There Are 100,000 Orangutans Left—They Need to Wear Better Cosmetics

Published on March 17, 2019

The word orangutan means “man of the forest” in the native Malay language. But the “women of the forest” aren’t doing all they can to accentuate their sexiest features with the latest make-up tricks.

In the remote Southeast Asian jungles they call home, orangutans live an isolated existence, cut off from the most basic personal beauty products we take for granted in the developed world. The primates’ numbers are dwindling to the point of extinction, with rapidly deforested orangutan habitats simply unable to support a department-store chain that carries the latest cosmetic brands, let alone a Sephora.

Worse, because they live in underdeveloped countries with unstable economies, orangutans are at risk of committing the “8 biggest make-up mistakes,” such as selecting a lip-stick tone that doesn’t match their orange beard, or applying too much concealer to their throat sac.

Orangutans are beautiful, but most primatologists agree they’re not doing all they can to enhance that beauty. According to the World Wildlife Fund’s Richard Millaford, “These great apes would be more presentable if they just made a little effort to get dolled up once in a while.” A little rouge on their leathery cheeks or some lash extensions on their dark, sunken eyes, he says, might be all it takes for an orangutan who has nice natural bone structure to get noticed.

“Orangutans just aren’t turning any heads right now,” he added.

Some argue that the only way to save orangutans is with the natural, “no make-up” look. While there is debate in the cosmetics industry whether a potential orangutan mate would be attracted to a truly naked orangutan face, any beauty expert will admit the “no-makeup look” is a fallacy that in fact requires ninja make-up hacks and just the right beauty products to pull off. The most important step to achieving the natural, “I don’t care” look on an orangutan, according to celebrity make-up artist Aurdrey Jansen, is the right primer (such as Maybelline Ape Face Studio Master Prime, $16.99), regardless whether the ape has dry, oily, or combination skin. “Wax-based foundations are best for natural-looking coverage on the rough, elephant-like orangutan hide.”

However the orangutans find and use make up, there is broad agreement on its importance. “Only beautifully made-up orangutans with thick, ruby-red lips can hope to save the species,” Ellen DeGeneres has said.

Thankfully, there are a few animal-welfare NGOs airdropping “makeup emergency” kits containing must-have glosses, brushes, and the latest eye-shadow shades on the Bornean jungles where the great apes live. Additionally, several non-profit organizations are working to improve orangutans’ access to much-needed YouTube make-up tutorials. Studies with animals in captivity have shown that with just one viewing of the video “Zoella’s Everyday Makeup Routine for Orangutans,” most orangutans can self-apply a foundation, add attractive accents to the large skin flaps on the sides of their head, and slather lipstick over their mouth in reasonable proximity to the lip area.

The most important part of making orangutans look better will be different for every orangutan, but in terms of a “quick fix,” Jansen advises the one thing that can make or break and orangutan’s look is the right mascara.


Scott Dikkers is a Columnist at Grit Daily. He is the founder of, The AVClub, and Blaffo. He's also the #1 New York Times bestselling author of How to Write Funny and Outrageous Marketing: The Story of The Onion and How to Build a Powerful Brand with No Marketing Budget.

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