A Study on the Key Influences on the Girls' Makeup Habits


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Most of my friends at school have been wearing makeup to class since they were thirteen or fourteen. In addition, buying, applying and wearing makeup is often discussed outside the school classroom and on social media. While this activity might be casually dismissed as just “something that teenage girls do”, I have been increasingly intrigued by the underlying motivations for this behaviour, which has led on to the following questions: How do teenagers in general decide what products to buy with their limited pocket money? Why do 13-16 year old girls at Wellington College choose to buy makeup and how do they decide on what particular products to buy? I have answered the first question based on a desktop research review, while I have generated specific data to answer the second question through an online survey.

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Teenage buying behaviours

Teenagers, such as me, are a subset of the so-called Generation Z, those born between 1996 and 2010. Teens in the developed world are much more comfortable with the digital world than older groups e. g. 68% of 13-14 year olds in the US own smart phones (MediaKix. com, 2018). As a result, according to marketing industry website MediaKix. com, teens are abandoning traditional media. Only 18% of Gen Z’s state that TV ads are highly influential in their buying decisions, while 85% use social media to learn about new products. The basic rules of marketing to teenagers, according to research from Schiff (2007) and Goodstein (2007), are – be authentic, honest, create a buzz around the product, keep the message simple, don’t talk down to them, learn their language, engage with and solicit feedback from them. Since that research was conducted 11 years ago, a new generation of teenagers connected to their smart phones has emerged and many of these marketing rules are now satisfied by peers and social media influencers, rather than traditional celebrities.

According to a Google survey (Think with Google, 2016, pg. 1, Celie O’Neil-Hart, Howard Blumenstein), 83% of Gen Z’s trust product information shared by other shoppers on social media more than advertising. 67% prefer social media influencers in adverts versus 33% who prefer celebrities. And 70% of teenage YouTube subscribers say they relate to YouTube influencers that produce content and provide product endorsements more than to traditional celebrities, as the influencers are easier to relate to and interact more with their fans, “resulting in communities that look more like friendships than fanships” (O’Neil-Hart, 2016). Influencers are now often celebrities in their own right, with Instagram celebrities now charging anywhere between $500 and $30,000 for a sponsored post (Mark Abadi, Business Insider, 22 August 2018). The 2016 Google survey concluded that Gen Z’s are 30% more likely to purchase a product recommended by an influencer than by a traditional TV or movie celebrity.

In considering these dramatic statistics, some scepticism may be in order: “There is little credible research on the effectiveness of influencer marketing, and no consensus” (Antony Mayfield, Brilliant Noise, Dec 2015). However, there is little doubt that teenagers do not respond to marketing in the same way as older generations.

Survey methodology

I designed the online survey of nine questions using the SurveyMonkey app. Some questions required only one answer, while other questions allowed multiple answers. The survey was then loaded and emailed out by a Wellington College teacher to all girls in Forms 3-5, a sample size of approximately 210. 99 responses were received for a satisfactory 47% response rate. The survey and results are shown in the appendix. Survey results and analysis “According to a new survey, UK teenagers are spending £425 per year stocking up their beauty brands. ” (Grazia Daily, 2017, pg. 1, Lucy Morris). I found this average expenditure (£5,100 per annum) on a non-essential product range disturbing, given that the median disposable household income in the UK was £27,300 last year (Office of National Statistics).

In contrast, 70% of the Wellington College survey respondents, who come from households with much higher disposable incomes than the national average, indicated that they spend less than £240 per year, while 28% spend between £240-600 annually. About half of the respondents indicated that they wear makeup to cover skin blemishes (54%) and to feel more confident (48%). 18% indicated unspecified other reasons, while 13% wanted to try different looks. This result mirrors my own experience. Teenage girls are very sensitive about their appearance so it is not surprising that they wish to cover up spots and other blemishes. Even those lucky girls with flawless skin likely feel more attractive and therefore confident when they are wearing makeup that accentuates their good features. A survey conducted by the Renfrew Centre Foundation in 2013 discovered that “… one in five girls who have worn makeup between the ages of eight and eighteen have negative feelings about their looks when they don’t wear makeup, such as feeling self-conscious, unattractive or as if something is missing from their face” (Huffington Post, 2014, pg. 1, Taylor Griffith).

The Lucy Morris article states that teenagers mostly restock on “mascara, foundation and eyeshadow palettes” (Grazia Daily, 2017, pg. 1, Lucy Morris). The survey results don’t match this entirely, but mascara use is almost universal at 93%, followed by concealer (69%) and bronzer (41%), reflecting the desire for products that increase confidence and cover up skin blemishes. As The Guardian states, “Cosmetics companies often rely on women’s insecurities – inculcated through years of exposure to images of physical perfection in mainstream media – to sell products, operating based on “maybe she’s born with it, but probably not, so buy this concealer”. ” (The Guardian, 2015, pg. 1, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett).

The propaganda on looking perfect is noticed by teenagers who then aspire to look like the models in the photos. The growing importance of social media in informing and educating teens about products generally, as discussed earlier, is consistent with the survey results. Instagram is the top-rated source of information, which is in line with my own experience of viewing postings in the app not only for information about what products to buy but also how to apply the products through viewing makeup tutorials. YouTube and Snapchat also rank above print magazines.

