Tuesday, November 25, 2014Congress reports

Measuring the psychosocial influence of cosmetics

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Cosmetic products cannot be evaluated in terms of efficacy or safety alone. A lot of research now focuses on sensory analysis techniques, which identify, characterize, and quantify the emotional effects of beauty and personal care products. At the IFSCC’s 28th congress, several works were presented and their conclusions were similar: cosmetics don’t just change our physical appearance, they also have a strong influence on well-being and even on social judgment.

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Arnaud Aubert, a neuroscience and psychology researcher at the University of Tours, set the stage for a day of conferences on Beauty and the Senses. Above and beyond product claims and consumer expectations, studying the emotions linked to the use of a product makes it possible to confirm the effect and to objectively measure the changes caused, their significance (through quantification), and their characteristics.

There is a vast range of emotions, and until now the literature has focused primarily on negative emotions. Positive emotions (pleasure, joy, euphoria, well-being, etc.) have not been the subject of nearly as much research. And yet, according to Aubert, ‘well-being is not simply the absence of negative emotions. It also requires the presence of positive emotions!’ The scope of related research is extremely broad, especially since these emotions do not necessarily manifest as extreme responses to stimuli: they can also be very subtle or even be expressed unconsciously.

Emotions can affect the whole body, causing different kinds of behaviour that constitute signs to be studied:
• expressive signs (posture, gestures, vocalization, eye movements) can be filmed and recorded
• subjective signs, at the mental level, can be analyzed through questionnaires or neurocognitive tests
• physiological or somatic signs (heart activity, breathing rhythm, skin temperature, pupil dilation, hormone levels, etc.) can be recorded using different techniques.

Pick-me-up lipstick

On the same day at the congress, Christelle Pêcher, a cognitive psychology researcher with Chanel, presented a study conducted in her laboratory. The aim was to study the effects of three different lipsticks, which all had an intense red colour, on women’s emotions and feelings.

Two tools were developed for the study: a questionnaire to evaluate the subjective components of the emotions related to the use of the product, and an ethogram to measure behavioural components at the moment the lipstick was applied.

Step 1: evaluating the sensory profile

The researchers used a panel of 21 trained evaluators and a highly standardized protocol (constant hygrometry, temperature, and lighting; specific application: 3 times on the upper lip, 3 times on the lower lip). The results were categorical.

These were the results for the three lipsticks:
• A: Not very gliding texture; Shiny result; A little sticky on lips
• B: Gliding and melting texture; Satiny result; Soft lips
• C: Very melting and very gliding texture; Very shiny result; Very soft and supple lips.
To sum up, lipstick C had a very positive sensory profile, in opposition to lipstick A. Lipstick B had an intermediate profile.

Step 2: Emotional assessment on subjective questionnaires

Fifty-six women aged from 25 to 60 years were recruited. They were all frequent users of lipsticks from luxury brands. They had to be used to applying their lipsticks directly on the lips (without applicators) and they had to like applying intense red colours.

The emotional questionnaire included 41 items or adjectives that described emotions, feelings, and states relevant when applying lipsticks. For each term, participants had to rate on an 11-point scale from ‘0 = not at all’ to ‘10 = extremely’ how much they felt the described emotion at the present time. The questionnaire was presented twice: before and just after lipstick application.

Global appreciation of the products:
Lipstick A received the lowest score, at 5.65/10. Lipstick B had an intermediate appreciation score (6.74) and lipstick C had the highest score with 7.46/10.

Emotional profile of the products:
It was first observed that the application of red lipsticks diminished the feeling of being natural, whatever the product. On the contrary, it globally increased emotions related to seduction and beauty.

Lipstick C was associated with the most positive emotional profile. Indeed, it was associated with a huge increase of all items related to seduction and beauty. It also increased scores of happiness, refreshment, energy (active), and the feeling of being in love. At first sight, B had a profile comparable with lipstick A. However, lipstick A increased attractiveness and the feeling of being beautiful on the one hand, and reduced serenity and the feeling of being at ease on the other hand.

