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Why women wear lipstick: preliminary findings



Abstract Lipstick has cast a spell over cultures throughout history. From the past to the present, the little tube of colour, oil and wax has been scorned, shunned and embraced. This paper explores why women wear lipstick, their reasons for purchase and some of the behaviours associated with its use. Results from a mall intercept survey of 300 female lipstick users are presented with particular emphasis,on self-percepti ons of lipstick and grooming,habits using this product. Results indicate that women,wear lipstick today more for reasons of self-esteem and confidence than as a sexual allurement as previous literature would suggest. Lipstick is a significant vehicle through which women,can transform themselves through the image they present to the world. Despite these feelings, society still maintains strict codes of conduct in applying and using the product.
Madeleine Ogilvie and Pauline Kristensen-Bach
Edith Cowan University
Lipstick has cast a spell over cultures throughout history. From the past to the present, the
little tube of colour, oil and wax has been scorned, shunned and embraced. This paper
explores why women wear lipstick, their reasons for purchase and some of the behaviours
associated with its use. Results from a mall intercept survey of 300 female lipstick users are
presented with particular emphasis on self-perceptions of lipstick and grooming habits using
this product. Results indicate that women wear lipstick today more for reasons of self-esteem
and confidence than as a sexual allurement as previous literature would suggest. Lipstick is a
significant vehicle through which women can transform themselves through the image they
present to the world. Despite these feelings, society still maintains strict codes of conduct in
applying and using the product.
Lipstick has been donned by both genders for war and worship, used as an economic
productivity tool, considered a possible health risk and even outlawed by governments, so
why then do women wear lipstick? What is it about this product that can be so consumer
captivating or even repelling that it has outlived cultures, fashion trends and even
The purpose of this study was to identify the reasons why women wear lipstick and to gain
insights into the attributes that influence the consumption behaviour surrounding it. The study
yielded a very rich data set that covered a range of topics including grooming rituals, product
attributes, brand equity, attitudes and perceptions and colour. This paper will focus on the
purchase behaviour of women who use lipstick, the emotions the product generates and the
customs of using lipstick as a grooming aid. Preliminary findings in these areas are presented
with the marketing implications discussed.
The very first origins of lipstick date back to the Sumerian region of Ur in 5,000 BC
(Pallingston 1999). Over the centuries lipstick has been embraced and shunned by different
cultures with swings for and against the product changing, as did history itself. Ancient
Egyptians loved lip paints and according to Pallingston (1999) were masters at mixing colour
and precise application. In Roman days the real lip colours were reserved for prostitutes,
while the barbarians used the blue hues of face and lip paint for men charging into battle.
Lipstick was associated with Satan during the medieval days and it was not until Elizabeth
Tudor that lipstick once again became an accepted and popular grooming aid (Pallingston
1999; Corson 1972; Gunn 1973).
In 1770, lipstick once again fell into disrepute when the British Parliament passed a law
condemning the use of lip paint. Similarly, the New York Board of Health considered banning
it in 1924, fearing it might poison men who kissed the women who wore it (Ragas and
Kozlowski 1998).
During the Second World War, cosmetics, and in particular lipstick, played an important
psychological role as governments realised the necessity of keeping up the morale of the
women who worked in munition factories or other war work. Providing lipstick was a
relatively cheap way of making women look and feel good. Lipstick, which little more than a
decade before had been regarded as suitable only for ‘fast’ women, became a priority product
(Allen 1981; Pallingston 1999).
Today, lipstick represents a significant financial market. In 1996 $4.6 billion was expended on
cosmetics in the US, while in the UK in 1997, 45 million pounds was spent specifically on
lipstick (Pallingston 1999). In Australia the cosmetic market is also considerable and growing
rapidly (Bucalo 1999; Janoff 2000). Over the period 1993-97 it grew by 26% to the value of
$276 million (US) per annum (Bucalo 1999), and ABS statistics confirm this trend continues
with a rise in the Pharmaceutical, cosmetic and toiletry index of 17.4% from January to June
2000 (ABS:8501.0, 2000). Furthermore, organisations are claiming that annual revenue from
women purchasing lipstick far exceeds any other cosmetic product (Bashinsky 1999).