According to Visual Capitalist “Instagram is in on one billion monthly active users” and “72% of Instagram users report making purchase decisions based on something they saw [on Instagram]” (Visual Capitalist, 2017, pg. 1, Nick Routley). Beauty companies are not oblivious so a lot of advertising, whether through sponsored ads with celebrities or advertising on their own sites, is focused on these apps. Visual Capitalist’s ranking of the platforms that have the most influence on shopping habits shows Snapchat at 1%, followed by Twitter at 3%, Pinterest at 22%, Facebook at 23% and Instagram the clear winner at 51% (Visual Capitalist, 2017, pg. 1, Nick Routley). My survey shows quite a different ranking, with YouTube and Snapchat being much more important, possibly due to Visual Capitalist’s more general survey (i. e. not focused on teens), as well as the recent, large expansion in Snapchat usage by celebrities such as Kylie Jenner. Yet, despite all the marketers’ emphasis on social media, I was pleased to see that friends ranked second after Instagram, ahead of YouTube and Snapchat, as a source of information about beauty trends.

Human are hardwired to place more reliance on the opinion of those that they trust and in my experience, I am more likely to remember and act on the recommendation of a friend than of someone I don’t know. The survey result regarding the importance of friends may have been skewed by the nature of Wellington College. Being in a boarding school, boarders spend 24 hours a day with their friends and for weeks at a time they are closer to their friends than their real family. Nevertheless, friends are predicated to have a huge influence on many factors of your life, one of them being your style. As claimed by The Fashion Spot, Sherrie Mathieson, author of Steal This Style, “The more important fitting in is for you, the greater your friends’ influence will be. ” (The Fashion Spot, 2012, pg. 1, Elizabeth Mitchell). She later goes on to say that this is because what you see on the daily basis becomes normal for you, so it unconsciously affects your decisions. With friends also telling you what products they wear and what they like, keeps everyone updated which could then later influence your purchase. When asked what influences them to buy a makeup product, the majority answered that price was the main factor. Teenagers normally get a limited allowance which they must split between clothes, food, and other products which they want. Yet, when also asked how much money they spend on average per month on makeup, 28% answered £20-50. Although this seems like you could buy half the makeup aisle at Sephora – good quality makeup is very expensive. For example, one foundation bottle at Mac costs nearly £25 (Mac Cosmetics, 2018).

Furthermore, looking at that statistic again does not seem that unbelievable as someone could buy one makeup product and already be in that category. Although budgetary constraints are important to a teenager, they do withhold their purchase for a brand they like. The brand of a product has been ranked third most important to their purchase. On the one hand, more well-known brands confirm that the chemicals used in the product which could cause skin problems and acne break outs, are healthier. Yet on the other hand, more popular brands are more expensive and can be as good quality as drug store makeup. A new makeup brand could also gain rapid popularity due to who makes it. One example is if a celebrity starts up a makeup company and with their widescale voice they get immediate attention. For instance, Fenty Beauty, a makeup brand started by worldwide singer Rihanna, sold out products widely and “within one month of release, Fenty Beauty’s sales were valued at $72 million” (Fortune,2017, pg. 1, Natasha Bach).

Although deserved and being named “one of Time magazine’s best inventions in 2017” (Time, 2017, pg. 1, Time staff), a large proportion of its rapid success is due to the maker’s previous popularity. This impacts and influences teenagers to want and buy products which they might not even need due to its attention and excitement of a new brand. The third main influence in my survey was YouTube, with around 20% saying it was its second largest influence and 8% putting it as its first. Youtubers make a career out of videos for subscribers and have a huge influence on their audience; “70% of teenage YouTube subscribers say they relate to YouTube creators more than traditional celebrities” (). With this statistic it is likely that those watching a popular beauty YouTuber like Zoella, who has more than twelve million subscribers (YouTube,2018, Zoella, home page), could be influenced to buy a makeup product even if the Youtuber is being sponsored by other brands. In my survey, it is evident that celebrity endorsement proves to be half as influential as Youtubers, which when compared to other data closely matches up to what other teenagers think.

For example,” in a study commissioned by Defy Media, 63% of respondents aged between 13-24 said that they would try a brand or a product recommended by a YouTube content creator, whereas only 48% mentioned the same about a movie or TV star” (Forbes,2017,pg 1,Andrew Arnold). With the immensity of these Youtubers influence, and their aim to make a living, some of the products they advertise due to sponsoring from the makeup companies could be misleading to some viewers and a product designed for an eighteen-year-old could be used by a thirteen-year-old.


The reasons that survey participants buy makeup are: to cover skin blemishes, to feel more confident, its ‘fun’ and finally they like it. The major influences of their decisions are: price, brand, and friends. Compared to my original hypothesis, the reasons why they buy makeup closely matches up to what I thought they would be and explains many questions that I firstly had. If I were to do their survey again, I would probably ask how they feel about wearing makeup to see if wearing it is more for them or if ‘feeling confident’ is due to what they want other people to think. However, the major influences for their decisions come as a bit of a surprise to me, as although looking at them now it makes sense, I believed that social media would be a higher influence in buying a makeup product rather than it just being the main reason for it keeping them up with the beauty trends.

Secondly, I reasoned that family would also be a high influence. Most children see their mothers wearing makeup as they grow up, so I thought they would take in their advice more than their friends however, re-evaluating, it does make sense that in a boarding secondary school the friends of the teenagers are more influential. Moreover, having done the research and asking teenagers what they thought, I believe I have come to a sensible conclusion and understand why most teenagers wear makeup and what the main factors that influence their decision are.

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