My relationship with cosmetics is, well, long and complicated. As is the history of cosmetics in general — from the copper-based kohl favored by the ancient Egyptians, which may have helped to prevent eye infections, to the lead-based face powders of 16th century Europe, which would give one a “killer” complexion — literally. Good or bad, cosmetics have been around since nearly the dawn of mankind.

For the purposes of this article, I am defining cosmetics as all makeup and/or tinted moisturizers, color correctors and/or face primers, perfumes, deodorant, nail polishes, hair color and/or styling products and body/hand lotions. Not included are un-tinted moisturizers and/or face lotions, serums and/or treatments, soap and/or body wash, shampoo/conditioner and sunscreen.

Cosmetics Queen?

According to my mother, I first demanded to use makeup at the age of 14. Some cosmetics, like deodorant and body lotion, came earlier, and color correctors and primers are fairly recent additions to my routine. Furthermore, over time, I have moved from bargain, drugstore cosmetics with questionable ingredients to higher-end, cruelty-free brands with natural (or more natural) ingredients that are better for sensitive skin. In addition, skin care has increasingly become a priority — I moisturize, always wear sunscreen and never sleep in my makeup.

Currently, I use the following products:

  • Redness color corrector
  • Oil-absorbing primer
  • Powder foundation – sometimes concealer
  • Highlighting powder
  • Blush/bronzer
  • Eye shadow
  • Mascara
  • Lip liner
  • Lip balm (tinted)
  • Finishing powder
  • Makeup setting spray
  • Deodorant
  • Body/hand lotion
  • Perfume
  • Hair styling products
  • Hair color
  • Nail polish – on my toe nails

I use the majority of these items daily. Some, I feel like I need, because my skin is ruddy and oily and pale. Others I use out of habit, and a few bring me joy – my perfumes and my lip balms, all from Fresh, one of my favorite brands. And, others, like deodorant and body/hand lotion, feel necessary, for hygiene and dry, itchy skin respectively.

With regard to makeup, none of the products in my routine truly fix the things I hate about my skin — redness and oiliness — so, why do I keep using them? Because, I am pretty sure that if I leave my house without makeup, the cosmetics police will be waiting to judge me and find me wanting.

My friend, Rebecca A., put it best when she said, “Make no mistake, you [women] are a slave to the beauty industry and will spend countless dollars desperately trying to live up to an airbrushed standard of beauty. All the men around you have license to walk the earth feeling perfect just the way they are, but you will be bound to your ability to be attractive and all your worth will be measured by that standard.”

Would I be where I am today in my career if I had never worn cosmetics? That is impossible to know; nevertheless, I do agree that women face greater societal pressure to conform to the above mentioned standard of beauty. And, yet, as celebrities demand un-retouched photos and body positivity campaigns continue to move the needle, I would like to think that we are becoming somewhat more accepting of real skin, perceived flaws and all, as well as a woman’s choice to use cosmetics or not.

That is not to say, however, that I never enjoy using cosmetics — specifically makeup. It can be fun and freeing to create a new persona, one who embraces a bold lip and smoky eye, even if only for an evening.

But, that is just my opinion! I wondered how other women feel — women with whom I work and play — so I asked them.

Our Make-Up (Pun Intended!)

I surveyed a bunch of my female friends and work colleagues to learn more about their cosmetic use and opinions regarding cosmetics — 28 responded.

We range in age from 25 to 68 and use the following cosmetics:

  • Tinted moisturizer – 25%
  • Color correctors/primers – 25%
  • Foundation – 47%
  • Concealer – 54%
  • Blush – 57%
  • Bronzer – 18%
  • Highlighter – 21%
  • Powder – 46%
  • Eye shadow/liner – 57%
  • Mascara – 64%
  • Lipstick/gloss – 71%
  • Deodorant – 96%
  • Perfume – 39%
  • Body lotion – 79%
  • Hair styling products – 82%
  • Hair color – 43%
  • Nail polish – 64%
  • None – 0%

57% use cosmetics most days, followed by daily at 36%, and the majority of those who responded (82%), describe their cosmetics style as natural or barely there. 89% go out in public cosmetic-free and 68% take makeup-free photos.

