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What A Lick Of Lipstick Can Tell Us About The World

Read our lips.

Lipstick is on everyone's lips at the moment.

"Sales of lipstick rose 31 percent in the three months to the end of June against the same period last year with Instagram-friendly brightly coloured summer lip shades especially highly sought," reports Paula Nickolds, managing director of John Lewis department stores in the UK.

"Perhaps it's the lipstick effect as we might have called it back in the recession (of 2008)."

It's been observed that spending on small luxury items increases when there's an economic downturn. Fewer holidays and big household items, but increased spending on 'little' luxuries such as perfume and lipstick.

In a different take on the lipstick effect, researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of Chieti, Italy, recently reported the findings of their study to examine the possibility that makeup can indirectly influence academic achievement and cognition through self-esteem.

One hundred and eighty-six female undergraduate students took a simulated university examination. Participants were randomly assigned to three groups, which consisted of wearing makeup, listening to positive music and colouring a black and white drawing of a schematic face. Results showed female students who had put on makeup received higher grades compared to those who did not, the researchers wrote in an academic paper published in 'Cogent Psychology'.

The beauty about colour and makeup is that you can reverse your condition if you're feeling down.

I'm reminded of a ward round in our local hospital 35 years ago. As a physiotherapist, I was part of the daily team.

"The patient in bed four is wearing lipstick," whispered the professor of internal medicine.

"Oh, that's a good sign. She's recovering. We'll probably sign her out by the weekend. Sometimes we depend on cosmetics for signs of recovery. The moment a female patient takes the effort to find her base, there's an upswing in the prognosis. Add lipstick and rouge and there's no need to assess vital signs," he said, while students scribbled his findings.

Nurses clucked about her colour. "Was the shade of lipstick a predictor of long-term recovery?", they asked.

Applying makeup is mainly a female phenomenon and we're programmed from an early age. To feel alive (or if we're feeling lively), we colour our faces and perfume our bodies. Our mothers taught us. Hours of looking up at mum in the mirror. Pat, puff, squirt, and the final pout to marry lip and dress colour.

At what age do we start wearing make-up? I was about 10 when I first tried some vanishing cream. My freckles refused to disappear and I developed a rash instead of a flawless skin.

I later reached for my mother's base and plastered my freckles into submission. They amalgamated into a large brown mass. I realised that freckles were my fate. I wish that we had been allowed to wear make-up at school. Perhaps my self-esteem and my grades would have improved, if I'm to believe the latest research.

After school I did a make-up course. Colour coding was the rage and the girls queued to find 'themselves'. The experts had decided that each of us was a season. Life would take on another dimension if we discovered our true colours. I was an autumn and was secretly disappointed.

The beauty about colour and makeup is that you can reverse your condition if you're feeling down. You can get out of yourself by painting your face. We laugh at the lipstick on our teeth or the eyebrow liner that went off course, or the base we forgot to even out which looks like we were pelted with mud.

A friend regularly arrived at work with parrot cheeks, having forgotten to blend in her blusher. Then the hilarious mascara eyes. Dark circles under the eyes earning sympathy votes at the end of the day from the males and giggles from the girls.

And the essential re-application of lipstick during the day as most of it heads off on the takeaway coffee cup. Our tell-tale lip prints are unique, like fingerprints. "Less coffee, more work, girls!" says the CEO scratching about in the bin, identifying female culprits by lipreading and colour codes.

The choice to put colour in our lives remains our responsibility. We must have fun with our faces -- even more so in a potential recession. Let lips erupt 'Fire Engine Red' or 'Petunia Pink', whatever it takes to look and feel alive.

Who knows, we may even improve our collective cognition in the mix.

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