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Is Professionally-Applied Makeup Worth It?

New research on the differences between self- and professionally-applied makeup.

Key points

  • Cosmetics can impact how a person is perceived with regard to femininity and social status.
  • Professionally-applied makeup outperformed self-applied makeup in changing the perception of an individual.

Several studies have found that makeup affects perceptions. For instance, the same faces are rated as more attractive when presented wearing cosmetics as compared to when presented not wearing cosmetics. Makeup has also been found to increase perceived femininity in the same faces. Additionally, research has shown that cosmetics increase perceived status when used on the same faces. Some of these studies have used self-applied makeup and some of these studies have used professionally-applied makeup.

A new scientific article published this month (on which I am a co-author) aimed to examine whether there are any perceptual differences between professionally-applied and self-applied makeup. The research consisted of taking photographs of the same women (ranging in ages from 29 to 45 years old) under three conditions: no makeup, self-applied makeup, and professionally-applied makeup. For the self-applied condition, each woman applied her own cosmetics using her own application tools. For the professionally-applied condition, each woman had cosmetics applied by a professional makeup artist, using the artist’s cosmetics and application tools. The application of makeup was limited to 20 minutes for both the self-applied and the professionally-applied conditions.

Batres, Porcheron, Courrèges, & Russell/ Perception
Averages of the faces without makeup (A), with self-applied makeup (B), and professionally-applied makeup (C).
Source: Batres, Porcheron, Courrèges, & Russell/ Perception

Three standardized photographs of each woman were taken. The images were then rated by 143 participants on how attractive they found the faces, how much makeup they believed the faces had, and how natural-looking the makeup on the faces was. Additionally, another 86 participants in the study rated the images on how feminine the faces were and how low/high in status the faces appeared.

We found that the faces wearing professionally-applied makeup were rated as being more attractive than the same faces with self-applied makeup. We also found that the faces with professionally-applied makeup were rated as having more cosmetics and as looking less natural than the faces with self-applied makeup. We also found that the faces wearing professionally-applied cosmetics were rated as being more feminine and as having higher status than the same faces with self-applied cosmetics.

Therefore, on average, professional makeup may be worth it under certain conditions. More specifically, if you are trying to increase attractiveness, femininity, or status, then makeup applied by a professional may better achieve that. However, if you are trying to attain a natural look, then self-applied makeup may be a better approach.

The study “Professional Versus Self-Applied Makeup: Do Makeup Artists Add Value?” was published this month in the academic journal ‘Perception’.

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