Can Red Lipstick Make You More Powerful?: An Analysis of the Social Science

More than just superficial: Can red lipstick have psychological and social effects as well?

Since I first met classic Barbie, I’ve wanted to be the kind of woman who wore red lipstick. To me, a woman who wears red lipstick is a confident woman who gracefully and enigmatically pulls attention. When properly applied, it always seemed so powerful, like the war paint of the modern woman.

Recently, someone suggested I make things official between red lips and I and start wearing it more regularly. It was then I wondered whether the color red affects how the wearer is perceived.

Lip Color and Sexuality

The Flirtation
Want a man to approach you at a bar? Apparently, red lipstick increases the likelihood that one will – no joke.

Women with darker lips than their skin color are considered more sexually attractive for a few reasons. “The association between lip colour contrast and attractiveness in women’s faces may be attributable to its association with oxygenated blood perfusion indicating oestrogen levels, sexual arousal, and cardiac and respiratory health,” according to I.D. Stephen and AM McKeegan in “Lip colour affects perceived sex typicality and attractiveness of human faces (PubMed).”

Essentially, being healthy and fertile makes anyone an ideal mate and one of the signifier in women is a contrast between lip and skin color. When donned by a woman, studies have shown that it sends signals of sexual receptivity to men (Sexy Red). And as far as lipstick, one study found that women were more likely to be approached by men faster and more often when they had red lipstick on (Does Red Lipstick Attract Men? An Evaluation in a Bar).

The Color Red and Humans

English: Studio publicity portrait of the Amer...
Red is a powerful color, reminiscent of danger and sex. Studies show you can wear it to be more alert during an exam – again, no joke.

It’s undeniable that we have certain associations with colors, and red is a powerful one. Scientists and anthropologists have theorized that this is because in nature red is simultaneously the color of danger and of sex (Claude Lévi-Strauss). Red berries, blood, etc. — are all warning signs, while arousal causes increased blood flow to parts of the body that signal sexual ability and red food can be some of the sweetest in nature.

In terms of color and language, researchers have found many societies have only two colors that mean dark and light — essentially black and white. If a society has a third color, red is the first color they distinguish from this dichotomy (Human Color Perception, Cognition, and Culture).

So red is a very visceral color and strikes humans on a very basic level. It doesn’t necessarily elicit one constant reaction. Studies have shown that it can help aid contests where competitors are otherwise equal (Red Enhances Human Performance in Contests), but that it can also inhibit performance attainment when taken in before something like an exam (Color and Psychological Functioning).

Red in particular is a color often associated with aggression, lust, and power — which make for it a pretty strong statement spread on your lips.

The Bottom Line

A red lip is powerful for several reasons. It denotes sexual availability on a biological level, making it eye catching for men. But it’s also a striking color in general — demonstrating a contrast by showing up as both a dangerous and appealing sign in nature.  As a lip color, it’s vibrancy draws attention to lips and wearing such a bold color reads as confident behavior. There’s no study that correlates to whether red lipstick makes women appear more powerful, but it would seem so with such a striking and bold look.

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  • Natalie Bell

    @Janessa: Thank you so much! That makes me feel so good!

  • Janessa

    Natalie, you consistently bring the some of the neatest, most intriguing posts to Future Derm! 🙂

  • I have never been able to wear red lipstick as it does not agree with my skin tone. But I love a red dress, scarf or best of all…red heels! The higher the better…

  • Red is a commanding color, it turns head automatically. I like to wear red lippy in days I’m lazy playing with colorful eyeshadow. Classic cat-eye + red lipstick = bombshell…

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