Do Men Prefer Women with Make-up?

23rdSep. × ’10

As many ladies can attest, boyfriends like the naked-face and fuzzy hair. It seems maybe, there is special about seeing your lady au-natural, something very vulnerable and genuine about it.

But make-up is a long-lived phenomenon– so can men be serious when they claim to not like it? What does our biology dictate? I’ve posed this question to evolutionary psychology professor, Duana Welch, Ph.D. to give us the strict science behind make-up. Duana is the author of Love Science, the only relationship blog that gives advice from the background of  science and research.

Rabbit asks: One of the things that I hear over and over again from men is that they prefer women to not wear make-up. That they don’t like make-up. Personally, I don’t think they realize when we are wearing naturally toned make-up… They seem to think that make-up is Tammy Faye Baker lashes and blue eye shadow.  So, do guys really not like make-up? And further, what role does make-up play in sex and dating?

Duana Answers: When I met my daughter’s dad, one of the first things he said was that he loved that I didn’t wear makeup; he decried women who did. Yet I was wearing it…a little. And he couldn’t chase me hard enough.

Throughout all of known human history, women have used makeup to adorn their faces, and no wonder—with everything that could go wrong then and still can now, from disease and famine to garden-variety acne, women have always felt the need to hide facial imperfections.

Yet when a behavior is found throughout the world, evolutionary psychologists don’t stop at noting it—they attempt to  explain it: Why have women, but not men, found it necessary to wear makeup in the first place? Why are imperfections that are openly shown on men’s faces covered up on women’s?

Because males, being able to procreate endlessly but needing a fertile partner with whom to do It, are under a largely unconscious directive to Go Forth & Find Youth & Beauty.

Women can’t make babies forever, but only for a limited number of years. Reliable signs of fertility— youth and beauty—are conveyed by many signals, and a great number of those are worn on our faces. Smooth skin, wide-open eyes, bright teeth, even and symmetrical features, full lips, rosy cheeks, rounded features—all these things go away with age and/or exposure to pathogens and conditions that thwart baby-making.

Of course, our mating psychology operates under-the-radar, so most men aren’t conscious of the Why behind their desires. They just know they find natural beauty vastly appealing—and they find obvious attempts at masking natural beauty to be repugnant.

Put yourself in their shoes. Women everywhere, having come up through a human history rife with dangers and dependence during gestation, childbirth, and child-rearing, are vigilant for a Willing &

Able Provider & Protector. It’s the Golden Rule—and the guy with the gold, as a rule, gets the girls.

So, we women love it when a guy has resources and will lavish them on us…but we love it a lot less when said Catch is only *pretending* to have the goods. If he’s got the great car and a zero bank balance, he’s done the equivalent of putting on the makeup—then having little biological appeal beneath.

In sum, we women have always worn makeup to play up the youth and beauty men demand, and to compete with our sisters for the best guys. And men have always tried to find women who are The Genuine Article—who look youthful and beautiful without obvious assistance.

(And, by the way, there have always been some men throughout time who lied about how many goats they and their family owned. ;))

Advice? If you are out to catch a man, wear Makeup—but do it discreetly. Play up your best features, rather than creating features
you don’t genuinely have.

And then watch the Guys Who Don’t Like Makeup…as they line up.



Although many relationship advice columns exist, Love Science is the only one that presents not only what to do and how to do it–but the science and research behind the advice. Published free bi-weekly, Love Science is also’s top-ranked blog
of over 10,000 titles. Feel free to Ask Duana *your* question at

All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., 2010

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  1. Samuel Allen
    Posted 2010-09-23 at 12:07 | Permalink

    I like girls without make-up. If I’ve been tricked by lightly applied make-up, well, then I would kindly ask that women stop tricking men. It’s not healthy, even if we are kinda stupid. :)

    I would also add that I have never lied about the number of goats my family owns.

  2. Brandy Simmons
    Posted 2010-09-23 at 12:18 | Permalink

    I’m frequently complimented for not wearing make-up or not wearing much, but today I parted with my eyeliner to test myself and I’m just waiting for someone to tell me I look tired. It’s almost always a man. If I don’t wear make-up at all, it never fails, some man will tell me I look tired. So, my natural face looks tired. Sometimes it is. Sometimes, though, that’s just my face damnit.

