French Elle’s April 2009 edition highlighted make-up free beauty. Given the social effects of the “perfectly” beautiful images in contemporary media, Elle’s edition is noteworthy. Three covers were used – the crop below right is of the one featuring Monica Bellucci. The photo above right is from Wikipedia Commons – showing Ms. Bellucci in make-up. So, what’s different? To my eye, the most obvious effects of makeup are: greater contrast between the eyes/lips and the surrounding skin; a more even skin tone, and more color in the cheeks. Increasing contrast between the eyes/lips and the surrounding skin enhances a human sex difference: having the effect of hyper-feminizing women (Russell, in press). Rather than lightening the skin, the usual technique is to darken the eyes and lips. Evening the skin tone makes faces appear more attractive, youthful, and healthy (Fink, et.al., 2006). Increasing cheek redness likely makes faces – especially women’s faces – appear healthier (Stephen, et.al., 2009).
I have discussed Russell’s work on sex differences in facial contrast in a recent blog entry – so I will not review that here. In a novel approach, Fink and colleagues converted skin tone information from digital photographs of actual faces into 3D illustrations that kept facial structure, hair color and style, and eye color constant (see below). Raters then evaluated the 3D creations for youthfulness, age, health, and attractiveness. The correlation between the estimated age of the 3D figures and the actual age of the photographed women was good (r=.708, p<.01). The estimated age range for the 3D figures appears to be 20-31; while the actual age range of the photographed women was 11-76 (mean=37.39, S.D.=17.35). This suggests that skin coloration alone contributed about 12 years to age estimates in this study and that other cues to aging may have a larger individual impact. Estimated age correlated with attractiveness (r=-.557, p<.01), healthy appearance (r=-.543, p<.01), and youthfulness (r=-.871, p<.01).
I am enthusiastic about the use of digital imaging in the study of beauty. But, to my eye, there is something just a little off with these images. My reaction leads me to one caution: as the use of computer generated stimuli become more common in beauty research, the risk of getting stuck in the uncanny valley becomes greater. While still mostly theoretical (but a quick search of Science Direct suggests that more empirical data is forthcoming), the notion of the uncanny valley is that as robots and 3D animations become almost human-like, they will produce an “uncanny” negative reaction – one that could interfere with beauty research.
Some carefully controlled research from Stephen and colleagues suggests a reason for the typical use of rouge in women’s cosmetic applications: to appear healthy. The research under discussion does not directly address reddened cheeks, but did find a tendency for increased levels of the color “oxygenated blood-red” in faces that appeared healthy to evaluators. All-in-all, recent research suggests that artfully applied makeup should increase ratings/evaluations of femininity, youthfulness, health, and attractiveness.
FINK, B., GRAMMER, K., & MATTS, P. (2006). Visible skin color distribution plays a role in the perception of age, attractiveness, and health in female faces☆ Evolution and Human Behavior, 27 (6), 433-442 DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2006.08.007
Stephen, I. D., Coetzee, V., Law Smith, M., & Perrett, D. I. (2009). Skin Blood Perfusion and Oxygenation Colour Affect Perceived Human Health. PLoS ONE, 4(4), e5083. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005083
Russell, R. (in press). A sex difference in facial pigmentation and its exaggerationby cosmetics. Perception.