The Weird Science Behind What Makes Us Pretty & How to Fake It With Makeup

Makeup can enhance your skin, your eyes, your lips. But do you know what signals your makeup is sending about you? Science does.

What Makes a Face Feminine?

Women’s faces tend to be smaller, less long, with more delicate jaws and brows, and less-recessed eyes, says Richard Russell, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania who studies facial attractiveness. Using makeup strategically can play up these characteristics.

Contrast Is Key

“Putting on lipstick and eyeliner makes the eyes and lips darker, which increases the contrast between [those features] and the rest of the face,” says Russell of the reason we apply makeup in the way we do. “Women who naturally have less contrast between their features and their skin may experience a greater ‘boost’ from wearing lipstick or eyeliner than women who naturally have more contrast.”

Makeup artist Andrew Sotomayor suggests the this strategy: "Try shimmer highlighter above the cheek bone, a neutral taupe under the cheek bone to define the bone structure and enhance your complexion. It brings youth to the face, lifts your face, and makes you look more engaged and happy.” One product he likes: Lancôme Blush Subtil Palette All-In-One Contour, Blush & Highlighter, $42.

Smile Like You Mean It

When you smile sincerely, it shows not only in your mouth but your eyes, science finds. The corners of your mouth pull back and up, your cheeks are raised a bit, and lines form around and under your eyes.

Even when you're not feeling happy, you can fake it with a lash-curler and a little makeup. “Curling your lashes and applying mascara helps give the eyes a more lifted look," says Sotomayor. "Have your lashes point up and you’ll look more awake, more energized.”

To enhance your smile, try an “old Hollywood trick” he suggests: Trace a natural lip liner a little below your lip line starting at the center and then sweeping up toward each corner. “It’s not about making the whole mouth bigger, but accentuating the angles from the bottom of the lip to the outer corner," he explains. "You’re actually painting a smile.”

Raise Some Eyebrows

In the one University of Quebec study, androgynous faces with lowered eyebrows and tight lips were more likely to be identified as male, and faces with smiles and raised eyebrows were often labeled feminine.

“Having a slightly raised brow opens the face a little more, a welcoming expression,” says Sotomayor. When lining brows, accentuate the arch slightly by “extending the end of the brow to widen the eyes and open the mouth.” Eyebrow pencils he likes: Maybelline DefineaBrow Eyebrow Pencil, $7.99 at Walgreens and Chanel Crayon Sourcils Sculpting Eyebrow Pencil, $29.

Sculpt Your Chin

A jutting chin may be perceived as masculine — but not universally. In Australia, for example, where more whittled chins are the norm, a less prominent look is preferred. So, is “looking” masculine or feminine hard-wired in our brains or cultural? “It’s a major, ongoing question,” says Dr. Russell. “The evidence so far indicates that the perception of femininity and attractiveness is to some extent universal and to some extent culturally determined.”

As for your own chin, if it’s too prominent for your taste, makeup artist Sotomayor has a few tips. “Take a little sculpting powder in medium, and blend a little under the chin, or under the tip of the nose, to shorten it slightly. Also, choosing a brighter lipstick draws attention away from the chin.” One product he likes is Kevyn Aucoin Beauty ‘The Sculpting’ Powder, $44 at Nordstroms.

Create a 'Golden Triangle'

The distance between a woman's eyes and between her eyes and her mouth are key factors in determining how attractive she is to others. According to researchers at UC San Diego and the University of Toronto, the ideal vertical distance between the eyes and the mouth is 36 percent of the length of the face. The idea horizontal distance between the eyes: 46 percent of the width of your face.

Sotomayor’s reaction? “If you’re calculating the distance between your facial features mathematically, you’re way to too worried about how to do your makeup—and that’s coming from a makeup artist!”

If you do want to widen your eyes a bit, though, he suggests extending eyeliner out farther at the corners of your eyes and swooping it up slightly. Adding a little extra liner to the outer corner and a couple additional sweeps of mascara at the outer edges should do the trick. Whatever the math, he says, “Women always want to widen the eyes.” He's fond of the black-bronze shade of Yves Saint Laurent Effet Faux Cils Crème D’Eyeliner, $28.

Listen to Your Heart...Literally

How you feel about yourself affects how others perceive you—and obsessing over your looks can be depressing. A recent study asked women to listen to their heartbeats. The better they got at doing so, the less likely they were to think of their bodies as objects. So breathe. Relax. Listen to your heart. You’re only as beautiful as you feel.

“The definition of feminine is changing faster in every country around the world than ever before.” adds Sotomayor. “It’s broadening. You don’t need to be a girly girl if you don’t want to. Women are so powerful, and they use makeup in different ways.” What's key is to use makeup in a way that makes you feel good. “Putting on a little makeup reminds you that you are beautiful and powerful, and you have things to get done,” says Sotomayor. “Take a few minutes to create a more beautiful, more cared-for version of yourself.”

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