Vanity Fare : How Much Makeup Does a Typical Woman Own? A Look at the Trends


THE UNITED STATES Census Bureau reports that nearly 70 million females are between age 14 and 54. That number is music to the ears of the cosmetics industry, because it is during those years that women and girls are most likely to buy makeup. And of those 70 million, at least 68%, or 48 million, work and have money to spend on beauty. And spend they do.

In 1986, sales of men’s and women’s cosmetics and toiletries registered more than $17 billion, up almost $1 billion from 1985, according to New York-based trade journal Product Marketing.

The average lipstick costs about $6, and mascaras can be purchased for about $2.50. So where is all the money going? And perhaps more interesting, do women actually use all the cosmetics they buy?

These questions intrigued Reina Alexis Barone, who, as a San Francisco-based professional “organizer,” systematically arranged other people’s possessions in desks, closets, medicine chests and other cluttered spaces. Confounded by the mess created by cosmetics, Barone designed a unit that would help keep track of paints and powders.


Before proceeding, however, she commissioned one of the country’s largest market-research firms, Cheskin & Masten, to survey the cosmetic-buying habits of American women to determine how much they own and how much they actually use.

Two hundred subjects between 16 and 45, who live in four U.S. cities, were studied. The findings indicate that most purchase two to three times as much makeup as they use daily. The rest rattles around in a drawer until it is discarded.

Lipstick is, predictably, a mainstay in most collections. According to the Cheskin & Masten study, the average woman owns seven lipsticks. Of those, 2.6 are used frequently. Although the study did not focus on specific brands or colors, it can be extrapolated that women buy different brands because respondents mentioned that their lipsticks were of varying sizes and shapes.

Women invest more in eye shadow than in any other form of makeup. On the average, American women have 12 shadows but use only five frequently. The most common is powder, but sticks and pencils also are counted in the dozen. Research also showed that most women own two to three mascaras but use only one regularly.

Blushers are used by most women, and most women own more than one shade. On the average, each woman owns three forms of blusher--powders, creams, gels, etc.--though she typically wears only one.

Women experiment least with foundation. At most they own two and use one or both daily.

Why do women buy so much more than they use? You can thank the power of advertising. The $17-billion industry spends more than $1 billion a year on advertising. “By changing the color collections two to four times a year and filling the magazines with beautiful faces--and new products--manufacturers create an artificial need,” explains one cosmetics-industry senior vice president who requested that his name not be used.


“It’s like fashion,” he adds. “Show the American woman something new, and she’ll buy it.”

Photographed by Dale Berman; cosmetics products courtesy of the Broadway; cosmetics organizer courtesy of Neiman-Marcus.