Makeup Etiquette 101: Do You Mind Your Makeup Manners?

Which guidelines to heed and which to heave ho.
Publish date:
February 17, 2015
nail art, hair, makeup, nail filing, beauty etiquette, makeup touch ups

Dusting off my copy of Debrett’s A-Z of Modern Manners is not about pleasing others or conforming, it’s about knowing what to do with myself in social situations so I don’t have to spend five seconds of my life feeling awkward.

A fun thing to learn about (to me at least), etiquette even goes so far as to dictate how we should or shouldn't conduct our beauty habits. And that’s how I see these “rules,” as shoulds and shouldn’ts, not dos and don’ts. When an etiquette guide starts a sentence with, “Women must not…,” I rip it up in a Hulk-like manner and throw it across the room.

Let’s look at five common rules of makeup etiquette and decide which ones gel.

Especially when at a dining table, it isn’t considered polite to touch up your makeup in public.

There is some disagreement about this--some consider any touch-ups at the table to be gauche, while others are more relaxed about touch-ups that don’t require a mirror, such as a quick swipe of lip balm. Others still consider it acceptable to touch up lipstick in a restaurant, but only if it’s with friends/family and only without the use of a mirror. When in doubt, just go to the restroom.

According to Debrett’s, makeup shouldn’t be applied on public transport at all, as it can make you seem disorganized. If you care a whole bunch about what your fellow public transport users think of your organizational skills, follow this tip. Otherwise, I’d rather apply my makeup on the bus in a bind if I need to than look like a mess on arrival. *hair flip emoji*

Most etiquette books--even modern ones--suggest that you a.) don’t let your nails grow too long, and b.) avoid nail art and acrylic nails.

I totally, 100% agree with this one. JK I burned those pages! I can’t get behind not being able to express yourself in any way you see fit just because someone else may consider it tacky. If you’re not harming anyone or being gross, why is it an issue?

A nail etiquette suggestion that I can get behind, however, is to never file, cut, paint, or otherwise prune your nails in public, especially in restaurants. I don’t think that dead skin and food are a great match so, for hygiene reasons, I’d give this one a yes. Also, the scent of nail polish can be quite invasive, so I’d leave that one for home, too.

If your perfume is invasive to those around you, maybe reconsider it.

Most etiquette guides recommend not wearing too much perfume, which is a reasonable thing to ask of people. Have you ever been in close proximity to someone who seemingly emptied out their entire perfume bottle in one go? I feel a migraine coming on just thinking about it… Perfume should also not be applied in public for the same reasons.

Follow the golden rule and politely point out makeup malfunctions (i.e. lipstick on the teeth) to others.

Ever been in a group setting, having a great time, smiling and laughing, only to come home and find lipstick on your teeth? I get furious when this happens to me. Why wouldn’t you do someone a favor and point out their beauty blunder so that they can fix it and not embarrass themselves further? You should definitely help a gal out with this, and inform her on the DL. It’s what you would want, right?

Never, ever groom your hair at the table.

Another thing that doesn’t mix well with food? Hair. A no-brainer tip is to refrain from combing, brushing or doing complicated updos at the table. Nobody likes to find hair in their food. Nobody.

Conclusion: I think it’s safe to say that if your makeup manners affect those around you in any way, probably refrain from doing it. Otherwise, go ahead. Especially with the nail art thing.

  • Do you subscribe to these etiquette shoulds and shouldn'ts?
  • Would you prefer that someone let you know that you have lipstick on your teeth, or just be silent about it?
  • What other etiquette rules do you live by or shake your head at?