Step 3: Analysis of consumer behaviours during application

During the sessions dedicated to the emotional ratings of the three products, fifteen women were filmed when applying the lipsticks. Behavioural analyses were carried out by an experienced researcher in ethology. To insure naivety in the interpretation, all analyses were performed following the double-blind paradigm: the participant had no information on the products and the expert in ethology was not informed about the protocol or the products. Behaviours were recorded thanks to a fixed camera with a large plunging angle on the test cabin.

Concerning Lipstick A, analysis revealed only statistical tendencies. Participants tended to have more negative facial mimics. They could be interpreted as unpleasantness, disappointment, and boredom. Additionally, women sighed more often, which was interpreted as a sign of boredom. Finally, participants moisturized their lips frequently and for a long time. This was considered as a sign of the thicker texture of lipstick A, which seemed more difficult to apply on the lips.

No particular observations were made for lipstick B.

Finally, with lipstick C, participants had more frequent maintenance behaviours for their own image and tended to smile more frequently when looking at their image in the mirror.


Subjective and behavioural data not only fit with the sensory description and appreciation ratings but also go beyond it. Indeed, the emotional profile offers the possibility to distinguish in a more subtle manner the products and their immediate impact on women’s emotions.

Feel-good perfume

From his base of operations in Tours, Arnaud Aubert has worked with several brands of cosmetics to conduct his research. For example, he studied a perfumed water (Eau des Bienfaits by Roger & Gallet). The aim of this study was to acquire scientific data under controlled conditions to characterize the influence of a perfumed water upon not only immediate positive emotions but also long-term well-being.


Forty-four non-smoking, non-menopausal women, selected as regular consumers of perfumed waters, participated in the study. The study, based upon an integrative multidimensional approach to emotional processes, used methods to address the subjective, visceral, and expressive components of emotions.

The protocol comprised several steps.
 1. The evaluation of the immediate emotional response to the new fragrance, thanks to prosody (changes in vocal expression).
 2. Immediately after the olfactory stimulation, subjects were submitted to a cognitive challenge, commonly used to induce stress in various psychological studies. The expressive components of their stress were assessed.
 3. Finally, subjects were asked to complete a Well-Being Questionnaire.
 4. After these initial measurements (t0), half of the subjects were asked to use the new fragrance for 14 consecutive days (group A) whereas the other half subjects continued to use their own fragrance product (group B).
 5. After two weeks (t14), all subjects were submitted to the same measurements as at t0. The change in stress response of the subjects was considered as an objective marker of well-being, resistance to mild stress being one of the functional implications of well-being.


At t0, the results depict a pleasurable and lightly soothing form of positive emotion associated with the discovery of the fragrance. At t14, statistical analyses showed that subjects from group A were less prone to stress after 14 days of use of the tested fragrance compared to controls.


Altogether, these results not only quantify the spontaneous positive emotion induced by the tested fragrance (thus supporting the strong link between odours and emotions), but also the promotion of well-being in subjects following repeated use for 2 weeks. As positive emotions are known to be critical to well-being (Aubert, 2010), these results confirm that fragrance-elicited positive emotions could be used as relevant strategies for consumers to create, maintain, and enhance well-being.

Makeup that changes social judgment

Another study by Aubert, this time on the influence of facial makeup on a woman’s power of seduction and on the way that others judge her socially.

The emotional in the social

Before we go into the details, an explanation:
Recent studies revealed how extensively fast our brains perceive, process, and evaluate faces, not only in terms of relative attractiveness (i.e. pleasant vs. unpleasant), but also in terms of social and moral judgment (e.g. trustworthy vs. untrustworthy, Todorov, 2008; Todorov et al., 2011). In less than a second, emotion-related brain areas such as the amygdala react to specific facial features and provide the basic information they will process to other brain structures, like the fusiform area involved in proper face recognition, or even the frontal cortex. This was a discovery of primary importance for both the neurosciences and psychology, as it revealed that social judgment is not the result of a conscious cognitive appraisal, but rather a very fast, mostly unconscious emotion-based decision.

