Can wearing “heavy” make up affect the perceived ability to lead?

By Natasha Spencer

- Last updated on GMT

Can wearing “heavy” make up affect the perceived ability to lead?
A recent research study carried out by Abertay University in Scotland, UK, suggests that the answer to that question is yes.

Females that wear “heavy”​ make up are less likely to be considered as having strong leadership qualities, according to a new study published in the Perception journal.

The research study

The study was led by Dr Christopher Watkins of Abertay’s Division of Psychology and carried out by Abertay University’s graduate students, Esther James and Shauny Jenkins.

To ascertain the perceived relationship between the use of a lot of make up and what makes a good leader, research participants viewed a series of featuring the same female. The facial image showed the female both with and without make up, along with make up that has been applied for a social occasion. Using computer software, the imagery was manipulated to modify the amount of make up the female wore.

Each participant was asked to complete a face perception task, where they reviewed and judged sixteen face-pairs. The participants were then asked to compare the two images to identify which one demonstrated stronger leadership capabilities.

The study, entitled ‘Negative Effects of Makeup Use on Perceptions of Leadership Ability Across Two Ethnicities’, adopted a measurement scale that is typical in face perception research. This method analyses and calculates the first-impressions of the whole participant group, before determining the average opinion.


The research study’s findings revealed that both men and women viewed the females displayed on the facial imagery lower in terms of leadership ability if the image showed a large amount of make up.

“This research follows previous work in this area, which suggests that wearing makeup enhances how dominant a woman looks,”​ held Dr Christopher Watkins of Abertay’s Division of Psychology.

Showing or lacking leadership?

“While the previous findings suggest that we are inclined to show some deference to a woman with a good looking face, our new research suggests that makeup does not enhance a woman’s dominance by benefitting how we evaluate her in a leadership role."

Dr Watkins went on to add: “This work is a good example of the diverse and interesting research ongoing within the Division of Psychology.”

This latest research appears to differ from previous findings suggesting that while cosmetics do change social perceptions, this “cosmetic use may aid female intrasexual competition, making women appear more dominant to other women but more prestigious to other men”.

Conclusions and Considerations

“It is unclear whether these findings reflect general improvements in perceptions of traits related to women’s dominance or if they are specific to mating contexts only.”

Watkins, James and Jenkins reason that this former work relays how: “Women are afforded traits related to dominance, as makeup enhances perceptions of traits that are important for successful female mating competition but not other components of social dominance such as leadership”.

This current study, which directly tests for the effects of makeup on perceived leadership ability, enables researchers "to establish whether traits related to dominance that are conferred upon women with makeup generalise to aspects of dominance where competence and intelligence are valuable”.

To view the study in full, visit

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