When Michael’s profile popped up on my Tinder feed, my thumb moved instinctively to swipe left. Far from my usual artsy type, his frat-boy good looks and photos featuring beer and the requisite puppy made me assume he’d be — how do I put this lightly? — a total douchebag.
And since my bio touts my love of writing and punk music (unashamed hipster here), I figured he probably wouldn’t be into me either. But I was dating undercover, with a profile pic of me wearing way more makeup than I normally would, so I thought, why not? Maybe Michael would be into this alternate version of me. I swiped right. Boom — we were a match!
According to Tinder statistics, women wearing heavy makeup on the app are 55 percent more likely to be swiped right on than women wearing no makeup and 26 percent more likely than women wearing light makeup. So, Cosmo recruited 10 women (4 are shown here) of diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, and body types to dig deeper… specifically, to suss out how the way we do our makeup influences who will approach us and how they’ll interact with us. We spent a month swiping on Tinder: two weeks using profiles with natural makeup (no more than light foundation, mascara, and groomed brows) and two weeks on new accounts rocking glam to the nines (full-on contour, dramatic eyes, major arches, and bold lips). Photos were taken in our office to avoid outliers (resting bitch faces; insane cleavage), and everything else was kept constant between our two profiles, from bio to number of daily right swipes.
Meet Four of Our Subjects
Kate Foster, 24, assistant beauty editor, Cosmopolitan
Looking For: “A long-term relationship.”
Fave Profile: Natural
Erin Stovall, 27, beauty assistant, Cosmopolitan
Looking For: “Someone to have fun with— bonus if it turns into something serious.”
Fave Profile: Natural
MiMi Levine, 30, fashion account manager
Looking For: “Love and excitement”
Fave Profile: Natural
Tina L., 26, assistant digital marketing manager
Looking For: “Something real”
Fave Profile: Neither
Phase 1: Natural
While only half as man men started conversations with us on the natural profiles, the quality of our matches, in our opinions, was significantly higher. For instance, men were much more likely to ask personal questions based on our bios. Maggie, a 24-year-old paralegal, found that her matches were most interested in talking about law and her watercolor-painting hobby. Sarah, 24, chatted with a guy about the recent Women’s March in Washington, D.C. And men saw that I was an avid reader and asked for book recs to get the conversation flowing.
Perhaps even more telling was what they didn’t say. “Not a single man called me hot or sexy on my natural profile,” says Maggie. But some women reported nicer messages, like Erin, who received one that said, “Good morning, Erin! Have a great day. Hope it’s as beautiful as you are!”
And the potential for lasting love? Alysia, 28, a self-proclaimed makeup addict, swears she met her “future husband” on her natural profile. “Our first date lasted nine hours, and we’ve been inseparable for two months,” she says.
Phase 2: Glam
Once we switched to profiles with heavier makeup, our number of matches more than doubled. “This makes sense,” says body-language expert Patti Wood. “In a recent study, two females appeared at a bar on two separate days, one day with makeup and one day without. On average, a man-made first contact with them about six minutes faster when they were wearing makeup.”
Some participants appreciated the immediate ego boost of so many matches. “It felt fiery and exciting,” says Jess, 32. But the content of our interactions did a 180 from substantial to simple (cue the hey and what’s up) and, not surprisingly, sexual.
“Guys on this profile wanted to meet up as soon as possible, probably to hook up,” says MiMi, 30. “I was treated like a piece of meat.” Speaking of meat, Dani, 24, included her fave food in her bio: corn dogs. “They were a hot topic on my glam profile, probably because they’re phallic,” she says.
Meanwhile, Maggie received the most aggressive opening line of the entire experiment: “I wanna flip you on your back, pin your legs down, and”—you get the idea.
So, can a flick of liner or a bright lip really mean the difference between respectful conversation and crude advances? Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, PhD, author of Anatomy of Love, says yes: “But it’s not that the same man would treat you differently between the two appearance types, it’s that you’re attracting an entirely different type of man.”
According to her research, all of us (male and female) are born with four basic temperament styles. Which one you express depends on your brain chemistry. There are explorers (whose high dopamine levels make them seek out new experiences), builders (in which serotonin, a mood stabilizer, is most prominent), directors (testosterone, the traditional “male” hormone, is the driver), and negotiators (here, estrogen dominates, so these are primarily women). “Male directors tend to be drawn to women high in estrogen,” Fisher says. “And because makeup often mimics signs of higher estrogen levels, like red lips and large eyes, it’s not a surprise that higher levels of makeup attract the high-testosterone men.” Some traits of directors? Self-confidence and assertiveness but with reduced empathy — similar to the guys we encountered on our glam profiles.
On the flip side, men expressive of the explorers system (they tend to be energetic, curious, and creative) and builders system (they’re more traditional rule-followers) are more likely to care about interests in a Tinder bio — like if you’re into hiking or looking to start a family — rather than appearance alone. These, Fisher hypothesizes, are the men we crossed paths with on our natural accounts.
Whatever you’re looking for online, one thing is clear: Makeup is a powerful tool for taking charge of your love life. Want to weed out the players? Try an #IWokeUpLikeThis shot as your main photo. Seeking a flirty convo or a FWB? Work in pics with liner or lipstick.
As for Michael, my hot, fratty glam match? After a few days texting back and forth, we met up. Four margaritas and five hours of flirty banter later, I walked home — my cat eye melted off from crying with laughter, my red lipstick worn away from a good-bye kiss. Hello, future hookup!
This article was originally published as “Love At First Swipe?” in the May 2017 issue of Cosmopolitan