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Makeup TESTS : For teen-age girls, playing with cosmetics is a rite of passage. Moms endure it. Dads hate it.

January 21, 1994|GAILE ROBINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When I was a teen-ager, I had to buy orange-flavored Tangee lipstick and liquid black eyeliner on the sly and sneak it out of the house. I'd spend a good 20 minutes in the girls' bath room at school painting on the forbidden makeup. Twiggy lashes take time.

Then, on the bus ride home, I'd scrape it all off with a dry tissue. My friends were doing the same thing, and it wasn't pretty.

Fortunately, makeup styles have lightened up since the high-contrast embalmed look of my day. So have many mothers' rules prohibiting makeup. But the practice of friends copying friends' makeup hasn't changed a bit.

As it has gotten easier for girls making the transition to young womanhood to call attention to their metamorphosis, it has become makeup makers' mission to hook them early. After all, women tend to remain loyal to the brands of their youth. And Americans ages 12 to 19 spent $89 billion last year on products and services of all kinds, according to Teenage Research Unlimited of Northbrook, Ill.

Give a teen-age girl $50 and she'll buy jeans or sneakers; give her $15 and she'll spend it on CDs, tapes and cosmetics, reports Los Angeles-based Teen magazine, whose average reader is, demographically speaking, 15.4 years old. That first tube of Erase or Wet N' Wild lipstick is the seed that grows like Jack's beanstalk into a makeup collection overflowing drawers, cabinets and handbags.

Teen-agers may be ready and willing to begin the cosmetic-enriched life--dated by lipstick tubes--but they can be a tough bunch to reach. Word of mouth carries much more weight than any advertising campaign, cosmetics makers say.

Mary Kay aggressively courts the teen market through mother-daughter skin-care and make-over classes. "We also work with cheerleading camps, targeting opinion leaders," says Curran Dandurand, vice president of the Dallas-based cosmetics firm.

To encourage girl talk about its products, Lancome plans to put trial-size packets of its Maquimat foundation in a spring issue of Seventeen magazine, whose pass-along rate (number of readers per copy) is higher than that of most other teen magazines, says Karen Young, vice president of the New York-based company. "(The foundation) is lightweight, fairly sheer, and the price is $20 for an ounce. Plus it comes in a tube, which is perfect for a young market. A teen-age girl can try it and get a feel for the product."

Teen-agers certainly like to feel the product. A 1991 Maybelline study found that girls apply lipstick 2.6 times a day, lip gloss 2.7 times, mascara 1.2 times and blush 1.5 times.

"If they don't experiment with makeup when they are teens, they do really heinous things (later on) that look disturbing to people in their workplace," says B.J. Gillian, a makeup artist and spokesperson for Cover Girl.

Most of the lab work for perfecting a look happens in middle school, he notes. "In the past, people got it together and toned down their look by the first year of college. Now, most high school students have a lighter hand. The festive interpretations, the ones where they apply (makeup) with a trowel, are seen in junior high."

Of the many teen magazines currently endorsing the oxymoronic "natural makeup" look, at least one has the decency to point out that it takes as much work to create subtle style as it does a flagrant one. An article titled "The Naked Truth About the Natural Look" appears in the January issue of Seventeen, whose readers are mostly in their early teens.

But over at YM (Young & Modern), which also caters to girls barely into their double-digits, the text touts big, bright-red lips in "Lip Reading: What Your Lipstick Says About Your Personality." (A sample: "If you love tomato-red lipstick . . . you're adventurous, and you love experimenting with new trends and ideas."

Like their peers elsewhere, Los Angeles-area teen-agers often wear as much lipstick on their orthodontia as they do on their lips. A look around any middle school will turn up fresh-faced girls who don't own makeup yet, those who own it but don't regularly wear it, and, of course, serious abusers.

"They're just trying to show off to their friends," says 11-year-old ("almost 12") Dalia Regos, a sixth-grader at Paul Revere Middle School in Pacific Palisades, of peers who are a tad too liberal with the eye shadow. "They keep mirrors in their lockers and they put it on all day."

*

If mothers don't approve, they may have only themselves to blame. Girls' first makeup often comes in a mother-daughter rite of passage.

Dalia's mother, Nancy Regos, allowed her daughter to start wearing makeup to school this year. "She doesn't use unusual amounts," Regos says, "and there are occasions when I ask her not to wear any, like when she sees her grandmother."

Dalia's personal stock of cosmetics--lipsticks, eye shadows, clear and navy blue mascaras, and blush--is a mix of hand-me-downs from mom and her own purchases. Even with that arsenal, she looks as if she spends more time playing with dolls than with cosmetics.

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