Just smile. The phrase is an emotional lightning rod, but there's real power in a killer grin.

By By Kate Sandoval Box
April 30, 2018
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Photo: WAYHOME studio / Shutterstock

Being told to smile is supremely annoying. (Just ask Simone Biles.) It's condescending, for one. "And it tends to make us angry because we know it can take away our credibility," says Patti Wood, the author of Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, and Charisma. If we do acquiesce, we're probably faking it. "I never ask a model to smile. It wouldn't look real," says photographer Kourosh Sotoodeh. "I capture a smile when the model is talking and moving, and it comes naturally."

Yet mounting evidence shows we've become a nation of grinners. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley who studied yearbook photos from the 1900s to the 2010s found that we used to pose stoically but now are likely to break into big toothy smiles. "When I started working on beauty images for magazines [in the 1990s], models and celebrities didn't want to smile because they said it made their eyes squinty and their cheeks puff out," says Linda Wells, the chief creative officer of Revlon. Now the brand's Live Boldly campaign features spokesmodels in full grin mode.

Considering that smiling releases mood-boosting hormones and neuropeptides that tell the body you're in a positive state of mind, are we all walking around feeling happier than ever? Only if what's showing on the outside reflects what you're feeling inside. "When you smile for a selfie and then immediately drop it, you may only get a short high," Wood says. "Our brains need feedback from another person to keep the chemicals flowing."

You also have to form what's called a Duchenne, or true, smile. "That happens when you pull the corners of your mouth up and engage the eye muscles so little crow's-feet appear," Wood says. Surely one of the best ways to activate this true smile is with some killer lips. For grin-spiration: Read on for the latest treatments and smile-shifting techniques.

The Enhancers

Way beyond your basic clear balm, new lip treatments offer deeply hydrating ingredients and subtle hues to make your lips smoother and more radiant. Wear one on its own-Clarins Hydra-Essentiel Moisture Replenishing Lip Balm ($24; clarins.com) has the perfect pink tone to create a natural-looking glow-or use it to prep your lips for bold color. "The moisture helps lipstick glide on evenly," makeup artist Lottie Stannard says. Apply a thin layer-Lancôme Rénergie Lift Multi-Action Lip Plumping Balm ($35; lancome-usa.com) smooths fine lines with shea butter and beeswax-then blot, or the color you put on top will eventually migrate, she says. (Related: 8 Signs You're Actually Addicted to Lip Balm)

Expression Hacks

If you want to make your smile look more symmetrical, grab a lip liner. "Fill in the thinner side with a pencil that is the same shade as your lipstick," Stannard says. For a matching set, try CYO Two Clever By Half Lipstick & Liner. ($6; walgreens.com)

"You can also relax the muscle that's pulling on your smile unevenly with an injection of Botox," says plastic surgeon Sachin Shridharani, M.D. (price: $550). To conceal gums, consider a lip filler like Juvéderm Volbella XC, "which volumizes in a really natural way," Dr. Shridharani says (price: $750). "It can also bolster downturned corners." Strategic lip color helps too: Apply it only to the center of your lips, Stannard says. Then press together to blend. (Related: How to Create a Runway-Inspired Ombré Lip In 5 Minutes)

Smiling Decoded

Researchers believe there are over 50 types of smiles. Here's what three of them convey.

Photo: Dan MacMedan / Getty Images

Posed: "When you cover up Priyanka Chopra's lips and just look at her eyes, you can see they're not engaged," Wood says.

Photo: Taylor Hill / Getty Images

Shy: Gal Gadot's soft, almost-closed lips, combined with her chin tilted down and eyes looking up, create a bashful expression.

Photo: David M. Bennet / Getty Images

Playful: The way Jourdan Dunn is leaning on her hand plus her wide, tooth-flashing grin convey that she's having a good time.