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Abstract

Background  Visible facial skin condition in females is known to affect perception of age, health and attractiveness. Skin colour distribution in shape- and topography-standardized female faces, driven by localized melanin and haemoglobin, can account for up to twenty years of apparent age perception. Although this is corroborated by an ability to discern female age even in isolated, non-contextual skin images, a similar effect in the perception of male skin is yet to be demonstrated.

Objectives  To investigate the effect of skin colour homogeneity and chromophore distribution on the visual perception of age, health and attractiveness of male facial skin.

Methods  Cropped images from the cheeks of facial images of 160 Caucasian British men aged 10–70 years were blind-rated for age, health and attractiveness by a total of 308 participants. In addition, the homogeneity of skin images and corresponding eumelanin/oxyhaemoglobin concentration maps were analysed objectively using Haralick’s image segmentation algorithm.

Results  Isolated skin images taken from the cheeks of younger males were judged as healthier and more attractive. Perception of age, health and attractiveness was strongly related to melanin and haemoglobin distribution, whereby more even distributions led to perception of younger age and greater health and attractiveness. The evenness of melanized features was a stronger cue for age perception, whereas haemoglobin distribution was associated more strongly with health and attractiveness perception.

Conclusions  Male skin colour homogeneity, driven by melanin and haemoglobin distribution, influences perception of age, health and attractiveness.