Does Wearing More Makeup Really Make You More Attractive?

All you need is 30 seconds in Sephora to know that people love makeup. Some like to keep their look clean and simple, while others love to be at the helm of the hottest makeup trends with bright and bold colors that aren't just eye-catching, but show-stopping. Makeup is personal and unique to everyone who wears it and, for many, it's not just something that's put on as an afterthought. Rather, it's as significant as every article of clothing they wear.

While makeup may be part of the one's personal style these days, we can't ignore the fact that its long been thought of as being designed to make the wearer more attractive to other people. But that wasn't always the case. In fact, some historical records show that as far back as 4000 BCE, Egyptians wore elaborate makeup because they believed it appealed to the gods. In the centuries that followed, makeup was worn by the upper-class to show their place in society or to cover scars (think Elizabeth I), acne, or signs of aging. But it wasn't until the early 20th century that cosmetics as we know them today were marketed toward people as a way to look more attractive.

But, putting aside what the Egyptians believed the gods preferred, is there a direct link between makeup and attractiveness? Well, like most things, it depends on who's doing the deciding. However, according to (some) science, it appears that wearing makeup is doing you more favors than you probably realize. 

How makeup affects people's perceptions of you

According to a 2021 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, makeup actually does make people more attractive. But it's not that simple. In this study, participants (which consisted of 64% female, 32% male, and one non-binary person between the ages of 18 and 53), were given 35 images of women who had applied their own makeup, in varying degrees of heaviness. The results showed the both faces with light and heavy makeup were considered more competent than those without any traces of product, while faces that rocked a heavy makeup look were regarded as not just more attractive, but having higher levels of sociosexuality. 

As the report pointed out, these 2021 results were in direct opposition to previous research that had found that light makeup was more attractive. In fact, a 2014 study published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, found that its 44 participants (both men and women) considered less makeup to be more appealing. However, what's interesting about this particular study is that the women partipants were also asked who they thought the men would consider most attractive, with many assuming that they would prefer more makeup. But that didn't end up being the case at all.

Although these studies were conducted roughly seven years apart, they say a lot in what people assume about strangers based solely on looks. For example, attractiveness due to makeup use is somewhat understandable, at least on the surface, but perceived sociosexuality and competency seem like a big, if not bizarre jump to conclusions. 

Why makeup makes someone attractive

If you gathered every study ever conducted on whether or not makeup makes someone more attractive, you'd encounter results that support both sides. That said, for the reports that have concluded makeup undeniably enhances a person's physical appeal, understanding why this is the case is just as important. To do that, in 2022, a team of researchers at Gettysburg College conducted six studies, focusing on attractiveness based on symmetry, typicality, age, femininity, and perceived health. In the end, they found makeup affected people's perceptions of just two of the categories.

"Makeup makes faces look more attractive by making them look more feminine and more healthy," the study's author Richard Russell tells PsyPost. "We think that this happens because makeup manipulates visual features that are associated with whether a face is male or female, and whether it is healthy or unhealthy."

But why would someone more feminine and more healthy be regarded as more attractive? Evolution, of course. According to a 2022 study by Texas Christian University, healthy looking people are deemed more attractive because it's assumed they have better immune systems, making them able to fight off infection, disease, and ultimately have healthier offspring. "Perhaps it's a cue to people's genetic qualities, including their immune function and [the capacity to] pass on that good immune function down to their children," research scientist Summer Mengelkoch, MS tells NewScientist about the study. In other words, you may think you're being original in your mate choices or in what you find attractive, but everything we do and think is the result of our evolutionary programming. 

Makeup's effect on confidence

Although beauty is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, one thing that's pretty undeniable is makeup's impact on one's self-confidence. According to a 2022 study published in PLOS One, although the relationship between wearing makeup and self-esteem is nuanced, overall, women experience a big confidence boost when they wear makeup. Similarly, a different survey of 2,000 American women by OnePoll found that 75% of women feel more empowered when they're feeling secure in how they look, and 91% of those with beauty routines find makeup to be a source of confidence, per SWNS Digital. And what does confidence lead to? Attractiveness. When people feel their best, there's no stopping them.

"The way you enter a room or share a glance are indicators of your confidence working for you or against you," matchmaker Denise Levy tells Business Insider. "It is all about your smile, body language and even eye contact. When you feel odd or awkward people can pick up on that uneasiness which will equate to whether or not you are perceived as attractive."

While there's an evolutionary reason for why makeup makes people more attractive, it's certainly not the only component. There is no one thing that determines if someone is attractive and it would be remiss to suggest otherwise. What we find good-looking, on an evolutionary or superficial level, is subjective and has more to do with who we are, than the person we're considering attractive or not. Because of this, the grand takeaway in regards to wearing makeup is doing what makes you feel most attractive and owning that decision. Beauty is more likely to be found in authenticity than anything else.