Cosmetics: What Women Buy, How They Buy It and Why


Makeup and Culture

The Internet is also a great way to find products. The experts recommend gloss.com and sephora.com. I've shopped them all and I can prove I'm not alone in my pursuits. Remember when a dewy-lipped Monica Lewinsky talked to Barbara Walters? "Glaze," the Club Monaco lipstick she wore, sold out all over the world.

But counting my makeup was something I put off for days. My friends complained, too. One group of suburban Washington, D.C., moms was reluctant to talk about the whole subject. Women in this complex era are conflicted when it comes to makeup.

"Can you be a brain and a babe at the same time? That's the dichotomy," says Dr. Debbie Then, author of the study Redefining Vanity. "Cosmetic use is an important reflection of who you are."

No one mentions it, of course, but what it may come down to is men.

"We have to be able to signal the differences in gender. Society demands it," says Dr. Ellyn Kaschak of San Jose State University. "Most of the weight of that is placed on women, and cosmetics is a big part of it."

But many women see their relationship with cosmetics resulting from tradition, regional influences and just plain habit.

My oldest friend, free-lance nutrition writer Dr. Denise Webb, a Louisiana native, sits alone at her desk at home each day in makeup and earrings. "Is it my Southern upbringing? I'm sure of it. When my mother was sick and dying, she had makeup on."

Other women see cosmetics as a tool for expressing themselves.

"You can do anything with makeup. It's amazing," says Sharle, a makeup artist at Art & Chemistry Hair in Rockville, Md., who only uses M.A.C. products.

Dr. Then agrees. "Studies show that cosmetic use does wonders for women. It is psychologically healthy to have a reasonable amount of concern about your presentation of self."

Almost everyone judged women who wore too much makeup, especially older women, as pitiable or too self-absorbed. But many admitted that once they got "hooked" on makeup, it became "expected" and they had to wear it.

Most were willing to go at least partly out of their way to get something they wanted.

CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson liked a new makeup the professionals used on her at work. She wrote to the designer, Joe Blasco. "He actually called me back. He said, 'This is Joe. I got your letter.'" She scored the makeup. Interested? Try JoeBlasco.com.

Or you can adopt my friend Anne Saker's philosophy: "Before age 25, makeup is play. Before 35 it's maintenance. After 55, it's unnecessary. If you ain't beautiful on the inside by then, sister, no amount of (Clinique) Moonglow is gonna get you there."