Therefore understanding the consumption behaviours of women using this product has
important implications for cosmetic manufacturers and their marketing strategies.
Self-decoration to entice the opposite sex has been practiced by humans for centuries (Allen
1981; Corson 1972; Etcoff 1999; Gunn 1973). Anthropologists suggest that women use
cosmetics to simulate the body in a state of orgasm. Diane Ackerman (in Pallingston 1999,
p31) claims,
“…the lips remind us of the labia, because they flush red and swell when
aroused, which is the conscious and unconscious reason why women have always
made them look even redder with lipstick.”
Animal behaviourist Desmond Morris supports these claims and views cosmetics as a method
employed by early man to detract attention away from the rear of the body to the face. He
concurs that the red pouting lips represent the blood engorged labia, the rouged cheeks the
skin’s state of flush and the darkened eyes the dilated pupils of excitement (Etcoff 1999;
Pallingston 1999). Evolutionary psychologists would also claim that through natural selection
processes behaviour such as self-decoration has been inherited from our Pleistocene ancestors
and become part of our genetic coding (Cary 2000; Gad and Tripat 2000; Goode 2000; Rose
and Rose 2000).
Self-decoration used by women has changed markedly over the last decades (Allen 1981;
Corson 1972; Etcoff 1999; Peiss 1998). From the large lush-lashed eyes of the 1950’s through
to the black and blue lipsticks of the Gothic and Shock Rockers in the nineties, the lipstick
landscape continues to change. Today, with the new specialised lipstick companies that
sprang up during the nineties, lipstick has undergone a resurgence in popularity to become an
everyday commodity.
Women and beauty
Hielman (1998) addressed society’s commodification of young girls as they strive to achieve
an impossible likeness to the slim beautiful model image depicted frequently within the mass
media. Thompson and Hirschman (1995) also examined the transformation of the body into a
perceived perfect form, and suggest that it is through the consumer ritual of self-care (Rook
1985) that women ‘normalise’ their bodies to achieve an image that is valued as the cultural
norm (Thompson and Hirschman 1995). In addition, studies have also extensively researched
women’s emulation of beauty images that are portrayed in the mass media and the strong
influence these messages have in how women want to look (Solomon, Ashmore and Longo
1992; Englis, Solomon and Olofsson 1993).
Other researchers claim that society places more value on beautiful people (Etcoff 1999;
Fabricant and Gould 1993; McNeil 1998; Richins 1991). Studies have demonstrated that
people who are perceived as more beautiful tend to have better careers, earn more money and
have a higher social status than less attractive people (Fabricant and Gould 1993; McNeil
1998; Richins 1991). No wonder cosmetic companies have so effectively marketed cosmetics
to achieve this end and linked all kinds of intangible attributes to their consumption. The use
of female beauty within popular culture has been exploited relentlessly due to an assumed link
between a woman’s appearance and her measure of self worth (Englis, Solomon and Ashmore
1994; Lury 1996), and lipstick is an integral part of the appearance many women strive to
Initially six in-depth interviews were conducted with women who were known to be lipstick
users and aged between 20 – 40 years. The primary aim of the interviews was to investigate
women’s perceptions and feelings surrounding lipstick, and to gain ideas and insights into the
aspects that may influence their use of the product. Interviews were taped and transcribed.
Transcripts were analysed for re-occurring themes, which were used in the development of the
questionnaire for the study.
A convenience sample of 300 women from selected shopping centres around the Perth
metropolitan area were obtained. Participants were all female lipstick users between 20 – 40
years, from a broad range of demographic and socioeconomic backgrounds. All interviews
were conducted at similar times in each location to minimise bias from consumers’ different
shopping patterns (Malhotra et al. 1996; Zikmund 2000).
The study used a structured undisguised questionnaire with a variety of itemised rating scales
such as Likert and semantic differential, along with a selection of open-ended questions to
elicit more descriptive responses when necessary. The measurement instrument covered of a
range of topics such as respondent’s purchase behaviour, attributes of lipstick, impact of
colour, self-perception, grooming rituals, brand equity and demographic details. The
questionnaire was administered face to face and took on average 15 minutes to complete.
Interviewers’ were trained to ensure continuity and accuracy of the data captured.
