Science of Love, Sex, and Babies

The case for wearing blush

Posted in news by jenapincott on January 24, 2010

Bad news for pale girls like me: red is hot. Not only do studies find that men are more attracted to women in red, now we find that men prefer women who are red. Their cheeks, that is….

In a new study, evolutionary psychologist Ian Stephen and his colleagues at the Face Perception Lab recruited volunteers of various races and asked them to digitally adjust the color tone on more than 50 faces to make them look as healthy and attractive as possible. Volunteers consistently added more red coloring to the cheeks — whether the face was Caucasian, Asian, or Black. The redder the face, the more suggestive it is of oxygen-rich blood reaching the skin. The more oxygen-rich blood, the more suggestive it is of the person’s general health and youth. An old person, a sick person, a person with hypertension or bad circulation…will not get rosy-cheeked.

And not only is a flush suggestive of good health and fitness….but high sex hormones as well. In women in particular, high levels of estrogen may cause an expansion of tiny blood vessels under the skin. Hence, rosy cheeks. As in monkeys, female facial redness may be associated with fertility and reproductive quality.

As Stephen points out, the human eye has evolved to pick up on fine variations on the color red. “People are sensitive to the subtle color difference between oxygenated and deoxygenated blood (oxygenated blood is a bright red colour, deoxygenated blood has a slightly bluish red colour, and we interpret this difference in skin blood oxygenation colour as a cue to the health status of individuals.”)

But why did the researchers find that volunteers preferred women over men with rosy cheeks? One reason may be the sex hormones, which show up more obviously in flushed female faces. But it may also be due to the fact that men already have ruddier faces than women do — they have higher levels of hemoglobin and arterial oxygen content in their blood. As a result, the male blush is not as obvious a cue of good health and high sex hormones.

There are surely other reasons why a maidenly blush is attractive, as I describe in BLONDES. For one, a flash of color to a woman’s cheeks may suggest youth, modesty, embarrassment, excitement…all of which, depending on context, may appeal to red-blooded men.

11 Responses

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  1. Ace Gibson said, on January 24, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    Hey! Pale girls *rock*.

  2. G said, on January 24, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    Guess it’s time to trade in the bronzer for the blush 🙂

  3. singingangel93 said, on January 25, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    Yayyyy! I have naturally red cheeks… 😀

  4. greengoddesslove said, on January 25, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Your photo is misleading at best, dishonest at worst. I’m sure that was not your intent.

    The image on the left is has been desaturated with a image processing program. Meaning it looks more grey and washed out. While this does not negate the point of the story, it suggests, on a more subtle level, that some chicanery is afoot.

    Yes, from an evolutionary standpoint a person with better color is more likely to be a suitable mate for reproductive purposes. Because they are healthier and because, as the article stated, sex hormones are involved.

    It did fail to mention one possible reason men find ruddy cheeks more sexually attractive: Because it reflects their unconscious view of maleness as the norm.

    • Chillingworth said, on January 25, 2010 at 6:37 pm

      I don’t think that’s necessarily misleading at all. This article is about a study in which the participants were asked “to digitally adjust the color tone on more than 50 faces to make them look as healthy and attractive as possible”. So the author illustrated the blog post with a digitally adjusted picture. That seems pretty appropriate to me.

  5. lm2703 said, on January 25, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    Interesting stuff!

    nothing that a bit of blush can’t fix!

    but whenever I’m embarrased I always go BRIGHT RED. It’s not cool. And it’s definately not sexy.

  6. thelocalguide said, on January 25, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    People from high mountains usually have their cheeks with a red tone, that doesn’t make them sexier… the same goes for some people because of the abuse of alcohol over the years. So this study isn’t that valuable to me 😛

  7. vodkabeforenoon said, on January 26, 2010 at 11:31 am

    I have naturally pink cheeks due to a mild case of Rosacea. I do not think it is considered sexy. Sometimes flaws can be cute but I doubt anyone thinks looking like you got slapped in the face is sexy.

  8. Giovanni Gallogly said, on January 28, 2010 at 6:19 am

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  9. Rizki Arsandy said, on February 6, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    You are great … continue to work with a more useful text for your site readers.

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