Exploring the red lipstick effect. Does it really attract men?

Despite what some men might tell you, “you look better without makeup”, “I don’t like it when you were makeup” etc, there have been various scientific studies that have shown that although it might be true, that those men do think you are beautiful without makeup and that they don’t like heavy makeup etc, it is also true that a lot of men are more attracted to women who wear makeup.  Simple things like colour homogenicity, aka skin colour evenness (achieved by wearing foundation), darker eyes and eyebrows, symmetrical face and more, are actually natural characteristics found to be attractive to men. This is because naturally, without makeup, women’s’ faces are lighter in colour, whereas men’s’ skin tone is naturally more red in colour, our eyes and eyebrows naturally create colour contrast and to a certain extend so do our lips. [1, 2] As a result, enhancing those naturally occurring features can only increase attractiveness, given that you haven’t gone overboard with makeup.

Having an even skin tone and enhancing eyes and eyebrows might appear fairly straight forward to understand, in terms of why they enhance our attractiveness. But does the famous “red lipstick effect” work in attracting men?

In an interesting study published in 2012 this hypothesis was put to the test. [3] Caucasian female volunteers were selected after being evaluated by a group of 48 young men in terms of attractiveness. The 8 most attractive women were carefully chosen for this study and where given red, brown, pink or no lipsticks to wear while. The females were placed in different bars, different time sessions and were wearing different lip colours in a random manner. Additionally, whether they were wearing lipstick or not, all female volunteers had their makeup done professionally, by the same makeup artist, to eliminate the difference in their makeup skill being a factor. All lipsticks were of the same brand, just different colours, and all other makeup used (foundation, moisturiser etc) was the same in all women.

The experiment took place over six Wednesday and Saturday nights, from 8.30pm until midnight (cut into 3 sessions each day = 36 total sessions observed) in four different bars. The women were told to occupy a table close to the bar, where single men would stand and drink. Time was measured from the moment the women entered the bar and occupied a table, to the time it took for a man to initiate a conversation with them. Looks, gazes and other body signals were not taken into consideration because they were difficult to interpret. In order to keep the night going and not have the females swamped by men talking to them, they were instructed to say “Hello, we are waiting for someone who will probably arrive in one or two minutes. We have a lot to talk about. Another time perhaps?”. This would give the observers a count of how many men approached the women in one night while the women are being free to be approached at all times.

But let’s jump to the moment we are all waiting for. The results! The women wearing red lipstick had significantly higher contact with men than the ones’ wearing pink lipstick which in turn had a significantly higher contact than the women wearing brown or no lipstick. The women wearing brown lipstick had almost the same amount of contact as the ones wearing no lipstick. In terms of time taken to be approached, the red lipstick wearers were approached faster, where the pink, brown and no lipstick wearers had similar approach times.

Interestingly, red doesn’t only work for lips. In a different study published in 2010 it was found that men would sit closer to women wearing a red shirt as opposed to a blue one [4] and hitchhikers had a higher probability to get help if they were wearing a red t-shirt [5].

It is perhaps difficult to pinpoint the exact reason why a red lipstick, or red in general, appears more attractive. There are many speculated reasons in published research studies including: increased physical and sexual attractiveness, higher femininity and sexiness, more powerful, ready to mate, appearing like a fertile female, increased contrast etc. However, bear in mind that the lipstick study (done in France) and the majority of the “makeup is attractive” studies were done in the US and Europe meaning that this could be a cultural trend of the Western cultures.

With that in mind, ladies, the results are clear. Research has spoken, red lipstick = faster and definitely more approachable! If you are single and ready to mingle or simply want to put your sex appeal out there, take that red lipstick out with you! Or perhaps a nice red dress?



  1. R. B. Adams Jr., N. Ambady, K. Nakayama and S. Shimojo, The science of social vision, Oxford University Press, 2011.
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3059317
  3. http://dx.doi.org/10.5539/ijps.v4n2p206
  4. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.757
  5. https://dx.doi.org/10.1002/col.20651



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2 responses to Exploring the red lipstick effect. Does it really attract men?

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  1. […] Either way, the actual lipstick is gorgeous and I am in love with it. Even though it is not the colour I expected for this month, and even though the brown bullet doesn’t look as warm as other browns, it is all very deceiving! When this lipstick is on the lips it looks absolutely G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S. Even my partner noticed and believe me, men are not into brown lipsticks. For an interesting article on men and lipstick colours check out “Exploring the red lipstick effect. Does it really attract men?”. […]


  2. […] I wasn’t too sure about this colour but again sometimes you just have to try and see. It’s actually a really nice nude shade with a brown undertone and it works really well for a casual or professional look. I wouldn’t go on a date with a brown toned nude lipstick though, as it’s colour name might suggest. If you want to know why check out: Exploring the red lipstick effect. Does it really attract men? […]