To Lipstick or Not To Lipstick, That Is The Question

It’s 6:00 a.m. and I’m so exhausted I can’t even think straight. After a long night of studying and writing a paper, I just want to curl back up into bed and forget the rest of the day. This is probably how the majority of us feel in the mornings before work or school. Do you ever wonder where some of your fellow nurses find the time or energy to look so put together? Chances are they probably don’t have the time or the energy either, but it makes them feel better about themselves.

I am one of these people. Rarely do I leave the house without makeup. In a pinch, there are two items that must always be applied: mascara and, most importantly, lipstick. Mascara can make any sleepy eye look at least half opened. It gives a bright-eyed look that usually can last all day long. Lipstick takes only seconds to apply, and while it does make for a pretty face, it also enhances our smiles, which are a big part of who we are.

I feel better about myself if I look at least halfway presentable. I always keep my lipstick in the pocket of my scrubs and reapply it throughout the day. It just makes me feel good! Nothing is more frightening than a nurse who actually looks as if her intentions are to hurt you! Lipstick stat!!!

One day when I was working in the hospital, I was bathing a patient and his nurse came in to introduce herself. She was as sweet as could be and I didn’t think twice about her until the patient made a comment to me: “She could have at least dried her hair before she came to work!” Apparently the nurse’s hair was still wet from her morning shower.

This is just is example of how attentive patients are as to how we present ourselves. Some people may argue that beauty lies within. Very true, but our faces are the physical focal point for the patients we’re treating. If we can’t take time out to care for ourselves, how can we care for our patients?

Now it's your turn to weigh in. What do you think? To lipstick or not to lipstick, that is the question? And for all our male nurse readers, what are the pressures you face regarding your physical appearance at work? Let's discuss in the comments section below.


  1. For all you who think makeup is SOOO important, what is your attitude about men in nursing? Do you think having men in nursing is an invasion of non-native species or that men can never really match the innate compassion women supposedly have? That is one of the impressions I get from the article and comments. I mean, really(?!), having makeup on makes a person able to be a better nurse?
    Yes I recognize that women still comprise 80% or more of nurses and that’s this publication’s audience, but it rubs me the wrong way.
    I appreciate the value in any profession of appearing professional in my clothes and hygiene. But frankly I see nurses who come to work with all the war paint on and I think it is actually LESS professional. I think to myself, are you trying to bag a husband/boyfriend? It makes me think of the horrid stereotypical Halloween ‘sexy nurse’ costume.

  2. I have worked in the OR for 37 yrs and always wear at least eye make up even when called in because most of my day is spent wearing a mask. Your eyes are the window to your soul and I want my patients to notice the compassion and caring I convey to them. Chapstick is always in my pocket because my lips get dry from rubbing on the mask all day. No use wasting good lipstick.

  3. Been a nurse for 38 years and have always taken the time to wear makeup.
    Lipstick, blush, and mascara!
    I think it speaks volumes!😊

  4. I don’t make any less effort to present myself in a way that I feel comfortable at my job as a nurse than I do going anywhere else. Always lipstick for me.

  5. Rarely do I wear makeup on or off the job. Even when my husband and I go out he prefers no makeup to cover the freckles. The only way I can braid my hair and it stay braided is when it is wet, so wet it is when I arrive at work. Scrubs are always clean, seldom ironed but never wrinkled (except that spare pair in the car probably are). Never wear perfume at work, too many patients might react to it. This is well groomed and proper hygiene. Lipstick in the pocket is an OSHA violation. Plain and simple a great way to transfer germs directly to mucosa. The reason one should not eat at their work station, or rub their eyes is the same reason one should not apply lipstick/chapstick in the nurses station. Also, remember to wash hands BEFORE using the bathroom not just after.

  6. Im thinking man, I get so sweaty sometimes all my makeup is gone halfway through my shift. I love makeup but don’t have time to touch up most times. I don’t care what you do to your face, yes or no it’s your choice. Proper hygiene matters more and that includes a fresh looking set of scrubs, lipstick or not fresh clothes are it. I’m bummed to know my tube of lippy is a fomite!

  7. We are talking about superficial stuff but how you present yourself is how people judge you, fair or not.
    Of course once people know you the superficial does not out weigh quality work.
    So make up or not that’s the reality

  8. Not only does wearing lipstick improve attitude and presentation to patients, it helps prevent chapped lips from dry hospital air. Practically speaking, wearing lipstick also helps improve communication with the hard-of-hearing because the lips are easier to see and “read”, giving important clues on what is being said.

  9. I have a job that allows me to work from home… yeah! While I don’t leave home without at least some makeup, I typically don’t apply my “face” during workdays… except… when I have a big meeting with clients, I always make sure I’m showered, dressed better than usual, and hair and face neat. It simply makes me feel better and more in control. BTW, recently was fitted with scleral contact lens, and using eye makeup results in smudged oily residue, so eyes (makeup) are only going out on date night, lipstick ALWAYS.

