Makeup and social determinants of health

So, I mentioned on 12/28 that I’ve been thinking for a number of reasons about how makeup and social determinants of health interact.  There are some ways in which it is obvious: women are often expected/pressured to wear makeup lest they “look sick,” makeup actually costs a lot of money when women make less than men for the same work and men are not expected to use their resources similarly (though some choose to, which is cool) leaving women less resources to put towards health needs.

Makeup can also cause health problems if a person has allergies or other sensitivities, or if someone uses products (especially eye products) that are past their expiration.  (Seriously, the three month thing is not a marketing ploy.  The fact that we can use the same mascara for as long as three months without it turning into a teeming swarm of bacteria is a testament to whatever preservatives buy us that much time.)  On the flip side, makeup can be a useful tool to boost confidence and self esteem, giving a person agency around their appearance, which is also an important health factor.

I should probably define a key term here: social determinant of health.  Hang out in public health circles for a minute, and that phrase becomes an instant part of your vocabulary.  According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (2015), “[s]ocial determinants of health are conditions in the environments in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks” (para. 5 or 6, depending on how you count it).

There are also some less obvious ways that the two interact, which I’ll talk about in the vlog below.  TL; DR (DW?): There is a certain amount of privilege involved in deciding to opt out of wearing makeup to work, and makeup can tell you surprising things about other social determinants at play.


Hawkins, R. L., & Kim, E. J. (2012). The socio-economic empowerment assessment: Addressing poverty and economic distress in clients. Clinical Social Work Journal, 40(2), 194-202. doi:
Not what I was really looking for, but there is a good discussion around socio-economic factors that includes a brief discussion of cosmetics.  Also, the assessment tool looks quite useful.

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2015, December 28). Social Determinants of Health. Retrieved December 28, 2015, from

Pega, F., & Veale, J. F. (2015). The Case for the World Health Organization’s Commission on Social Determinants of Health to Address Gender Identity. American Journal Of Public Health, 105(3), e58-62 1p. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2014.302373



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