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Study: Lipstick, Always Lipstick


“I’d only give it up when I’m desperately ill in the hospital. And even then I’d like my lipstick to be nearby.”

A new study has found older women wear lipstick to boost their self-confidence and signal to others they are still in charge.

Laura Hurd Clarke and Andrea Bundon of the University of British Columbia interviewed 36 women on their use of cosmetics. The women ranged in age from 71 to 93 years of age and came from different backgrounds.

The researchers found that lipstick was by far the most frequently and consistently used cosmetic.

The findings were published in the Journal of Women & Aging (Vol. 21, No. 3, 2009).

Out of habit

Many of the participants began wearing lipstick when they were in their early teens. According to the study, more than half of participants used lipstick simply out of habit.

As one 80-year-old woman put it: “I put lipstick on after I clean my face in the morning even at home because I’m so accustomed. All the years that I worked, I went from nine to five wearing lipstick. My face, my mouth, feels almost uncomfortable or dry without some lipstick on.”

Enhancing personal appearance

One-third of women used the product to improve their appearance.

One 76-year-old participant explained: “I can live without everything but my lipstick. . . . It makes me feel alive – more alive. If you have lipstick on, I think, ‘Oh I’ve got a little color here. I’m okay.’ I can’t tell you why. It’s just a feeling of vibrancy, I suppose.”

Public image

Another one quarter of participants used lipstick to signal their independence and spruce up their public image.

As one 81-year-old woman put it: ” I think lipstick makes you look more alive. . . . When we get older you certainly need all the life you can get just to show that you’re not wasting away in a corner somewhere.”

Other participants believed wearing lipstick improved their chances in vulnerable situations. “If you’re in the hospital, for instance, as soon as you put lipstick on, they’ll say, ‘Ah, she’s feeling better.’. . . So you can sort of kid them,” one 72-year-old woman said.

Problems with lipstick

According to the study, women found it more difficult to use the product as they got older because of poor eyesight, the onset of hand tremors and thinning lips.

As one 72-year-old woman explained: “Your lips are not as full as they used to be. They’ve got crinkles in them and the skin above and below the lip has little crinkles in it. . . . Bright red lipstick, unless it’s put on very carefully and lip liner is used . . . bleeds into those little cracks.”

In addition to lip-liner pencils, participants used lip-fix, a clear coat that sealed the lipstick and prevented it from running. One woman considered having her lips permanently tattooed. And another 78-year-old participant tried Restylane injections to decrease the wrinkles around her mouth. She said: “I’ve had Restylane around my mouth. . . . My daughter was getting married. . . . I was going out and there was parties and everything and my lipstick was running in the creases a lot. And because I was going to a dermatologist he wondered if I would like to try Restylane. And so I did.”

Finally, one third of participants gave up wearing red lipstick, switching to softer shades of pink instead.

Lipstick is forever

According to researchers, women’s use of cosmetics is strongly influenced by social trends and the physical realities of growing old. Moreover, their choices are emotionally charged and shaped by notions of appropriateness and physical attractiveness.