Women who wear heavy eyeliner are seen as 'less human' and 'less competent' than those who go fresh-faced

Yuya Shino/Reuters
  • Psychologists showed 1,000 people photos of women wearing varying degrees of makeup and asked them to describe them with adjectives.
  • Over the course of four experiments, they found that the women with heavier makeup were described with less empathy and warmth, and more like objects.
  • Those who wore heavy eyeliner were described as the least warm and the least competent. Women who did not wear eyeliner were seen more favourably, even if they wore bright lipstick and/or heavy blusher.
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The more makeup a person wears, the less human they appear, according to new research published in the journal Sex Roles.

In a series of experiments, psychologists from Brussels and the US asked 1,000 people to look at photos of women wearing varying degrees of makeup for 10 seconds each, and to describe them with adjectives.

The participants, most of whom were in their 20s, from the US and the UK, with an even split of genders and sexual orientations, more often described women with less makeup using words such as “moral,” “warm,” and “capable.” Women with heavier makeup were described as unprofessional, cold, less capable, and immoral.

In one of the experiments, the researchers specifically showed photos of models wearing only eye makeup, only lipstick, or no makeup. They found the women with heavy eye makeup were seen as the least warm, and the least competent.

Bisexual, gay, and lesbian participants, just like heterosexual participants, attributed less human-like traits to women in heavy makeup. “This suggests that heavy makeup caused a subtle form of dehumanization, regardless of participant sexual orientation,” study author Philippe Bernard, of the Free University of Brussels, told Insider.

Researchers say heavy makeup looks ‘unprofessional’ – but women who wear ‘light’ makeup get more promotions than those who go fresh-faced

Alicia KeysTheo Wargo/Getty ImagesAlicia Keys has spearheaded a movement away from heavy makeup.

“Concerning the fact that both men and women perceived women with heavy makeup the same way, it is likely that heavy makeup causes perceivers to focus more on women’s sexiness and sexual appeal and, in contrast, caused perceivers to focus less on women’s internal characteristics such as their personalities,” Bernard said.

For women who feel pressured to wear makeup, this may feel like a welcome release. It dovetails with the recent trend shifting away from makeup, towards skincare and the “no makeup” look. The last few years have seen the rise of brands like Glossier and the global boom in Korea’s 10-step skincare routine.

In 2016, Alicia Keys made waves announcing she was (more or less) quitting makeup, appearing at the VMAs looking makeup free, and Bella Thorne last year said she only wears makeup if she’s paid to.

However, other research has warned against going completely fresh-faced.

A 2011 Harvard study (funded by cosmetics manufacturer Proctor and Gamble) found that women who wore a moderate, or “professional,” amount of makeup were perceived as more competent by men in the workplace. Another study found that men were more likely to give “prestigious jobs” to women with full faces of makeup. Female waitresses make more money in tips when they’re wearing makeup.

It transpired Alicia Keys’ no makeup look involves a $US455 skincare regime, as well as blush, highlighter, brow definer, and “mattifier” to limit shine.

That won’t come as a surprise to most people who feel pressure to wear makeup. A survey by Superdrug, a British cosmetics chain, found one-third of women won’t leave the home without makeup on. Another study, by the personal finance site Mint, estimated that women spend $US15,000 on makeup in their lifetimes.


Read more:

Los Angeles police have seized $US300,000 worth of fake makeup. Here’s how to tell if your beauty products are the real deal.

People are praising Christina Aguilera for her makeup-free photo shoot – but we’re about 20 years too late

4 times beauty brands were dragged for having a ‘limited’ range of foundation

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