Here's Proof That Lipstick Is the Most Powerful Cosmetic

Updated 09/23/16
Product Disclosure
Woman applying red lipstick to her lips
Beauty Is Boring

This post was originally published in April 2016.

At a recent press event for Charlotte Tilbury's new celebrity-inspired Hot Lips line of lipsticks, the mood was vibrant, playful, and at times, even a little silly. Tilbury is full of life, and while just catching wind of the line triggered us to place a "save the date" in our calendars in anticipation of its summertime release, Tilbury's blithe explanation of each lipstick and its corresponding celebrity muse heightened our excitement tenfold.

However, the mood soon turned from lighthearted to serious when Tilbury passed the mic over to Brita Fernandez Schmidt, executive director of Women for Women International UK, an organization that aids women in countries affected by war and conflict. Fernandez Schmidt explained that during a visit to Bosnia, founder Zainab Salbi asked one of the women what it was that they wanted her to bring them on her next visit, and their reply was "lipstick." Not clothing, not vitamins—a tube of rouge. "It's the simplest thing that each woman can put on every single day, and we feel beautiful, and that's how I'm resisting the war.

I want that sniper to know that he is killing a beautiful woman," the woman told Zainab. At this point in the conversation, you could hear a pin drop.

Tilbury's partnership with Women for Women is an obvious choice, as the makeup artist shares a similar passion for boosting women's confidence levels, something she believes can be achieved through lipstick as well: "Lipstick has the power to give women confidence and hope all over the world. It's what I call the psychology of makeup: When you look good, you feel good, and when you're at your most confident, you can unlock your power on the world around you," says Tilbury. This got me thinking: How else has lipstick proven to be powerful throughout history?

What about our day-to-day lives—is lipstick improving it? After some digging, I found that lipstick is indeed a cosmetic powerhouse, if not the most powerful makeup product to exist (yeah, we're going there). Keep scrolling to find out why!

Infograph with lipstick stats and facts
Byrdie / Kimberly Perl

The "lipstick effect" is the theory that during an economic recession, lipstick sales continue to rise. For example, during the 1999-2000 recession, lipstick sales saw a 4% increase, while other commodities like appliances, home furnishings, and apparel fell far below this statistic.

Some researchers claim this is because women are inherently wired to seek mates during difficult times (alluding to the fact that lipstick will make them appear more attractive), while others theorize that this is just because women want to feel confident and beautiful when times get tough. (Um, yeah, we'd have to agree with the latter.)

In a study conducted at Western Australia's Edith Cowan University, out of 300 female lipstick users, 85 percent reported that they felt "very confident" when wearing lipstick, and 82 percent said lipstick made them feel "really good about themselves."

In a study conducted by Harvard University and Proctor & Gamble, women who wore darker eye and lip makeup in the office were perceived to be more competent. We'd argue that we're still just as hard-working and capable no matter what type of makeup we wear, but it's true—there's something about swiping on MAC's Ruby Woo ($18.50) before a meeting that makes us feel extra prepared.

Famous suffragettes like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Charlotte Perkins Gilman wore red lipstick as a form of emancipation, and women wore a bright shade of rouge on their lips at rallies thereafter. This was a way for women to rebel by wearing a striking color that some social and religious groups (and male authority figures) might find distasteful.

In the 1970s, individuals also used lipstick as a form of rebellion during the punk-rock movement, wearing deep shades like plum and black to express their sexuality and nonconformity. On the opposite end of the spectrum, 1970s feminists rebelled by not wearing lipstick as a way to condemn the commercial beauty market and its alleged degradation of women.

According to a poll conducted by Mintel, 81 percent of women say they use lipstick, while only 64 percent use foundation and 59 percent use blush. While foundation and blush application can be a bit tricky to apply, it's arguable that applying lip color (or even a tinted lip balm) is an easier task.

Every year, between 800 and 900 million tubes of lipstick are sold across the globe—that's a whole lot of lipstick. In the U.S. alone, women purchase on average 8.5 tubes of lipstick per year. Is that number close to your average lipstick purchase habits? We at Byrdie HQ tend to go through a lot more tubes than that…

What's your favorite lipstick ever? Sound off below!

Related Stories