Bernhard Fink, Karl Grammer, and Paul J Matts (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.

Evolutionary psychologists have proposed that preferences for facial characteristics, such as symmetry, averageness, and sexual dimorphism, may reflect adaptations for mate choice because they signal aspects of mate quality. Here, we show that facial skin color distribution significantly influences the perception of age and attractiveness of female faces, independent of facial form and skin surface topography. A set of three-dimensional shape-standardized stimulus faces—varying only in terms of skin color distribution due to variation in biological age and cumulative photodamage—was rated by a panel of naive judges for a variety of perceptual endpoints relating to age, health, and beauty. Shape- and topography-standardized stimulus faces with the homogeneous skin color distribution of young people were perceived as younger and received significantly higher ratings for attractiveness and health than analogous stimuli with the relatively inhomogeneous skin color distribution of more elderly people. Thus, skin color distribution, independent of facial form and skin surface topography, seems to have a major influence on the perception of female facial age and judgments of attractiveness and health as they may signal aspects of underlying physiological condition of an individual relevant for mate choice. We suggest that studies on human physical attractiveness and its perception need to consider the influence of visible skin condition driven by color distribution and differentiate between such effects and beauty-related traits due to facial shape and skin topography.