A sex difference in facial contrast and its exaggeration by cosmetics

Perception. 2009;38(8):1211-9. doi: 10.1068/p6331.


This study demonstrates the existence of a sex difference in facial contrast. By measuring carefully controlled photographic images, female faces were shown to have greater luminance contrast between the eyes, lips, and the surrounding skin than did male faces. This sex difference in facial contrast was found to influence the perception of facial gender. An androgynous face can be made to appear female by increasing the facial contrast, or to appear male by decreasing the facial contrast. Application of cosmetics was found to consistently increase facial contrast. Female faces wearing cosmetics had greater facial contrast than the same faces not wearing cosmetics. Female facial beauty is known to be closely linked to sex differences, with femininity considered attractive. These results suggest that cosmetics may function in part by exaggerating a sexually dimorphic attribute-facial contrast-to make the face appear more feminine and hence attractive.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Beauty*
  • Contrast Sensitivity / physiology*
  • Cosmetics*
  • Face*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lighting / methods
  • Male
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Young Adult


  • Cosmetics