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‘Makeup’ your mind – The relationship between cosmetics and mental health

Last week it was reported that the boss of L’Oreal, Jean-Paul Agon claimed Instagram is good for business, as it makes young women buy more make-up in an attempt to look like the filtered selfies they post. In an interview, Mr. Agon said the following:

“The more you make yourself look really great online, the more you have to work on yourself when you go out, because if, when people meet you, they discover that you are completely different from what they thought, then you have a problem.”

This quote has upset some individuals and I totally understand why. To me it suggests that young women need to be striving to look like instagram filters, which is not a beneficial mentality to have. The careless comments like the one made by Mr. Agon only add to the pressure that individuals already feel to live up to their digital appearance. This pressure is something which may be having a negative effect on their mental health.

Personally, I think the comments made were highly inappropriate and unprofessional, but it got me wondering about the relationship between makeup and mental health. As an individual who suffers from body dysmorphic disorder (I wrote a post explaining what this is in more detail here), I feel that makeup definitely has an effect on how I feel and my overall well being. Whilst researching I found out the following effects makeup can have on an individuals mental health:

It may increase confidence (and even cognitive ability?)

There is a psychological phenomenon known as the ‘lipstick effect’, which states that wearing makeup can lead to women feeling more confident. One study (1) found that women think of themselves as being more confident when they are wearing their makeup as opposed to going bare-faced. In addition to this, researchers from Harvard Medical School conducted a study (2) and found that women who applied makeup before completing a test experienced a greater boost to their positive feelings when compared to women who weren’t wearing makeup. On top of this, the women wearing makeup were actually found to perform significantly better on the test than their non makeup wearing counterparts. These results regarding cognitive ability really are astounding, but I wonder if there’s more at play here than simply wearing makeup or not.

The benefit of the ritual itself

According to research, the average woman spends 11 minutes a day putting on makeup (3). For some, this process can help to calm down any anxiety that the individual may be feeling. This is because the ritual of putting makeup on tends to be structured and routine. Anxiety feeds on uncertainty, so experiencing an event that has a degree of predictability helps to calm down any negative or unhealthy thoughts that may arise (5).

In addition to this, some individuals may even consider putting on their makeup as a form of ‘art therapy’. Art therapy is defined as ‘the belief that self-expression through artistic creation has therapeutic value for those who are healing or seeking deeper understanding of themselves’ (6). The make-up applying process provides individuals with a fun and creative outlet, allowing them to be expressive which may result in mental wellbeing benefits.

We perceive ourselves differently

Some women have been found to perceive themselves differently after applying makeup. Previous work describes a ‘camouflage’ effect that makeup can provide for individuals, which may lead them to perceiving themselves as more desirable. One study (9) found frequency of makeup usage to be positively correlated with self-perceived attractiveness. This suggests those who use makeup more often perceive themselves to be more attractive. 

Another study found similar results (10). In this study, 24 individuals levels of perceived attractiveness and desirability were measured before and after the application of foundation. When considering before and after the foundation application, significant differences were found in participants’ scores on scales measuring perceived attractiveness. Results of this study found individuals to report higher levels of perceived attractiveness, and desirability after the application of makeup. 

It can improve social interactions

In some cases, researchers have found the wearing of makeup to improve the social interactions that an individual has. Previous work has suggested that makeup allows women to better control their social impressions and self-image (7). As a result of this, an individual’s social confidence may be increased, and they may be more open to face-to-face conversation. In one study, results found that women would feel anxious if they would have to go outside without their makeup on and would try to avoid social interactions (8). Sadly, I find these results incredibly relatable.

It may help you to get a better night’s sleep 

Wearing makeup has also been linked to better sleep patterns. One study (4) looked at the effects of makeup usage on the sleeping habits of female Japanese students. Results found that individuals who wore makeup two or more days per week experienced higher quality sleep than others who wore makeup only one day a week or less. The researchers suggested that this could be down to a number of factors including the chemical compounds in makeup or the psychological stimuli of the application process.

But the relationship between cosmetics and mental health isn’t positive for everyone. Previous researchers (11) have suggested that the extended use of makeup in culture today has led to unrealistic images of beauty. These images can result in women feeling anxious, low levels of self-esteem and lower levels of confidence.

Reflecting on the research above, I feel that if you are using makeup you should be sure that its for the right reasons. Be sure to check in with your mental health and assess whether makeup is actually making you feel better mentally, or if you are chasing unrealistic ideas of beauty. Instagram filters may be great news for cosmetics businesses, but maybe not for your own mental health.

What are your experiences regarding makeup and your mental health? Or maybe you have an opinion on the research outlined above?

References

  1. Cash, T. F., & Cash, D. W. (1982). Women’s use of cosmetics: Psychosocial correlates and consequences. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 4(1), 1-14.
  2. Palumbo, R., Fairfield, B., Mammarella, N., & Di Domenico, A. (2017). Does make-up make you feel smarter? The “lipstick effect” extended to academic achievement. Cogent Psychology, 4(1), 1327635.
  3. Bayless, K. (2019). 7 Reasons Why Wearing Makeup Can Make You a Stronger Woman. Retrieved 24 September 2019, from https://oureverydaylife.com/7-reasons-why-wearing-makeup-can-make-you-a-stronger-woman-10852571.html
  4. Nishihara, R., Wada, K., Akimitsu, O., Krejci, M., Noji, T., Nakade, M., & Harada, T. (2013). Effects of Makeup, Perfume and Skincare Product Usage and Hair Care Regimen on Circadian Typology, Sleep Habits and Mental Health in Female Japanese students Aged 18-30. Psychology, 4(03), 183.
  5. Prinzivalli, L. (2019). Can makeup ease anxiety? This beauty blogger (and her fans) think so. Retrieved 24 September 2019, from
  6. Slayton SC, D’Archer J, Kaplan F. Outcome studies on the efficacy of art therapy: a review of findings. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association. 22 April 2011; 27(3): 108-118.
  7. Cash, T., Dawson, K., Davis, P., Bowen, M., & Galumbeck, C. (1989). Effects of cosmetics use on the physical attractiveness and body image of american college women. The Journal of Social Psychology. 
  8. Fabricant, S. M., & Gould, S. J. (1993). Women’s Makeup Careers: An Interpretive Study of Color Cosmetic Use and “Face Value.” Psychology & Marketing, 10(6), 531–548.
  9. Guimarães, A. L. C. D. C. (2016). Can we feel prettier?: makeup usage among Portuguese women and Its potential extracted benefits: self-esteem, physical attractiveness, social confidence, social interactions, and satisfaction with life(Doctoral dissertation).
  10. Menezes, M. Facial Makeup and Self-Perception: The Effect of Cosmetics on Self-Esteem and Perceived Attractiveness/Desirability.
  11. Britton, A. M. (2012). The beauty industry’s influence on women in society.


9 thoughts on “‘Makeup’ your mind – The relationship between cosmetics and mental health”

  1. I adore this piece, your writing is excellent! The part about the ‘ritual’ of applying make-up is so relatable. I’m at a constant struggle of feeling like I’m feeding into the patriarchal expectations and just handing money over to men who promote messages such as the one starting this piece…. but also it is a healthy ritual for me to use as a coping mechanism for stress and I see nothing wrong with it from that point of view.

    Liked by 1 person

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