When did we begin using cosmetics? The most common answer was 13; however, there was no consensus as to an appropriate age for today’s youth to begin using cosmetics – most felt that it is a personal decision.

A Woman’s Prerogative

Speaking of personal decisions, we use cosmetics for a variety of reasons.

Many of us, like Haley C., use cosmetics as part of our work routine because, as Haley noted, “They help me feel (a little bit) polished.”

Others use cosmetics to even out skin tone, conceal adult acne and/or acne scars, enhance favorite features, and in the case of deodorant, for hygiene. Kristan C. uses minimal cosmetics, but she does use under eye concealer. “The bags/circles under my eyes not going away,” she said, “But [with concealer] I can pretend they are fading!”

Some, like Lauren W., also use cosmetics for the skin care properties, specifically sunscreen. “[I wear cosmetics] mostly to even out skin and enhance eyes. My foundation is also my daily sunscreen,” she shared.

And, sometimes, we use cosmetics just because we want to or for the fun of it.

“I love doing my makeup each morning,” one respondent said. “I don't see it as a chore, but as an outlet. It allows me to do nothing but focus on me for a few minutes. It's kind of my ‘me time.’"

The Good & the Bad

Also varied are our opinions regarding what we like and dislike. Much of what we like aligns with the main reasons we wear cosmetics — to cover and enhance. However, some, like Allyson L., appreciate the artistic aspect: “I like to play with makeup and try new products. Kind of in an artsy way ... as a kid, I loved crayons and magic markers ... now I like to play with lipstick and eyeshadow.”

On the other hand, we also dislike things about cosmetics — namely the environmental impact, potentially harmful ingredients, cost and smell. Not to mention the time requirement and the societal pressure to be “made up.”

Lauren W. noted, “I think a lot of cosmetics/beauty products are marketed to prey on women's insecurities, and not because they actually offer some real benefit. For example, how many different mascara formulas are there, really, versus how many are just the same stuff repackaged to plump and lengthen vs. lengthen and plump?”

Acknowledging that we are being marketed to, what are we looking for in the cosmetics we purchase? Overwhelmingly, quality — specifically natural and safe ingredients — as well as cruelty-free products. Staying power and affordability are also important considerations.

Changing Habits

93% of survey respondents reported that their cosmetic use has changed over time. Some use fewer cosmetics, others more. My sister, Kendle H., shared that she went from using cosmetics only for special occasions to very light regular use for work, even though she thinks that “they are annoying.”

Ease or laziness is also a factor. Lauren W. noted, “My desire to look decent is always balanced with my desire to sleep as long as I possibly can in the mornings.”

Whatever our usage, the most significant change is what we use. Generally, we have settled on brands that we like and that work for us. In addition, as previously mentioned, most now look for higher quality products with ingredients that are safe and cruelty-free.

Speaking about how her cosmetic use has changed, Katie H. said, “I spend more on cosmetics because my skin is very sensitive. I have to use makeup of a certain caliber, and organic or responsibly sourced cosmetics are important to me now.”

And, if we could go back and advise our younger selves or the next generation on cosmetics use, what would we counsel?

  • Less is more!
  • Take care of your skin!
  • Always wear sunscreen!
  • Use quality products!

“You don't have to use makeup, and the less the better,” Katie continued. “But, it is critically important to take good care of your skin. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize — and don't be cheap about your products. It matters what goes on your skin. AND, USE SUNSCREEN!”

Just Be You!

So, what is the solution to the cosmetics conundrum?

Claudia C. put it nicely when she said, “I have a 13-year-old daughter. I teach her with my words and also my actions that makeup can be fun, creative and an escape. But also, that you don’t HAVE to wear makeup. There is no rule book. If you feel like wearing it, do; if you don’t, don’t. It isn’t vanity to wear makeup, it’s just another way to present yourself to the world. It is another tool in your arsenal to be a kickass person! Just be you!”

Use cosmetics or not. It is your decision. But, always choose to be a kickass person!

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Considers life to be one big anthropological field experience. She observes and reports. She enjoys travel, food and wine and adventures with her husband, Roger.

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