What is Makeup?

The goal of this post is to tell you a little bit about what makeup is and why we use it for. To be honest, when I decided to write about this topic, I thought I was going to find the information easily, I had the idea that there were going to be a lot of articles about what makeup was, and I was convinced that writing this wouldn’t take me long, however, I was surprised to realize that, it’s very difficult to find something that seems so simple: the definition of makeup.

Among the few things I found, it caught my attention that most of them said the following: Makeup is any product that is used to decorate, color, and fix a person’s facial features. That is, the goal of makeup is to highlight, color, decorate or hide certain traits (Bembibre, 2009). It was also mentioned a lot, that makeup is used to enhance external beauty and improve appearance, hide any characteristic that is considered unpleasant and thus, look more attractive to others (Porto & Gardey, 2018).

But now, let’s look at a more technical definition: According to Marroquin (2020), makeup is the application of cosmetic products on the face to modify the appearance. Here is a new word: Cosmetic. According to the Government of Canada (2011), a cosmetic is any substance used to improve or change certain parts of the body such as hair, skin, nails, or teeth. That means cosmetics could be makeup, perfumes, body creams, nail polishes, soaps, shampoo, deodorants, etc.

Let’s dive a little deeper into the word cosmetic. According to an article I found, written by Magli (2001), it is possible that the etymology of the word cosmetic comes from the Greek cosmos, which means order, world, and universe. For this author, considering the above, the meaning of makeup could be, get the face in order before exposing it to the world.

But this could lead us to wonder why do we want to put our face in order before exposing it to the world? Why is it so important to highlight or hide certain features? Why do people use makeup?

From an anthropological point of view, there are two reasons why we decided to wear makeup: the first, to adorn the face or other parts of the body and thus identify an individual as a member of a tribe or group. And the second one, is because makeup highlights individuality within the group. In other words, makeup identifies them as a group and at the same time, makeup serves to differentiate the members within the group (Urrero, 2009). This reason, from my point of view, is very valid. Indeed, some indigenous groups, for example, use certain makeup techniques on the face and body that allow them to differ from other groups, and at the same time, if their makeup has more or less elaboration, it allows identifying who is more important or has a higher rank within that group.

Some other reasons I found were the following: highlight personal attributes to get a reward (Arango, 2019). That is, according to this author, people who wear makeup seek to receive the attention of someone else, for example, from a potential partner. Similarly, according to Pemberton (2015), most people use makeup to improve or highlight their appearance, and there are even those who claim that makeup is more a way to hide than to enhance.

In fact, some research goes further and states that women use makeup for two reasons: to camouflage ourselves, that is, insecure and anxious women use it to go unnoticed; or for seduction, since women who seek to look more attractive use makeup to feel confident, more sociable and assertive (Van Edwards, 2020). This is because some women feel that if they show their natural face, they will not be able to achieve their goals and others will treat them differently.

Now, I don’t think that what these investigations say is false, in fact, it’s quite possible that people feel that way, I’ve come to feel it. This is partly due to the fact that from a very young age we have been told that only attractive people are successful, there have even been studies in which it has been found that an attractive person is more likely to receive better treatment from others, either from their partner or even during a criminal trial (Van Edwards, 2020).

My main problem with these claims is that I feel like they make look makeup like something we use only in order to please other people and they leave out the possibility that sometimes we just wear makeup for ourselves. Here I want to highlight something that Magli (2001) said, for her, when a person is doing makeup is creating, that is, those who use makeup not only do it in order to hide imperfections, enhance their beauty or be fashionable, some people just do it for the joy of doing it, to experience new things, to change.

In conclusion, I think it is important to broaden our picture and stop thinking that makeup is a way of hiding what we don’t like and highlighting what we do, makeup goes way beyond that, for me, it’s an art form, it’s a way to express ourselves and I don’t think we do it just in order to please others or to be accepted, sometimes we just do it because we like it, because it makes us feel good. In fact, I don’t know about you, but sometimes I wear makeup to be alone in my house, just because I love playing with makeup.


Bembimbre, C. (2009). Definición de Maquillaje. Definición ABC. Recovered from https://www.definicionabc.com/general/maquillaje.php

Government of Canada (2011). What is a cosmetic?. Recovered from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/cosmetics/what-is-cosmetic.html

Magli, P. (2001). Maquillaje: Autenticidad del artificio. DeSignis: Publicación de la Federación Latinoamericana de Semiotica (FELS). 1. 199 – 211.

Marroquín, M (2020). Maquillaje como herramienta para el auto reconocimiento en las adolescentes. These.

Medline Plus (2017). Cosmetics. Also called: Makeup. Recovered from https://medlineplus.gov/cosmetics.html

Pemberton, C. (2015). The real purpose of Makeup. Derma Scope. Recovered from https://www.dermascope.com/makeup/the-real-purpose-of-makeup

Porto, J. & Gardey, A. (2018). Definición de Maquillaje. Definición.de. Recovered from https://definicion.de/maquillaje/

Urrero, G. (2009). El maquillaje: historia, significado, simbología y técnica. Indumentaria y moda. Recovered from https://diseniodeindumentaria2.wordpress.com/2009/07/17/el-maquillaje-historia-significado-simbologia-y-tecnica/

Van Edwards, V. (2020). Why do women wear makeup? The science behind makeup obsession. Science of People.
Recovered from https://www.scienceofpeople.com/makeup/

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