Data from the 300 questionnaires was entered into the SPSS package for analysis using a
variety of statistical techniques. Preliminary results in the areas of grooming behaviour and
purchasing patterns of lipstick are discussed in the following paragraphs. Further analysis on
the full data set continues.
The sample reflected an even spread of respondents across the 20-40 year age group with
participants being 20 –25 years (n=99, 33%), 26-30 years (n=78, 26%), 31-35 years (n=49,
16%) and 36-40 years (n=69, 23%). Respondents’ occupations also represented a cross
section of the community. Clerical and service workers (29%) made up the largest percentage
of respondents, followed by sales and marketing (21%) and professional (20%). Participant’s
income range was weighted towards under $31,00 per annum (57%), and all respondents used
lipstick with 33% responding ‘always’, 47% ‘most of the time’, 12% ‘sometimes’ and 8%
In exploring shopping patterns for lipstick purchases, lipsticks were seldom the specific
purpose for shopping, 90% of the sample indicated that they would ‘rarely’ to ‘never’ go to
buy a lipstick. This indicates that lipstick is still considered as an impulse line a finding
supported by other literature (Wagner 1999). Despite this 59% of the sample would purchase
4 or more new lipsticks a year (average 4.83, 2.07). These results are similar to lipstick
purchase patterns of female consumers in the United States whose average lipstick purchase
per annum stands at five (Pallingston 1999). The most frequent purchaser of lipstick was the
26 – 30 age category (54%) who indicated that they would purchase 6 or more lipsticks a
The main reasons given by respondents for purchasing lipstick were for a special occasion
(29%) and as a replacement for an existing (used) stick (23%). A further 20% commented on
buying a new lipstick because they ‘needed a change’ and this response was selected just as
often despite frequency of purchase. It would appear that for these respondents lipstick was a
key vehicle in helping them transform their image from one presentation to another. An
attribute that advertising is quick to exploit in its marketing messages of beauty (Lury 1996).
The data also indicates that only one respondent purchased lipstick as a gift. This is an
interesting finding considering the survey populations’ acceptance of lipstick within society,
and their vast use of it as a common grooming artefact. Further research is needed to
determine if this is indeed an untapped market that would respond to future promotional
campaigns targeted in the area of gift giving.
Lipstick was considered an important part of most respondents’ daily grooming routines with
over 76% of the sample responding that they would wear lipstick 6 or more days a week. A
further 18% of participants replied that they would wear lipstick 1 –2 days a week and purely
for social reasons. Of the days that respondents wore lipstick, women most frequently applied
their lipstick between 3 (31%) to 4 (31%) times a day.
Participants’ in this study indicate that social customs still dictate where they apply their
lipstick and that they would actually go looking for places to do this. This is consistent with
respondents’ high use of restrooms as an application location and low incidence of application
in public. Only 8% (n=23) would apply their lipstick no matter whose company they were in
and 7% (n=21) would apply it in public. For these respondents, a code on lipstick application
remains apparent in society despite cosmetic companies marketing efforts to increase the use
of lipstick throughout the day. Regardless of the mirrored lipstick holders, small purse packs
and the glamorous cosmetic packs with brushes and mirrors, applying lipstick in public
remains for many still socially unacceptable.
In exploring the location of application with age a ‘powder room culture’ is still very evident
in this study, with 20- 25 year-olds most likely (77%) to use this location for lipstick
application. To confirm the dynamics involved in this group’s use of the ‘powder room’ and
the benefits they derive from it requires further research. This would help establish if this
location was chosen purely to adjust their visual image and the associated psychological
benefits derived from perfecting their look, or if deeper group ritualistic behaviours are at
In investigating how lipstick makes women feel a variety of attributes (derived from the
qualitative interviews) were included on the questionnaire to determine the influence that
lipstick may have on different individuals’ perception. The results suggest that wearing
lipstick for the purpose of attracting the opposite sex as suggested by the literature (Etcoff
1998; Pallingston 1999), is not as high as wearing it for self-esteem and confidence. Indeed,
these respondents’ perceptions would indicate that lipstick today is considered as part of the
normal image presented to the world and an integral part of what makes a normal face. On a
five-point scale 84% of women answered that lipstick made them feel ‘very confident’ and a
further 8% as ‘confident’. In addition 82% of the sample perceived that lipstick made them
fell ‘really good about themselves’. In contrast only 28% of the sample strongly agreed that
wearing lipstick made them feel attractive to the opposite sex.