  3. Posted 2010-09-23 at 15:36 | Permalink

    I second all ya’ll on this one. When I wear makeup (which is pretty much always–usually under-eye concealer and mascara) no one says anything. When I wear a little heavier makeup (i.e. liquid eyeliner) men say “Wow, never seen you with makeup before.” When I wear no makeup, men say I look tired. Or ask if I’m okay. But a funny side effect I’ve noticed is that I get hit on more when I don’t wear makeup. I’ve chalked this up to looking more approachable to men because, well, it’s more of the girl-next-door look and less of the sex bunny thing I tend to have going on most of the time.

  4. Brandy Simmons
    Posted 2010-09-23 at 20:19 | Permalink

    I thought I was going to make it the whole day, but at 8:17 p.m., I got a “You look tired and pissed off.” I was editing, that’s just my face.

  5. Posted 2010-09-24 at 02:53 | Permalink

    Actually, I have to present a counterexample. I don’t usually wear make-up around my boyfriend, especially not this summer when we were travelling in a rather hot climate where make-up would just have been impractical. He has repeatedly stated throughout our courting period and since the start of our relationship that he thinks I’m very beautiful. Yet when I put on make-up one night as we were going dancing – just a little, in natural colors, completely non-excessive, and I’m quite skilled at it, too – he remarked that I looked (and felt) better without make-up, that seeing me with make-up was really strange.

    [Whereas my ex, if I may so directly compare, kept urging me to wear make-up so I could "keep up in competition with other women" - sigh.]

  6. Posted 2010-09-24 at 08:43 | Permalink

    I wish I’d received the following note (from a male Love Science reader) before guest-posting here– because he brought up a *very* relevant point:

    ” I think makeup is beautiful, especially in that improbable, airbrushed fashion. Kind of like a beautiful painting with blended and striking colors that are aesthetically pleasing.” (He went on to say a number of other thought-provoking and generally brilliant things.)

    My take? Exactly. If men hate make-up, magazines would not use computers, air-brushing, lighting, and special camera angles to make women look appealing. Men would just pore over old LL Bean catalogues and be done with it!

  7. Bryan
    Posted 2010-09-24 at 10:27 | Permalink

    A topic of fascination about you fascinating women.
    Yes, I like make-up on women in the same way that I admire anything that is aesthetically pleasing.
    Facial expression is the more compelling element that directs the type of appeal or arousal I think, but make-up is very attractive and artful to me.
    Is it odd that I might notice eye shadow and lipstick in multiple colors that match a woman’s outfit? Nail polish to match? I appreciate the effort that it took to pick out the colors and admire the style.
    Subtle make-up may simply project health and vitality and even out skin tones.
    Make-up may also enhance the facial symmetry which has been found to gauge our sense of someones attractiveness.
    Funny, in primitive cultures, and in some cultures outside the U.S., men dress like peacocks, put on war paint to go to battle or hunt, and otherwise parade their virility. Oh wait, look at the crowd at a pro football game. Never mind.
    Can a woman be beautiful without make-up? Of course! Do I appreciate a woman’s attractiveness with make-up? Absolutely!
    If society were strictly a no-frills, form, fit, and function affair, we would all be in tennis shoes and coveralls. Thank goodness it’s not!

  8. Posted 2010-09-24 at 13:33 | Permalink

    I have argued with men about this until I was blue in the face. So many guys say they like girls who don’t wear makeup – totally oblivious to the fact that many of the women they go gaga over are WEARING it. They don’t understand that the “natural look” is an actual makeup style. When you prove them wrong (by asking the girl if she is wearing makeup, or telling them that I have some on when they compliment me on going “natural”) they squirm and make up excuses and reasons that they were wrong “this time” but they “know” that they normally aren’t wrong about this. They are totally in denial.

    I’m NOT saying that there are zero guys out there who like makeup-free women. I AM saying that many men who THINK they like makeup-free women have been duped. And they don’t even realize it.

    My guy likes me both ways. He likes my makeup and LOVES heavy eyeliner, but he’s also just as thrilled to see me first thing in the morning. I think part of that is that he knows that what he sees when I wake up is something that’s private. Not everyone “gets” to see my bedhead and sleepy eyes and I’m guessing that’s part of the charm to him.

