A new study has concluded that makeup has the power to make you seem more competent, likeable, and trustworthy, and attractive, too – just as long as you’re not wearing too much of it.
Researchers organized their study in two parts, showing participants 100 photos of 25 women’s faces without makeup, and then with three different makeup styles, classified as “natural,” “professional” and “glamorous.” When participants viewed the photos for just a split second, all the made-up faces scored higher on scales of attractiveness, competence, likability and trust.
In the second study, participants were given “unlimited” time to peruse the faces, which more closely approximates how we judge coworkers, for example. In that scenario, the “natural” and “professional” looks again beat the makeup-free faces.
But the faces with “glamorous” makeup – a heavier, higher-contrast look – suffered in one way: Participants found them less trustworthy (though more competent). This fits in with an earlier study that found that spending too much time on personal grooming can actually lead to a drop in earnings for women. Researchers on the earlier study said this could be because “researchers say it “may have to do with the negative stereotypes associated with an ‘overly groomed’ woman in the workplace.” (Grain of salt: The new study, while conducted by honest-to-goodness scientists, was paid for by Proctor & Gamble, which owns Cover Girl.)
For young workers who may be less savvy about these things, this can be a minefield. I had absolutely no idea how to wear makeup when I first started working; my mom didn’t wear much of it, and I was never that curious about it in high school or college. For a while, I didn’t wear much either, but when I found myself working for a style magazine, I felt like I had to step up my game. I fumbled my way forward in a trial-and-error way. At one point, a makeup artist at the Bobbi Brown counter at Bloomingdale’s sold me some totally unnecessary undereye concealer, which I dutifully slathered on before work each morning. A catty coworker “casually” mentioned to me that a lot of time, undereye makeup makes people look older. Ouch. I was 27! But I took the cue. A few years later, I have a style that I think works for me.
The lesson is that makeup is, for better or worse, part of a woman’s professional uniform: Peek into any corner office or boardroom and see if you wearing a woman wearing no makeup. But wearing too much makeup can backfire. Even if makeup bores you silly, like it does for me, it’s worth spending just a little bit of time getting it right.