Are Cosmetics the Secret to Looking Younger?

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There’s a lot of confusion about whether makeup makes us look older or younger, and often the conventional wisdom of makeup tends to contradict itself. For example: did you pile on the eyeshadow as a teenager, hoping not to get carded? Or, do you think that a woman of “a certain age” shouldn’t wear dark lipstick because it’s too harsh?

The answers to beauty’s greatest contradictions may lie in science. A new study suggests that there may be a more subtle cue to evaluating someone’s age: Facial contrast. Essentially, there may be scientific proof that cosmetics actually can help us look younger.

Psychology professor Richard Russell and CERIES (an independent research foundation established by Chanel in 1991) published a study in March of this year assessing 289 faces ranging from 20 to 70 years old. According to the study, redness of the lips, definition of the eye, and the luminance contrast between the brows and forehead are all subconscious cues for assessing a person’s age. They found that the color and depth of eyebrows, eyes, and lips contrasted less and less with the surrounding skin as age increased. In other words, as age increased, contrast decreased. And contrast, it turns out, is important in visually determining how we age.

The researchers artificially increased the contrast of facial features in a selection of the photos and asked a sample audience to compare them side by side with the original photos and pick which looked younger. They also asked subjects to type an age for a series of random consecutive photos they were presented in which multiple versions of the same face were given varying levels of contrast. The subjects were told that they might see the same face twice, but not that the photos would be altered. Each time, the photos with the most contrast were rated the youngest.

The study posits that “as well as looking younger, the face with higher contrast appears healthier and more attractive than the face with lower contrast, which may be related to recent findings that facial color affects perceived health.”

What does this mean for you, besides that you should turn up the “contrast” feature in Photoshop before uploading pics to Facebook? It means that you can use these four subtle makeup tricks to your advantage. Here's how!

Fill in the brows

Well-groomed and shaped brows will keep your face looking youthful and polished. We love Anastasia’s Brow Wiz for its user-friendly superfine tip; here we used it in Brunette. Fill in brows with light, feathery strokes in the direction of hair growth, and use the spoolie on the end to soften harsh edges and brush hairs into place. We also used a highlighter (such as Too Faced Absolutely Invisible in Candlelight) along the brow line to create more contrast between the skin and the brow.

Define the eyes

Our latest favorite trick: take a creamy waterproof pencil (we love Smashbox Waterproof Shadow Liner) and gently pull the eyelid up with one finger to line just the upper waterline. When combined with mascara, this creates the illusion of a fuller lash line without looking like you’re wearing eyeliner at all! Try the classic Maybelline Great Lash mascara in Soft Black.

Pop those lips

Remember that pigment in the lips fades as we get older, so restore some of that youthful blush with a pop of color. For the most subtle effect, try a soft matte in a shade slightly brighter than your natural lip shade (we like Nars Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Dolce Vita). You can emphasize the contrast by using concealer around the lips.

Perfect your base

Remember to keep foundation soft and natural, since nothing ages like a heavy application. Blend well and only go for coverage where you really need it (usually under eyes and around the nose, where we tend to have most discoloration). The healthiest skin has a bit of shine to it, so try patting on a highlighter or some balm onto the high planes of the face—on the top of cheekbones and along the outer, top edge of the brow—to keep looking luminous. Here, we used Smith’s Rosebud Salve Balm.

I’m sorry, miss, are you old enough to be in here?