Makeup can reveal almost as much as it covers up.

It tells the world how polished or conservative we are (think you'd ever see Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice without her customary matte finish?). Or how free we are: Going out into the world sans makeup shows just how well we are really taking care of our skin.

That's why it's interesting that nestled in the glammed-up pages of this week's People magazine are photographs of 10 celebrities without makeup. The shoot, part of the glossy gossip mag's annual 100 Most Beautiful People issue, shows the ladies looking windblown and beautiful in white T-shirts and tanks, allegedly with minimal effort.

Drew Barrymore - who graces the cover as the Most Beautiful - shows off her freckles. Actress Eva Longoria's clean look is a soft contrast to her all-dolled-up Desperate Housewives character, Gaby.

Jessica Alba (look at the natural curl on her eyelashes), Jessica Simpson (who clearly looks better brunette), and singer Rihanna (she's completely blemishless!) are also photographed.

"We did not want these [pictures] to look like a 'Before,' " said Elizabeth Sporkin, executive editor of People. "We thought we would style their hair. They all have moisturizer and lip balm on."

No concealer?

"Nope, just moisturizer and lip balm," Sporkin re-emphasized.

And you didn't touch up any of the pictures?

"We did not touch any of the pictures up."

Here we should note that none of the celebrity models in the au naturel shoot were over 35. Barrymore and Longoria are practically ancient compared to their counterparts; most of the women featured are in their early and mid-20s (Simpson and Alba are 26) and some are still teenagers (Rihanna is a sprightly 19).

Sporkin said some older celebs they chose (she wouldn't say who) weren't able to work the photo shoot into their schedules.

(Jennifer Aniston, 38, and Halle Berry, 40, however, are among the magazine's Most Beautiful. They are photographed, with makeup, on subsequent pages).

Nonetheless, People's latest issue could be looked at as another example of fashion - and the advertising that drives it - being more sensitive to everyday women. From Dove's Real Beauty Campaign to Aveeno's Natural Beauty initiative, advertisers are realizing that asking the average woman to deny her curves and blemishes is impossible without destroying her self-esteem. That's a good thing.

The flip side is that People's fresh-faced celebrity issue is just another venue to push women to spend millions of dollars on yet more beauty products and procedures. As anyone in the beauty industry will tell you, looking natural is not cheap.

In the last five years, dermatologists (such as Philadelphia's own Susan Taylor) have reached near-celebrity status, thanks to Botox and laser treatments that erase blemishes and wrinkles overnight. These treatments, which can cost thousands of dollars, have become a staple of the rich and famous - and thus more desirable to the average Jane.

At the same time, the makeup industry has been pushing barely-there makeup with a vengeance. Makeup artists Bobbi Brown and Laura Mercier have created concealers and pore shrinkers that promote a less-is-more look. Mineral makeup has caught on as a high-end product, and well-shaped eyebrows aren't an option anymore - they're a requirement.

"There is still a pressure for women to conform to a narrow standard," said Liria Mersini, a style and body-image expert nationally known for her work on About.com.

"But the trend now is a different set of purchases," she said. "It's a plastic surgeon, a dermatologist and a tinted moisturizer. None of it is bad, it's just another way to go."

We can't argue that promoting a standard of natural beauty is a whole lot better than urging women to add yards of fake hair (Beyoncé), blink in colored contacts (Vivica Fox), or potentially risk their lives with breast implants (Pamela Anderson). A woman shouldn't celebrate things that aren't hers.

Sporkin said reader response has been huge since the 100 Most Beautiful Issue hit newsstands Friday. The idea came, she said, when she asked singer Katherine McPhee to pose without makeup. McPhee agreed, and suggested that Sporkin ask Jessica Simpson, too. The list grew from there.

But by not including some not-so-older beauties such as Julia Roberts, Debra Messing or even Oscar winner Helen Mirren, People loses the timeless element of a makeup-less shoot. There are no true wrinkles, no true age spots. There isn't even an afro.

And while it might have been a good intention to promote natural beauty, the trend has the potential to be just another standard that separates the haves from the have-nots. Years ago, concealer, foundation, and ruby-red lips were proof that women had arrived.

Now the lack thereof denotes the same thing.

Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or ewellington@phillynews.com. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/ elizabethwellington