  9. Posted 2010-09-24 at 13:50 | Permalink

    Kelly, here’s were I challenge you: you say men can’t really tell whether a woman isn’t wearing make-up or is going for the no make-up look. This tells me that men don’t really know much about make-up but like it at least when it’s not obvious and perhaps when it’s not there at all. I certainly don’t know much about it and never give advice when asked.

    Now this is what gets me, knowing this, you resist the fact that your partner really likes how you look first thing in the morning saying it must be a novelty or a private secret or something. What if that doesn’t have anything to do with it and he just thinks you look great.

    It took me years to convince Rabbit that I genuinely think she looks great first thing in the morning which is why your comment speaks to me. I challenge you to listen to what he’s telling you and pretend that it might be what he really things and see what that would mean for you.

  10. Posted 2010-09-24 at 14:20 | Permalink

    “This tells me that men don’t really know much about make-up but like it at least when it’s not obvious and perhaps when it’s not there at all” – this was sort of my point. If a guy says “I love women without makeup” and his wife/girlfriend/date replies “I’m actually wearing makeup right now and you said I was gorgeous” – well, the logical reaction for the man would be (in my opinion) “oh I didn’t realize – well, I like that it looks natural and it’s not obvious.” But instead, many men seem to get *violently* defensive over it. Probably because they think/realize that they’ve been “duped.” It seems (in my experience) that a lot of men who say they like women without makeup are sort of proud of their preference. So when it’s challenged, it becomes this huge deal.

    I guess I get fired up because I’ve been in that situation and it’s ridiculous. I’ve had boyfriends who claimed they hated makeup, but would shower me with “I don’t know what it is but you look GORGEOUS today” when I had it on. If I pointed out what was different that day (“oh thank you, I put on a little mascara this morning”) then they immediately and radically change their tune. Suddenly they would claim that oh actually, I did look better yesterday when I didn’t have it on. I don’t care if a guy loves makeup or hates it. I just get annoyed when they can’t just acknowledge their true preference, I guess!

    As far as my boyfriend – I think I may have phrased my first comment in a way that was a little misleading. I didn’t mean to say that I don’t believe him when he says that he likes how I look without makeup. I think it’s awesome that he does! Hearing him tell me I’m pretty while I’m still beary-eyed is a fantastic way to start the morning. I just suspect (although I’ve never asked him this specific question) that in addition to simply liking how I look first thing in the morning, he also appreciates that that face he loves is something few other people get to see. Sort of like – I love his bedhead, and it is only sweeter because I know that no one else in the world gets to see his hair all fluffed and rumpled like I do!

    Well now I’ll shut up because this comment is getting LONG.

  11. Posted 2010-10-1 at 01:12 | Permalink

    I guess what they really mean is, “I like to pretend my GF really is that beautiful without any makeup.” And sometimes we are..and sometimes not. ;)

  12. Bunny
    Posted 2010-10-10 at 21:00 | Permalink

    The problem with this argument is that it doesn’t take into account that men has only recently stopped wearing make-up (and it seems they are starting to enjoy that all over again – hello Metrosexuals, I’m talking to you). Just think about the Egyptians, natives from all over the world, ancient Romans, men from the era of Elizabeth I, etc. I guess it’s just human nature enjoying to wear make-up, be it to feel younger, more attractive, to be accepted by others or to just express oneself.

  13. Chuck
    Posted 2010-10-12 at 16:27 | Permalink

    I love the looks of women who look good wearing as little makeup as it takes to look good, i.e. the minimalist view. Yes, if I can’t tell and suggest she looks good without makeup is, to me, a compliment to her. She has done such a good job I can’t tell it’s there.

    Also, once I begin to see her inner beauty begin to radiate from her countenance, her outer beauty begins to be less of a matter to me as we age together. Thus a need to apply more makeup is unnecessary to keep me appreciative of her beauty. Plus, I think that if I continue to compliment her on her beauty, she will continue to not be overly concerned by what the rest of the world thinks.

  14. MKB
    Posted 2010-10-16 at 02:47 | Permalink

    Wow… this might sound strange, but something clicked in my head after reading this. As an attractive girl, I’ve never liked this whole cosmetic surgery thing (especially living LA, I guess).

