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Facial Contrast

October 14, 2009

Cosmetics enhance facial contrast, a quality that makes faces appear more feminine.


The power of makeup. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Cosmetics like lipstick and eyeliner are used mostly by women, but why? Gettysburg University psychologist Richard Russell offers some intriguing explanations. He’s found that women have higher-contrast features than men. For every ethnicity, their eyes and lips are slightly darker compared to their skin.

RICHARD RUSSELL (Gettysburg College):
Facial contrast, on its own, is a strong enough cue to make a face look male or female. So, if you increase the contrast, then the face looks female, and if you decrease it, it looks male.

What’s more, he’s found that people rate higher-contrast female faces as more feminine and attractive — but for male faces, less contrast is better. And he’s shown that wearing cosmetics increases facial contrast. Russell says this suggests that makeup’s feminizing effect is rooted in biology. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.