Putting on makeup isn't easy. Not everyone is capable of contouring like Kim Kardashian or doing their own red carpet makeup like Zendaya. Sometimes I look at my own selfies and wonder what I’d look like with my own glam squad.

With a limited budget, my best answer seems to come in the form of makeup apps, which let you slap makeup on your selfies, or even use your phone camera as a mirror to see how certain types of makeup would look on you.

I decided to put two of these apps to the test -- one from China, and one from the United States.

Meitu’s BeautyPlus is one of China’s most popular apps, used to touch up selfies by removing blemishes or brightening your eyes. Its sister app MakeupPlus takes it one step further, including many of the same functions as BeautyPlus while letting users try on virtual lipstick and mascara. And it’s a big business: Meitu’s IPO in 2016 was the largest stock market listing in Hong Kong by a technology firm in more than a decade.

The United States has an answer to Meitu: YouCam Makeup. Developed in 2015 by California-based Perfect Corp., the app is touted as a smart cosmetic kit that harnesses “facial mapping technology for a true-to-life virtual makeover.”

Which one is better? I pitted the two against each other in three tests to find out.

Test #1: Makeup Filter

MakeupPlus and YouCam both come with a range of pre-installed filters, with the option of downloading more for free. For this test, I selected the “Dawn” filter in MakeupPlus and the “Exquisite” filter for YouCam. Filter intensity is set to 100% on both.

From left to right: Original photo; MakeupPlus’s “Dawn” filter; YouCam’s “Exquisite” filter
From left to right: Original photo; MakeupPlus’s “Dawn” filter; YouCam’s “Exquisite” filter
From left to right: Original photo; MakeupPlus’s “Dawn” filter; YouCam’s “Exquisite” filter

The transformation was obvious -- and so was the difference between the two apps.

In both, my eyebrows were redrawn neatly, my eyelashes appeared fuller, my cheeks looked more flushed, and my lips were redder.

MakeupPlus did more: It made my face paler and smaller, my eyes bigger, and my jawline narrower. It felt like I went to a plastic surgeon with a photo of an anime character.

In China, there is a term for this highly sought-after look: “Wang hong lian”, or “internet celebrity face”. The characteristics? Doe eyes with a double eyelid fold, a high and narrow nose, small but full lips, a pointy chin and fair skin.

Tommy Tse, an assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong explains that for Asian women, having fairer skin can connote a higher social status -- a throwback to the days when tanned skin meant you were likely in the sun doing manual labor.

“All those whitening cosmetics and skincare products used to be the ‘savior’ of Asian or Chinese women’s yellowish or tanned skin. But now these whitening apps have become a new handy tool to use, especially when people care more and more about their ‘virtual self’ and ‘virtual social world’ than the physical ones,” said Tse.

On the other hand, YouCam basically stuck to my original skin tone. But while the MakeupPlus filter blurred out any imperfection on my face because it was so bright, the YouCam filter didn’t hide my under-eye bags and less-than-pearly-white teeth. (Thankfully, you can select the “eye bag removal” and “teeth whitening” functions on YouCam to correct that.)

For the purposes of our showdown, it means deciding which one is better isn’t a technical question -- it’s a cultural one.

If you want a more natural look and don’t mind fiddling with more options to make your selfie perfect, go with YouCam. On the other hand, if you prefer a look more popular in East Asian fashion magazines, MakeupPlus is better.

Test #2: Long distance

Since the first test ended up being more about aesthetic preferences, I wanted to test out the technical side of each app. Specifically, I wanted to see how well they worked when I was much further away from the camera. Selfies are great, but sometimes you want to see a bit more of your surroundings in a photo… without sacrificing the help of virtual makeup.

This is the photo I chose:

Neither of the apps were able to locate my face automatically. But while MakeupPlus just gave up, saying it was “unable to recognize” my face, YouCam let me mark my eyes and lips manually. And once I did, the filters worked: 

Result on MakeupPlus

 

Left to right: YouCam’s manual adjustment option; the resulting YouCam picture; the same image zoomed-in for a closer look

Was it a good look? Not really. My lips and cheeks looked too red compared to the rest of my face.

But MakeupPlus couldn’t find my face at all, so this is a win by default for YouCam, even if I am a little annoyed that it made me look like a clown. And speaking of clowns...

Test #3: Crazy Filters

We may be months away from October 31st, but for the final test I thought we’d take the makeup challenge to an extreme: Halloween! Since there’s nothing scarier than a clown, I picked that theme for each of the apps.

Left to right: Original photo; MakeupPlus’s “Clown” filter; YouCam’s “Joker’s Charm” filter

To be honest, I don’t know which one is better. Both did an impressive job of giving me a party-worthy makeover -- something I wouldn’t be able to do in reality. So here I’m going to call it a tie.

Verdict

Overall, the two apps are almost identical, from the layout down to the filter options. On a technical level, YouCam was significantly better in the second test by working with my face at a distance, but to be honest, that’s not really important for a makeup app -- most of the time, you'll be using them with selfies.

While cultural differences definitely play a part in choosing which app is better, I do think it’s important to make sure the picture is a relatively honest representation of what I would look like with makeup.

That’s where YouCam delivers. I can see myself having thicker eyelashes with the help of mascara, but no amount of shading is going to drastically alter the shape of my face -- like in the pictures from MakeupPlus -- without undergoing surgery.

Unless it’s your goal to become an internet celebrity in China, I think YouCam is the winner.