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Men In Makeup? Yes Please, Says New Research

Happy to inform you that guyliner is good, actually.

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Dr. Katie Spalding

Freelance Writer

clockNov 4 2022, 17:27 UTC
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A man wearing amazing rainbow eyeshadow and winking. He has painted yellow fingernails with a smiley face on one finger.
The men in the study weren't this fabulous, but that's their own fault. Image: Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

In a discovery that will surprise pretty much nobody who knows the purpose of makeup, researchers have found that men are considered more attractive when wearing a smattering of the old powder and rouge than when barefaced.

The albeit small study asked 200 participants, recruited via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, to rate the attractiveness of 40 men – although the researchers note that they eschewed the traditional zero-to-10 scale in favor of a more scientific one-to-seven alternative. 

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What the raters hadn’t been told, however, was that in those 40 images they had been asked to review, there were actually only 20 individual men. But here’s the trick: in half of the photos, those men were facially nude – while in the other half they had been attended to by a professional makeup artist, who had given them a subtle “nude” look via the careful application of concealers, powders, and so on.

“Male faces were rated as higher in attractiveness when presented wearing subtle makeup, compared to when presented not wearing makeup,” said Carlota Batres, the Franklin and Marshall psychologist who led the study, in a statement. “This was true for both male and female raters, and whether analyzing the data using a by-participant or a by-face analysis.”

Two of the participants without cosmetics (left) and with cosmetics applied by a professional makeup artist (right).
Who's sexiest? (It's OK, it's for science.) Two of the participants without cosmetics (left) and with cosmetics applied by a professional makeup artist (right). Image: Batres et al, PLOS ONE, 2022


While the study claims to be the first to investigate the effect of makeup on men, the history of men in makeup goes way further back than you might think – in fact, it’s only relatively recently in human history that the practice has been particularly gendered one way or the other. 

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“Egyptian men lined their eyes in an exaggerated cat’s eye with black kohl,” pointed out critic, essayist, and Assistant Professor of Critical and Curatorial Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in a piece for the New York Times last year. 

“Roman men preferred rouge,” she continued. “Male members of the court of Louis XIV in France painted on beauty marks, while Elizabethan Englishmen powdered their faces with ceruse, a toxic mixture of vinegar and white lead.”

Those comely gents evidently knew something today’s men seem to have forgotten: that makeup is literally designed to enhance your features. The makeup artist in the study was directed to “increase skin homogeneity, decrease facial contrast, and accentuate the bone structure without it being too obvious that the targets were wearing makeup,” the paper explains – all quite subtle ways to make a face look younger, healthier, and, believe it or not, more masculine.

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“Previous studies have found that… lower facial contrast makes faces appear more masculine,” the paper notes. “Additionally, bone structure in men… affects perceptions of attractiveness. Therefore, we predicted that male faces with makeup would be rated as more attractive than male faces without makeup, since makeup could potentially be applied to influence skin homogeneity, facial contrast, and bone structure perceptions.”

There is one caveat, though: for four of the 20 men who lent their faces to the study, the makeup actually lowered their attractiveness score among the respondents. The researchers don’t know what set these faces apart from the others – or perhaps, what set their facial routines apart – but it’s worth noting that, if you’re hoping to, say, science-hack your way to a not guilty verdict, this may not be a fail-proof way to do it.

Still, the researchers say, this is just the beginning: future investigations will hopefully be able to figure out who benefits most from makeup, and which type of cosmetic is most effective at upping a person’s attractiveness. And until then, at least we can all agree on one thing: that no matter who you are – man, woman, both, or neither – everyone looks sexier in eyeliner. 

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The study is published in PLOS ONE.


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