  10. You have to be kidding. It’s fine if you want to wear, it but I barely have time to take care of my patients properly. I’m not thinking lipstick application when I’m working.

  11. Lipstick, is a must, I may not have anything else on, but at least my face is framed. My father would say, you need some lipstick on, your mom (a nursing administrator) puts her makeup on every morning work week and weekend.For me it is a little more involved, I believe if you look good you can feel good, I’ll tell patients get up get dressed and you’ll feel you can conquer the world and or one task that you could not the day or week before.Our mental outlook is just as important as oh physical. Positive encouragement and positive reinforcements!

  12. Wow my first thought when I saw the title of the article was that someone was thinking about lipstick and infection control. 😳 Shows how much I care about make up. I usually have wet hair and put it up after it dries. Some days I wear make up some days I don’t. Most of my residents families & the residents love me with or without because I care about THEM.
    We have some very put together staff whose main objective is to do the least amount of work possible.
    Patient care is what’s important. You can wear lipstick if you want to. I would think about all the places your hands touch and go into your pocket for it. My lip gloss stays in my purse.

  13. It is always important to present yourself professionally in any career. Proper posture, good hygiene, and if for some that means lipstick go for it! When I am rushed in the morning I pause (after clocking in of course) take a deep breath, drink/chug a cup of water and check the mirror. Patients are aware of our emotions and do care how we feel. It is a reflection of the quality of care they will be receiving from us.

  14. Lipstick ! Patients do pay attention to this kind of details. The message conveyed is that we take our job seriously and that they are important

  15. When your a single mom busting your ass to care for your autistic child who also has a metabolic disorder and you get zero alimony or child support the last thing on your mind is your hair. Lets cut the judgement and realize nurses have come a long way from having to give up their chair when a doctor presented. Your lipstick bs just set us back fifty plus years. Patient demand and expectation far far far exceed thier willingness to keep thierselves well except in cases of traumatic accident.

    • Sorry for the stress in your personal life,But,sometimes we are the first and last face our patients see. A bit of lipstick , a touch of mascara can make that face look fresh and just plan healthy. How can we inspire our patients to feel better if we look drawn and tired? 50 years back? I learned that from my mom, a full time RN and mother of 7 . Takes 5 mins but can make a lasting impression.

  16. This is interesting to read. I didn’t grow up with standards to wear make up, but instead I grew up in “gym clothes” so I have a difficult time looking at the other side. For instance, I never ever would have thought of wet hair being a problem. I will stay it is a slow lesson that people do treat me better when I wear nicer clothes and makeup. this shouldn’t be the case. I try to get to the point where I care a bit more, and love (slightly jealous) looking at these women with streaks of red and blonde in their hair and hand curled every morning. Yet I also take pride in my sleep and getting out of the house in 20 minutes, just keep saying one day. But I’m going on 35y so shall see. still interesting to see how the you are viewed based on lipstick or wet hair..

  17. My Residents always notice that my scrubs are pressed, my hair is curled and I have a smile on my face. They enjoy my sense of humor too!

  18. Absolutely. I too, iron my scrubs and shampoo my hair before work (and lip gloss in my pocket). This always gives me a lift and shows my patients as well as coworkers that I value myself and take pride in what I represent.

  19. I have always tried to maintain a professional image- even on night shift when the patients are SUPPOSED to be sleeping. So, that means shaving, hair combed/styled, properly groomed, and scrubs/work clothes wrinkle -free. Now, as I teach students and peers, I try to convey the same professionalism and encourage the same. We are the friendly faces that our patients see, so why not try to make the appearance a bit more pleasing? Of course, I always add a bit of the whimsical somewhere – either a badgeholder, a pin/broach from a thrift shop, or scrub jacket that is bright. Even my bow ties when I am teaching never fail to bring smiles! Because the job is serious enough; we don’t need to be presenting gloom and doom in our appearance as well!!

  20. OMG. My friends in L and D would “adjust our attitudes” with the application of our “always handy” lipstick. Always made you feel a little better if you looked a little better!

  21. I was always taught go to work with my hair done and looking presentable. I iron all my scrubs, always have my hair done, and always wear my makeup. Looking professional not only makes me feel good but our patients notice as well.

  22. I don’t leave for work without my “face” on and that includes lipstick. Even if I’m running late, I still put the face on. I want to present a good appearance to my patients because it’s important and they notice.

  23. Lipstick! Absolutely! I am a firm believer, also, that it makes you feel better and can help you take better care of others, when you, yourself, feel good. I dont leave my house without something on my face, and believe we should take pride in who we are as a professional nurse. I encourage others to still keep their appearances presentable. Not everyone is about makeup, I get that…but at least have a clean uniform, clean shoes, and hair pulled up. Patients do notice 🙂


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