Some of the other attributes measured to help determine the impact lipstick had on self-
perception included ‘pretty’, ‘complete’, ‘attractive’, tarty’, ‘common’, ‘overdressed’,
‘sexy’, ‘presentable’, and ‘acceptable’. Whilst undoubtedly women may still subconsciously
wear lipstick for the purpose of attracting the opposite sex, results from this study would
indicate that factors of self-esteem rated significantly higher. Lipstick is no longer seen as
tarty, common or a symbol relegated to the ‘fast women’ of the past (Etcoff 1998; Pallingston
1999). This study would suggest that lipstick has today gained an accepted place in our
society and that the reasons behind women’s use of this product are linked more to self-
esteem and status within society than for sexual allurement. This has significant marketing
implications for cosmetic companies who presently advertise their products based on the link
between beauty and sexual attraction, for in conjunction to this a whole new range of reasons
pertaining to self-esteem are also driving the products consumption.
Conclusion and Managerial Implications
Lipstick is perceived by women as an important component in their daily grooming ritual and
is considered by many as a necessary addition to their faces in order to feel presentable,
comfortable and more confident. Considering the wide acceptance by society of lipstick as
part of the daily image women show to the world, it seems interesting that this artefact is not
given more frequently as a gift. Consequently, the researchers believe that there may be an
opportunity for future lipstick promotions targeted in the area of gift giving, and that the 26-
30 year age category being the most frequent purchaser of lipstick may be a good place to
start. Ideally further research needs to determine if this grooming tool is considered too
personal to be given in this manner and the acceptance of it as a gift-line.
Despite marketing strategies and product development to assist women in applying their
lipstick, a taboo persists about its application in public. Women continue to be reserved about
whom they put their lipstick on in front off and consequently this grooming ritual remains out
of the public arena. Advertising to change these social customs and increase the acceptance of
applying lipstick in public is necessary if organisations hope to increase sales through this
Finally, but most importantly, is the unique opportunity that lipstick offers as a vehicle for
women to transform their image. This factor can be used to successfully market lipstick as a
product that can transform a woman into what she wants to be. More specifically, this will
include all the positive self-perception attributes that lipstick offer such as confidence, feeling
well-groomed and high self-esteem. The potential in utilising marketing messages that tap
these attributes may have considerable reach and financial reward for the organisations using
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The authors wish to thank Revlon for their financial assistance and support with this project.
... Ingredients include waxes (for shape and application), oils (including olive oil, mineral oil, petrolatum, etc.), pigments and emollients. Extensive research on women and color cosmetics has been conducted, connecting make up application to self-esteem, confidence and beauty (Ogilvie and Kristensen-Bach 2001). The conclusion to these studies is the belief that image and beauty are enhanced through color cosmetics (Mulhern et al. 2003). ...
Lip products (lipsticks, glosses and balms) are an important aspect of the cosmetics business. The lip product segment of the business has been expanding because the majority of women uses some form of lip products. In addition, men commonly use lip balm in winter months. The purpose of this three-part study was to develop a lexicon for descriptive sensory testing of lip products. In the first study, two focus groups were conducted to understand women's perceptions of lip products and elicit desirable and undesirable characteristics in the products. In the second study, six highly trained panelists from the Sensory Analysis Center at Kansas State University developed a lexicon using five samples each of lip balms, lip glosses and lipsticks. All attributes were measured during or after application. Attributes were categorized under “initial texture,”“initial appearance,”“after appearance” and “after texture.” The lexicon comprised of 18 terms. The panelists developed definitions, references and protocols for evaluation for each attribute in the lexicon. The third study consisted of a validation phase, in which 12 samples, four from each product segment, were used. The lexicon developed in this study was inclusive enough to show distinctions between and within the lip glosses, lip balms and lipsticks. This lexicon could be used to identify similarities and differences in other lip products such as lip plumper, lip liners and multi use products. The lip product lexicon may benefit researchers and cosmetic companies in product development and optimization, quality control, and marketing by providing accurate definitions, accessible references, and reproducible protocols and techniques. Aspects of this research, including the use of photographic references, where appropriate, could be extrapolated to other aspects of the personal care industry, such as hair care and skin care, and can aid in product development and product optimization.