These data reinforce the critical role of facial appearance in social interactions, and further support the fundamental behavioural role of makeup. As the history of makeup is as long as the history of mankind, and as all cultures have used, and continue to use, facial makeup, the logical implication of such discoveries is to understand how changing the facial appearance with makeup can influence the brain’s emotional and social judgments.


The spontaneous reactions of 34 naive volunteers (17 men and 17 women, 31.17 ± 8.82 y.o.) have been recorded. Subjects were installed comfortably in an armchair, in front of a 61-cm screen, for the duration of the test session.

During the test session, subjects observed a series of photographs of women’s faces, wearing different forms of makeup. Thirty-two photos were used in the study, from the combination of 4 different makeup patterns (two daytime makeup applications and two evening applications) applied on 8 different faces. Makeup was applied virtually (computerized solution) to avoid any variation in light, colour, or product quantity.

During the whole test session, volunteer gazing was processed with a T60 Tobii eye tracker, which is an unobtrusive screen-based eye-tracking device (i.e. no glasses needed) allowing subjects to move freely and naturally. Volunteers were interrogated on the estimated age of each face model and its attractiveness, but also the degree of trustworthiness, emotionality, motivation, and the overall competence and skilfulness it inspired. Moreover, besides the spontaneous subjective responses of the subjects, emotions elicited by each face stimulus were assessed through variations in cardiac activity (i.e. heart rate variability [HRV], Appelhand & Luecken, 2006) measured through a small photoplestymographic captor affixed to the subjects’ ears, and from the analysis of facial expressions (revised Facial Action Coding System, FACS, Ekman et al., 2002) and the decoding of emotional parameters of the voice (i.e. prosody) assessed through the physical analysis of the vocal spectrum extracted from the free verbal responses of subjects (Banse & Scherer, 1996).


• Attractiveness. Statistical analyses did not show a gender effect but a significant makeup effect. Overall, daytime makeup was associated with higher attractiveness scores as compared with evening makeup.

• Perceived age. Analyses did not reveal a gender effect but a significant makeup effect. Compared to evening makeup, daytime makeup was associated with younger physical appearance.

• Personality. Overall, both the gender of the observers and the type of makeup significantly influenced several social judgments (assessment of sociability, consistency, and emotionality traits). Moreover, daytime makeup appeared to be more frequently associated with beneficial judgments, except for the subjective assessment of consistency by women.

• Makeup-elicited emotions. Statistical analyses of emotional reactions (i.e. prosody and cardiac activity) reveal a significant interaction between gender and makeup, showing that the effect of makeup on an observer’s emotions depends on the gender of the observer. Post-hoc analyses reveal that daytime makeup induces higher emotional responses than evening makeup, but only in male observers. Moreover, degrees of emotional responses are correlated to attractiveness appreciation in men, but not in women, thus indicating that subjective attractiveness assessment would rely on different mechanisms in men and women, respectively dependent on or independent of emotions.

• Eye gazing. Finally, it appeared that eye gazing was dramatically influenced by the gender of the observer, with men paying more attention to the mouth area whereas women looked longer at the eyes of the models pictured. Moreover, a significant interaction between gender and makeup revealed a shift in gazing from mouth to eyes in men and from eyes to mouth in women when considering daytime makeup vs. evening makeup.


All variables tested were significantly influenced by the different patterns of makeup.
Confirming previous findings, attractiveness was correlated with trustworthiness, and was also predicted by the emotional response.
This study confirms the role of facial appearance not only in attractiveness, but also in spontaneous social judgments.

The implications of all of the research conducted on these subjects are quite meaningful. After cosmetics that make us more beautiful, more youthful, more seductive… can we now expect products that claim to make their users more acceptable and more prone to social and romantic success?

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