Is the psychology behind wearing makeup during isolation and working from home real?

Psychologist Tara Hurster explains the psychology behind wearing makeup alone, at home, while real women see if it helps boost mood and motivation.

If you’re like me (and many others), it’s likely you haven’t put the blush brush to your cheek in a while. Eight weeks to be precise. ‘Why would I?’ you ask? Some days you don’t leave the house, let alone see another human being, so why bother wasting perfectly good makeup when you’re sitting inside all day?

I thought the same. But despite the endless benefits of wearing no makeup has on our skin, I was intrigued about the effects it’s having on our psyche.

A lot of the time, putting on a little lipstick or indulging in creating the perfect cat eye is less about how we look and more about how we feel. It’s also important to remember wearing it or not is a personal choice to benefit yourself and not other people’s perceptions.

Dusting off your makeup bag might seem a little self-indulgent and silly when there’s a global pandemic to deal with, but it could also be the key to helping you feel better day-to-day. By making it part of your new morning ritual as you work from home, it can trick us into thinking we have some kind of routine happening – and experts agree.

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The ‘lipstick effect’

Experts and studies have backed the theory that wearing makeup can help boost productivity and motivation. Studies like this from Harvard where candidates wore makeup during exams showed that the ‘lipstick effect’ can lead to academic achievement. Moreover, Dr. Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk around how we hold ourselves can possibly lead to being more confident and driven.

“The research describes the way that our posture and expressions or gestures impact how we feel and the chemical constructs within our brain,” says psychologist and founder of The Tara Clinic, Tara Hurster. “So anything that helps us to stand tall and hold our posture upright will help to motivate and build confidence.”

“There are benefits from doing things that help you to feel joyous, and for some people wearing makeup does just that. It’s both nice and motivational to feel powerful and sensual. Wearing a power suit is just as empowering as wearing red lipstick. When we feel powerful, we tend to make more executive decisions or speak our mind about things.”

A symbol for starting (and ending) the day

But it’s not all mood boosting; adding it to your morning routine is a great way to help differentiate between work life and home life, especially if you’re home all day.

“However that’s only when we are doing it mindfully,” says Hurster. “We’d also benefit from removing makeup at the end of the work day to symbolise the end of the day. I used to do that with my watch. Having a visual representation of differentiating between work and home when you’re working from home is very helpful and important to assist in maintaining your boundaries.”

Testing the theory

Real working from home women tried wearing makeup for the day to see if the research and psychology stacks up. Here’s what they thought…

Stefanie, graphic designer

“Since the news of our offices moving to a WFH model, I breathed a sigh of relief in not having to get ready in the morning! I’ve always dreamt of rolling straight out of bed and into the work day in a couple of steps.

I have always had issues with my skin and breakouts, it usually needs a lot of work (monthly facials, double cleansing) to keep it looking bright and clear. Not being able to keep up the usual routine, my skin is suffering in isolation so I opted to go sans makeup day to day, my skin can breathe a little better plus I am a terrible face toucher.

Currently my living situation means I’m able to work alone without distractions, so productivity isn’t an issue. How many video calls I take varies day to day – I could have three back to back meetings and a debrief in one day, or I could be away from the camera for three days straight, it always depends. However, those days when I will be seen I do throw on a little concealer, brush up my brows and go to town on my face with a bronzing stick for that extra healthy ‘glow’.

Wearing my usual midweek makeup for a day made me feel a bit more comfortable if I was to duck out to get lunch or run errands and then jump straight back into a video call knowing I am already presentable.

I definitely agree with the psychology behind wearing makeup if it’s a part of your daily routine and setting aside the time for yourself to enjoy it.

I don’t think I’ll keep up the usual 9 to 5 look for everyday in isolation, but I will definitely put that little bit more of an effort in.”

Brigitte, PA

“At the start of lockdown I was doing my normal routine, but then I slowly backed off as my skin had a melt down and started breaking out so I decided to let my skin breathe to clear up the breakouts.

I have about two videos calls a week, and during the day I’m home mostly by myself, apart from my partner’s Mum popping in and out, so I don’t have many interactions at all which is why I tend not to put anything on my skin. Even if I have a video call I will have my camera off so no one can see my skin at the moment.

Wearing makeup for this experience actually made me feel really good, I almost forgot what it was like to put makeup on my face! It was really nice to put some on and feel like normal again. I’ve forgotten how amazing makeup is and how great it can make you feel.

I feel like when you are feeling good about yourself, you are more motivated, whereas some days when you feel sluggish and look tired it can affect your mood and productiveness. Overall, I was way more productive, so I think I’ll continue to put on my face every day during isolation.”

Tara, self employed

“Until today, I hadn’t worn makeup in isolation (about two months). Pre-isolation I would only really wear it for special occasions or a Saturday night dinner. I feel a lot more comfortable and cleaner without it. I also try to avoid applying unnecessary products to my skin, especially my face and keep my routine really simple.

I have been working from home for about seven weeks, with little visual interaction. My fiancé and I have a home office set up, which he also works in when he’s not out on site. Like most other people, I haven’t been socialising so I haven’t seen a lot of people apart from my family.

For me, the addition of wearing make up for a day was more of a chore than something I enjoyed doing. I’ve never associated make up with being a confidence or self-esteem booster so it didn’t have major benefits to my mood or my mind set. I prefer to set myself up for a productive day by waking up early, getting in an hour of exercise and enjoying breakfast.

I think during this time you have to adapt and do things which make you feel your best. If makeup was part of your everyday routine and continuing it helps with your productivity or your mood, that’s great. For me, it’s my daily face wash and moisturiser combo and a quick eyebrow brush.”

Kelsey, body+soul beauty editor

“This may come as a shock to some, but even as a beauty editor I rarely wear makeup during the week. Not because of the skin-boosting benefits, just because I’m lazy. I prefer a low-maintenance approach to weekday beauty and usually pop on sunscreen and maybe a brow gel.

Being in isolation has meant that my low-maintenance routine has kind of morphed into being unmotivated about all of my beauty to-dos. From shaving my legs and sometimes even showering. Popping on some face – concealer, bronzer, eyeshadow, brow gel, mascara and a lip made me feel instantly pepped up. I was ready for whatever video conference the day had to throw at me, felt productive and even went out and smiled at the postman.

Will I be making makeup part of my new working from home routine? Yes. But only on days I feel like I need a bit of motivation or when I’m feeling a bit crappy. My 10-minute face was super easy to do and the payoff was great.”