Background: Our research results will not only help the cosmetic market, but also help the overall marketing implications of the niche market, which will be greeted by a variety of cosmetic markets in the future. Aim: This study attempted to investigate what are the consumer selection criteria for lip products represented by the lipstick effect that creates continuous demand even in the COVID-19 era, and the main factors driving the continuous demand for lip products. Methods: We collect research data through a survey targeting 600 male and female consumers who have purchased lip products through online/offline stores during the COVID-19 period (2020-2021) in Korea. Results: As a result of examining the effect of perceived quality on consumer attitude formation on lip products, the factors of usability sensitivity and price had a positive effect on consumer attitude formation. Consumer awareness of lip products naturally acts as a bridge to consumer satisfaction. Conclusion: This study focused on consumers' perception and potential for development of lip products whose demand has rather rebounded due to the lipstick effect during the COVID-19 crisis. It is thought that this will act as a positive mechanism for the formation of a favorable attitude toward lip products by consumers.
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Although researchers have conceptualized beauty as unidimensional, modern-day cultural definitions of beauty are multidimensional. This paper focuses on two forms of mass media that play an important role in transmitting information about multiple and diverse cultural ideals of beauty—fashion magazine advertising and music videos shown on music television. We examine the overall prevalence of different beauty ideals and how these are distributed across specific vehicles within each medium. We also compare the emphasis placed on different ideals of beauty across these two communications media (print vs. television) and formats (advertising vs. entertainment). The implications of the findings for understanding the cultural construction of beauty ideals and for understanding how advertising and other mass media communications contribute to them are discussed. Several extensions of the present research are proposed.
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Evolutionary psychology suggests we have a "Stone Age" brain inside our modern skulls-a brain composed of mental organs designed for the specific adaptive tasks of our ancestors. Our Stone Age brain is not a general purpose rational computer; it thinks with logic suited to the Pleistocene, a logic to which advertising must cater in order to be effective. The best advertising speaks in "Stone Age brain" metaphors promising solutions to universal concerns.
This article reviews theories of identity formation ranging from the classic work of E. H Erikson to postmodern and feminist theories, and it incorporates qualitative research to examine the particular difficulties adolescent girls face in forming confident and powerful adult identities. Social/economic status identity, body image identity, the effects of the mass media, and the declining influence of family and community are discussed. The article concludes by suggesting that schools can potentially serve as sites for deconstructing these complex issues.
This article reports on an interpretive study of women's use of makeup in which various aspects and dimensions of women's makeup careers are examined. The primary aspects considered include trajectories of experience, the predominant ways or styles of makeup use that are reflected in a typology of individual differences, and identity construction and reflection. The varying perspectives of women with respect to women's roles as associated with makeup use are also discussed, and research implications are offered. © 1993 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Phase transitoire du cycle de vie, l’adolescence se caractérise par une période de construction de l’identité. En permettant aux individus de transmettre un message sur soi aux autres, la consommation symbolique participe à la construction identitaire des 12-18 ans. Afin d’optimiser les campagnes publicitaires à leur intention, il convient alors de déterminer les capacités respectives de la marque et du produit à véhiculer les signes que les adolescents souhaitent diffuser auprès des tiers. Ce papier apporte des éléments de réponse à cette problématique grâce à la présentation d’un cadre théorique et des résultats d’une étude qualitative et d’une étude quantitative menées respectivement auprès de 12 et de 208 adolescents.
Application of evolutionary psychology in marketingHuman nature: Born or made” New York Times Mar 14 The Artificial Face: A History of Cosmetics
  • Gad
  • Saad
  • Tripat
Gad, Saad and Tripat, Gill (2000) “Application of evolutionary psychology in marketing.” Psychology and Marketing 17(12): 1005-1034 Goode, Erica (2000) “Human nature: Born or made” New York Times Mar 14, pF.1 Gunn, F. (1973). The Artificial Face: A History of Cosmetics. Melbourne:Wren Publishing Pty. Ltd
The struggle for self
  • E E Heilman
Heilman, E. E. (1998). “The struggle for self.” Youth and Society 30(2): 182-208