

By all outward measures, the campaign was wildly successful. It raised millions of dollars, captured the interest of high-profile activist celebrities, such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Beyoncé, and has remained relevant to the present day. Less clear, however, was the psychological impact the movement had on its many adherents. Was this a massive, cathartic moment for an image-obsessed society? Did people truly feel better after baring their true selves? Did the movement have any lasting impact on people's conceptions of beauty?

New research published in the journal Body Image attempts to answer some of these fascinating questions. Specifically, researchers at Macquarie University in Australia designed an experiment to test the psychological effects of no-makeup selfies. They recruited 175 female undergraduate students to take part in an experiment that, students were told, would help scientists understand how we form impressions of people on social media. This, however, was a cover story. The true purpose of the experiment was to examine how selfies (makeup versus no makeup) influence one's emotional state and image satisfaction.

To this end, participants were randomly assigned to one of three experimental conditions. In the first condition, participants were shown nine pictures of women with makeup. Researchers used images from popular makeup artists' public Instagram pages as the experimental stimuli. The second condition was similar to the first, except that three of the nine images were swapped out for no-makeup images. The no-makeup images were identified using the Instagram #NoMakeupSelfie hashtag. Finally, a control condition displayed nine neutral images (pictures of houses, also taken from Instagram).

Researchers then asked all participants to answer questions assessing their mood, overall appearance satisfaction, and facial appearance satisfaction. Finally, in keeping with the cover story, participants rated their impression of the woman posting the photos.

Here's a brief summary of what they found. They write:

  • "Viewing idealized made up images (selfies) of attractive women taken from Instagram reduced young women’s facial appearance satisfaction and led them to want to change more aspects of their face, hair, and skin than women who viewed appearance-neutral control images."
  • "Importantly, viewing natural no-makeup images of those women in addition to their idealized made up images reduced the impact of the idealized images on women’s facial appearance satisfaction."
  • "Viewing idealized made-up images, with or without the addition of no-makeup images, did not significantly impact women’s overall appearance satisfaction or mood."

What, then, can this research teach us about the #NoMakeupSelfie movement? For one, it suggests adding even a few natural, no-makeup photos into one's news feed can improve facial appearance satisfaction across the entire network community. In hindsight, the movement may have been successful, because it discovered a fundamental improvement in the way we relate to our news feeds.

It also suggests that the psychological benefits of viewing no-makeup selfies are limited in scope—only facial appearance satisfaction showed improvement (mood and overall appearance satisfaction remained unchanged).

Nevertheless, this finding is not to be dismissed. The researchers write, "Regularly promoting #nomakeupselfies on social media may be one way to reduce any negative impact of viewing idealized images of attractive others online."

The takeaway? Think twice before following that popular make-up artist, unless he or she posts the occasional no-makeup selfie.

Facebook Image: Liudmyla Boieva/Shutterstock


Fardouly, J., & Rapee, R. M. (2019). The impact of no-makeup selfies on young women’s body image. Body image, 28, 128-134.