Researchers from the Epidermal and Sensory Research and Investigation Center (C.E.R.I.E.S.) worked on the research with Gettysburg College psychology professor Richard Russell and found that the contrasting nature of facial features is one of the signals that people unconsciously use to decipher how old someone looks.
Russell discovered that there are cues to facial age perception that partly explain why cosmetics are worn the way they are, and it lends more evidence to the idea that make-up use reflects biological as well as cultural heritage.
"Unlike with wrinkles, none of us are consciously aware that we're using this cue, even though it stares us in the face every day," said the Pennysylvania-based professor.
As part of the research, Russell and his team measured images of 289 faces ranging in age from 20 to 70 years old, and found that through the aging process, the color of the lips, eyes and eyebrows change, while the skin becomes darker.
This means there is less contrast between the color of the features and the surrounding skin; essentially saying that less contrast suggests older age, whereas a greater contrast is perceived as a younger look.
“The difference in redness between the lips and the surrounding skin decreases, as does the luminance difference between the eyebrow and the forehead, as the face ages,” says the study.
Russell claims that the mind is not consciously aware of this sign of aging; however it makes the association and acts as a cue for perceiving how old someone is.
This has implications on the cosmetics industry and the behaviors of consumers, as make-up is often used to increase aspects of facial contrast, such as the redness of lips.
Scientists propose that this can partly explain why make-up is worn the way that it is; shades of lipstick that increase the redness of the lips are making the face appear younger, which is related to healthiness and beauty.
In another study scientists artificially increased these facial contrasts and found that the faces were perceived as younger. When they artificially decreased the facial contrasts, the faces were perceived as older.
Aurélie Porcheron, Emmanuelle Mauger, Richard Russell. Aspects of Facial Contrast Decrease with Age and Are Cues for Age Perception. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (3): e57985 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057985