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Luminosity in the eyes of the beholder

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Caren B. Les

The human eye takes significant cues from visual contrast within a woman’s facial skin to evaluate her age, health and attractiveness according to a study by researchers at Ludwig Boltzman Institute of Urban Ethology in Vienna, Austria, and in the department of sociobiology/anthropology at University of Göttingen in Germany. Using digital imaging and morphing software technologies, they determined that contrast produced by skin discoloration and uneven tone, independent of lines, wrinkles or facial shape, can make a woman appear older — or even younger — than her chronological age. Cosmetic treatment for the related skin conditions could be developed as a result of the study.

In collaboration with Paul Matts of Procter & Gamble Co., the study was made to determine the extent to which the skin’s overall homogeneity and color saturation function as an age cue. Behavioral scientists have paid little attention to skin tone and luminosity, which may affect how a woman is perceived, possibly in terms of mate selection.

The quality of a woman’s facial skin tone and the way in which others perceive it in terms of age and attractiveness were analyzed using 3-D imaging and morphing software. The examples show images of skin from three females mapped onto universal head models. The faces represent subjects at the biological ages of 12, 42 and 55 years, from left to right. Their mean perceived ages were 20, 24 and 31 years, respectively. Photos courtesy of P&G Beauty.

Led by Karl Grammer and Bernhard Fink, the group used a Fuji S2 Pro 6.2-megapixel digital camera to take standardized images of 169 Caucasian women ranging in age from 10 to 70 years. Each woman’s face was photographed frontally, and from the left and right profiles. The high-resolution images were taken under cross-polarized lighting conditions to eliminate visible high-frequency/low-amplitude skin surface topography (i.e., ”microtexture”) in the initial imaging stage.

High-amplitude features that potentially define age, such as lines and wrinkles around the mouth, nose and eye areas were then removed using the soft cloning stamp in Adobe Photoshop 7.0. Each face was fitted onto a template to create 2-D skin color maps incorporating the front and side views, and the maps were matched with a template grid to fit onto a virtual standardized 3-D skull, modeled from that of a 20-year-old woman.

Variables such as lighting, camera angle and such characteristics as eye color, hairstyle and facial shape were eliminated, leaving skin tone as the only variable.

The 169 standardized faces were blind-rated by 430 participants on the basis of skin color distribution alone. The raters were asked to estimate the age of the faces and to answer general questions related to health, attractiveness and skin characteristics. The faces that were judged to have the most even skin tone were perceived as being younger and received higher ratings for health and attractiveness.

The scientists also used the SIAscope developed by Astron Clinica of Cambridge, UK, to show how light-absorbing molecules in the skin, called chromophores (which are responsible for visible skin coloration), are affected by age and UV damage. The noninvasive imaging tool uses a model of light transport within skin to map the distribution and concentration of melanin and blood. The scientists plan to use the instrument to further explore the distribution of chromophores in facial skin as it relates to perceived attractiveness.

Funded by Procter & Gamble, the project was the subject of a poster presentation at the 2006 Human Behavior and Evolution Society annual meeting in Philadelphia in June.

Aug 2006

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