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Survey Looks at Girls' Makeup Habits

Posted: February 25, 2013

From skin care and body care products to color cosmetics and other makeup, the beauty industry offers a range of opportunities for consumers to use products to change, enhance or alter their appearance. Often considered a right of passage, girls are using makeup at younger and younger ages, and that raises distinct implications for beauty brands.

The Renfrew Center Foundation—a nonprofit charitable organization dedicated to advancing the education, prevention, research, advocacy and treatment of eating disorders—announced the results of a survey conducted by Harris Interactive that revealed at least one in five young girls between the ages of 8 and 18 who have ever worn makeup have negative feelings about their image when not wearing makeup, associating a “bare face” with feeling insecure and unattractive. Additionally, two-thirds of the girls surveyed who wore makeup began doing so between the ages of 8 and 13.

This survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Harris Interactive on behalf of The Renfrew Center Foundation, from Dec. 4–11, 2012, among 572 young girls 8–18 years of age. Highlights from the survey include:

  • At least 20% of girls who have ever worn makeup have negative feelings when they are not wearing makeup, reporting feeling self-conscious (20%), unattractive (17%) and naked/as though something is missing (15%). Only 5% of these girls said going without makeup made them feel more attractive.
  • Almost three in five young girls surveyed (58%) said they have worn or wear makeup. Of the girls who wear makeup, two-thirds (65%) started between the ages of 8 and 13; 29% between the ages of 14 and 16; 50% between 11 and 13; and 15% between the ages 8 and 10.
  • Over a quarter of girls who wear makeup (27%) rarely/never leave the house without it. The places that makeup-wearing girls felt were acceptable to be seen without makeup were home (89%), pool or beach (84%) and gym (82%). The places that were least acceptable were a friend's house (67%) and school (58%).

This is the second consecutive year that Renfrew has conducted a survey examining how females feel when they don't wear makeup. Last year, Renfrew worked with Harris Interactive and surveyed women ages 18 and older. They had similar responses about perceived negative self-images when they weren't wearing makeup. However, among this group the driving force was feeling unattractive when they weren't wearing makeup, whereas the biggest issue for the young girls polled was self-consciousness.

"Experimenting with wearing makeup is often a rite of passage for young girls in our society," said Adrienne Ressler, national training director for The Renfrew Center Foundation and body image expert. "However, the concern is how young is too young? Girls who start too early may be hiding more than an acne breakout—they may be demonstrating early signs of self-esteem issues and a negative self-image or setting up a ritual that is difficult to break."

For the second year in a row, during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (Feb. 24–March 2), The Renfrew Center Foundation is sponsoring a national campaign, titled Barefaced & Beautiful, Without & Within. The goal of the campaign is to encourage women nationwide to go without makeup for a day and participate in an ongoing dialogue about healthy body image and inner beauty.

"In this age of toddler beauty pageants, digital retouching, peer pressure, celebrity worship and other unrealistic cultural messages about beauty, there are definite challenges to developing a positive body image; challenges that put young girls at risk for eating disorders and other self destructive behaviors," said Ressler. "Our hope is that through Barefaced & Beautiful, Without & Within, we will continue to promote the realization that real beauty and self-esteem truly begin from within."