Young woman with make-up brush looking quizzical
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Make-up: what do men find sexy?

When women want to woo someone, they often put on red lipstick and lots of make-up for sexy, smokey eyes. But what do they guys actually find attractive?

Make-up is designed to enhanced typically feminine facial features. For example, women tend to have more contrast between their skin and other parts of their face, like their eyes and mouth. Lipstick and eye shadow work to play up this contrast. Another example is blush – redder cheeks could be a sign of circulatory health, and good health is definitely attractive in a mate.

But do men actually find make-up attractive? And, if so, how much is too much? To answer these questions, a team of researchers from the UK asked 44 young women to apply make-up for a night out. The researchers took before and after pictures of each woman and then used a computer program to create a series of photos ranging from no make-up at all through to totally made up.

Less is better

At this point, the researchers brought in a group of 44 men and women, sat them down, and asked them to give some thought to the pictures. First off, the researchers wanted to know how much make-up the men and women found most attractive. But they were also curious to see how much make-up the participants thought the average guy and gal would say looked good on a woman.

Most guys and gals agree on how much make-up is attractive, the results showed. But that amount tends to be way less – about 35 per cent less – than what your average woman applies for a night out, at least in the UK.

Supernormal

That could be because both men and women overestimate how much make-up your average guy finds attractive. There tends to be this belief that men are into exaggerated feminine features, like bright red lips and heavily made-up eyes – what the researchers call a ‘supernormal’ face.

In fact, men might instead find loads of make-up deceptive, since it masks a woman’s natural features.

But women tend to believe that men are into ‘supernormal’ looks: models with flawless skin and perfect bodies they so often see in the media, the researchers say. Consequently, women might be layering on the eye shadow and lipstick based on a mistaken perception of what guys are really into.

Reference: Jones, A.L., Kramer, R.S.S. & Ward, R. (2014). Miscalibrations in judgments of attractiveness with cosmetics. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. 67(10):2060-8


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