    Partly… I do honestly believe working to look your best thru healthy lifestyle sounds like a happier way to go. But, honestly, I think I’ve always felt threatened to a degree. Like… how am I supposed to compete with that? Maybe that sounds terrible.. but it’s true.

    So… maybe that’s it, the pretending aspect of it. That the women who pretend get the guys, and I don’t (due to I don’t know why). True or not, that’s what runs thru my mind. Then there’s Hollywood.

    On the other hand, I do really like make-up of all kinds, as I sort of view it as a form of expression. I don’t wear much of it often, but I like the idea of having a 50′s look one day, natural the next. Hence why I don’t understand permanent eyeliner.

    Last comment, as to why I googled this topic… today I walked into a gas station I frequent, and put on Megan Fox inspired make-up ie, more than usual. That was the first time I heard ‘Hey Beautiful’ from the cashier. Explain that to me, as the make-up was pretty obvious.

  15. Posted 2010-10-27 at 21:48 | Permalink

    I think makeup doesn’t really make a huge difference in a girl’s beauty but that’s just me. Personally I feel many guys like to claim they don’t think makeup is a huge deal so others can think they judge girls more on personality + character… which some guys do, but some are just repressing their desire for beautiful looking women.

  16. Darroll Di Stasio
    Posted 2010-12-22 at 11:25 | Permalink

    I have always wondered what women are seeing when they look into a mirror and decide that with make-up, they look BETTER!

    I’m a 45 year old heterosexual man and I have been on a campaign for the past 10 years to find that one special woman that never wears make-up or dyes her hair, etc. Needles to say, I have been unsuccessful. I used to just accept it as one of those things that women do that I was just going to have to accept, but I can no longer pretend that “I think you look beautiful today”.

    I was quite troubled by this seemingly strange preference and began asking all the other men I know for their opinions. Approx. 75% of them agreed with me but said they would never admit it to their partners. About 50% of them agreed with me on the hair-dye question. I guess it comes down to personal preference but, what troubles me the most is the women who simply cannot believe it when their man says they don’t like the make-up/hair-dye. They think we’re lying for some reason. (I actually have a theory about this topic; I think women are only trying to keep pace with other women, not trying to improve their appearance for men).

    For me, at least, it’s not only the strange appearance that turns me off, it’s also the idea that my partner is trying to conceal something from me and she believes that by painting on the face of someone she is not that she has a better chance of getting/keeping me attracted to her. NOT!!

    Whether you choose to believe it or not, ladies, you are all much better looking in your natural state, zits and grey hair and all. It comes down to this; regardless of whether or not you think you are attractive naturally, make-up/hair-dye is NOT going to IMPROVE the situation, it only exacerbates the problems you think you have because it looks phoney (especially the otherwise absolutely gorgeous Black or Asian women who dye their hair blonde or red, YUK!). Modesty is the most alluring and intoxicating look I’ve ever encountered. Having said that, good general hygiene is the answer.

  17. greensleeves
    Posted 2011-01-3 at 01:46 | Permalink

    I guess my problem with the Professor here is that her premise seems incorrect. In fact, men have worn makeup throughout all history. How then could it be a special province of the female?

    And we all know this, it’s no secret – think of Amerindian warpaint, the clay face marks of Australian aborigine chieftains, the fierce face paint of New Guinea, the African Wodaabe (the men wear makeup to this very day), the powdered and perfumed French kings, the powder and lipstain of India’s maharajas in their turbans decked with pearls, the English lords in their great wigs.

    High-heeled shoes were once the privilege of. . .male French aristocrats at Versailles. Women didn’t wear them. In fact Marcel Proust, writing of the late 1800s records how men still wore makeup, and you also read of it in Thomas Mann’s great Death in Venice.

    The professor seems to make the mistake of taking the present fashion for the eternal truth.

    What would be more interesting would be to note that all forms of makeup and face decoration are associated with social status. Since all primates seek to mate with high-status partners, it seems more likely that wearing makeup in a socially-acceptable way is a testament to your social status.

    That would explain why men find some makeup attractive, but not too much. And women find guys in makeup hot too – how many rock stars wear “guyliner?” You can’t claim it’s just the counterculture – George Clooney always wears his fake tan base.

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