Nadine Samson, Bernhard Fink, and Paul Matts (2011)

Interaction of skin color distribution and skin surface topography cues in the perception of female facial age and health

Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, 10(1):78-84.

Background  Skin color distribution and skin surface topography are the predominant drivers of the variation in visible skin condition, and this variation affects one’s perception of age and health. Recent research, however, has shown that the strength of the impact of these features on perception differs such that skin surface topography is a stronger indicator of age, while skin color distribution is more strongly linked to health perception.

Objectives  To examine further the relative contribution and interaction effects of skin color distribution and surface topography cues on perception by considering small changes of these features.

Methods  Two sets of images were created by gradually smoothing uneven skin color distribution and removing skin surface topography cues (both in 25% increments) in the digital image of the face of a 61-year-old British woman. Omnibus pairwise combinations of modified images were presented to a panel of 160 German men and women (aged 19–49 years). With each pair, they were asked to select the face they considered both younger-looking and healthier.

Results  Female facial age perception was more strongly affected by the removal of skin surface topography cues than by changes in skin color distribution, particularly so for topography removal of 50% and more. In contrast, the smoothing of uneven skin color distribution had a stronger effect on the perception of female facial health, particularly for changes of 25% and greater.

Conclusions  These results support previous reports on the differential effects of visible skin color distribution and surface topography cues on the perception of female facial age and health and show that only relatively small changes are necessary to drive this differential perception.

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