6 Real Ways Makeup and Skin Care Can Help Your Mental Health

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makeup mental health
Illustration: Ashley Britton

To some, makeup and skin care obsessions may seem a little superficial, but the truth is that beauty isn’t just about shopping and product-hunting. Sure, feeling good about your looks can give you confidence, but beauty routines can also provide a creative, fun outlet for self-expression that can lift you up during tough times. Yesterday, we discovered a super-inspiring thread on Reddit’s MakeupAddiction that proved we’re not the only ones whose feelings about makeup go more than skin-deep.

The thread started when a user asked how beauty has played a role in people’s physical and mental health, and within hours, the comment section was loaded with Redditors sharing moving, personal stories. People opened up about how makeup and skin care helped them cope with issues like depression, anxiety, and chronic illness, explaining that beauty brings positivity and confidence to otherwise dark, overwhelming situations.

[Skin care and makeup] gives me a sense of control I never had as a little kid.

blue eyeshadow curly hair 6 Real Ways Makeup and Skin Care Can Help Your Mental Health

Photo: ImaxTree

We chatted with eating disorder therapist and body image expert Temimah Zucker, LMSW, for her thoughts on how beauty routines can support people’s emotional wellness. “I encourage clients to find meaning in makeup,” she says. “Perhaps a bold lip color represents how powerful your words and thoughts can be. Or maybe concealer is less about concealing oneself, and more about being mindful that some people will see all of you, and others might not.”

Zucker also notes that the creative aspect of makeup can be a natural mood-booster. “By cultivating different looks, blending, mixing, and experimenting, you can practice creativity and art, which are often much-needed and encouraged past-times for those struggling with mental health.”

Below, we rounded up six insightful, moving highlights from the thread for an important reminder that beauty is anything but frivolous.

Taking Back Control

“I grew up really controlled, and my appearance was definitely a part of that control. My mother picked my clothes for me through middle school (and trust me, I wasn’t inept at picking my own clothes). Later, my parents used to make comments on how I looked without any sort of guidance. So now that I have disposable income and free time, I’m SO particular about how I look and what I use … I relish in the luxuriousness of my skin care and makeup. Overall, it gives me a sense of control I never had as a little kid. And I like being known for being good at this kinda stuff too.” –Gotohela

I have self-esteem issues and [skincare] is a great way to be nice to myself.

Treating Yourself

“The self-care of my skincare routine (almost clear skin now from acne!) and the self-esteem boost of adding colour [sic] to my face (eyeshadows) makes me feel accomplished. I have mental health issues too (depression/anxiety/recent severe panic attacks) and it’s a great way to be nice to myself.” –AmyPond808 

Overcoming Challenges

“I have severe depression and also lots of issues with chronic pain (hooray fibro!). Most of the time I have a very hard time having the motivation to not look like absolute garbage, even with my work being business casual. Being into makeup has helped me through a lot. I may sometimes get frustrated with having very shaky hands and never being able to wing my liner, but it is worth it to me for the compliments I usually get when I manage to get some makeup on.” –Tikappu-kitsune

MORE: 12 Safe, Effective Alternatives to Retinoids

clear skin orange makeup 6 Real Ways Makeup and Skin Care Can Help Your Mental Health

Photo: ImaxTree

It’s my war paint when I feel I need an extra layer of armor.

Embracing Your Own Skin

“I struggled to come to terms with my femininity for a long time. I went to a religious K-8 school that treated girls as second-class citizens. It really fucked up my ideas about gender, gender roles, and just generally what it meant to be a woman. I completely rejected everything remotely feminine for a long time. It’s been a long hard road to where I am now, comfortable in my own skin. Exploring makeup has been a part of that journey.” –Pomme_dor

MORE: The 7 Best Products to Shop at Sephora in August

Taking Time Out

“Those 15 min [sic] in the morning that I put on make up is my “me” time before taking on the day. I get to pamper myself and also be creative and play with colors and different finishes. I get to decide how I want to look for the day: Clean and simple? Colorful? Vampy? Dramatic? Pin up? Soft and easy? It’s whatever I want, and no one gets to dictate it. Also, if I know it’s going to be a hard day, or I feel like I need that extra boost of confidence, I’ll go a little more dramatic—a deep lip, or a metallic eye, or an extra-bold winged liner. It’s my war paint when I feel I need an extra layer of armor, so to speak.” –Klar971

Getting Out of Your Head

“Makeup definitely helps me conquer anxiety and depression. My mind is constantly engaged in worry/negative thinking, and putting on makeup for fun is a time where I can get away from that. Pretty difficult to speculate about how my life is falling apart when I’m playing with my glorious hoard of makeup.” –Gudegudegg

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