Aquinas on Women’s Cosmetics

I’ve been reading Secunda secundae of Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Summa theologiae and I came across an interesting topic – women’s cosmetics. Who would have thought that there would be a Thomistic position on make-up?

Thomas Aquinas is aware that St Cyprian of Carthage had some hard words for women who painted their faces “with the aid of yellow pigments, black powders or rouge, or by applying any dye that alters the natural features.” According to Cyprian, “This is an assault on the Divine handiwork, a distortion of the truth.” Cyprian seems convinced that cosmetic wearing women will “not see God” – by which I assume he means that they will go to Hell.

Thomas replies that the wearing of cosmetics is only a sin for women who wear cosmetics for the “sake of sensuous pleasure or in contempt of God” (II-II, q. 169, a. 2, ad. 2). In the case of married women: “If a married woman adorn herself in order to please her husband, she can do this without sin” (II-II, q. 169, a. 2, c). Thomas explains in detail that married women may adorn themselves moderately with clothing and with cosmetics in order to please their husbands.

So rest easy, ladies. Saint Thomas has made a theological defense for your lipstick so long as its not for the “sake of sensuous pleasure or in contempt of God.”

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  • Ana

    Hello, I came across this article while searching for more information on St Thomas Aquinas’ position on makeup… in reading the quote from the Summa, it seems to me that St Thomas is actually being quite critical of makeup there? If I understand correctly, he talks about general adornment, and then about makeup in particular, and when he talks about makeup he said that it “cannot be devoid of sin”. Then he quotes St Augustine saying the same thing, even for married women. Later, he adds “however..” it’s not always mortal. This seems to indicate that other times, it’s venial? Which is still a sin, even if not a mortal sin… I don’t know if I’m understanding correctly because I often have trouble understanding St Thomas Aquinas and I have no theological training. However, just reading the quote, it seems to be like he’s saying that it’s a sin, just not always mortal – not that it’s not a sin at all. Other Saints and Early Church Fathers seem to be against makeup too… and there’s a quote of a revelation from Our Lord to a Saint, – which talks about how people paint themselves to be “more beautiful” than how God made them, and “like the idols”, and that this is a sin, and Our Lord gives two conditions for when it can become mortal (delighting in it, and intending to continue). Again I’m not a theologian at all, but I just thought I’d share this and ask if this interpretation of St Thomas is possible? I have read that adornment is allowed if it’s minimal, for married women or those wishing to marry (though not consecrated people etc) – but I’ve never read anything supporting makeup? I’ve read these quotes before that are critical of makeup and they have played a part in my discernment of the topic, which is why I’m interested in this. Thank you :)

  • Lisa

    I’m curious about this issue as well. Something typically doesn’t go from being a sin, whether mortal or venial, to not being a sin at all. I also am curious about the apparent differences between what St. Thomas Aquinas says and what others like St. Augustine, St. Anthony Mary Claret, St. Beradine have said about cosmetics. How are we to know what is right? Is it just to be determined on an individual basis, discerning the intention?