In the animal kingdom, some primates produce reddened faces in order to show off and attract mates. Humans do the same, to some extent, according to a study published this week in the journal PLoS ONE.
Skin color is associated with blood flow and oxygenation. Oxygenated blood is a bright red color and deoxygenated blood has a slightly bluish-red color. Researchers at the University of St. Andrews measured how skin color varies according to the amount of oxygen in the blood. Then they presented computerized graphics of young people's faces to study participants and allowed them to change the color of the faces to make them look as healthy as possible. For all the faces, participants added more oxygen-rich blood color to improve a healthy appearance. A healthy appearance, the researchers note, has been shown to be a major characteristic of sexual attraction.
"Parents and doctors know that when you get ill, you can end up looking pale," lead author Ian Stephen said in a news release. "Our research goes further and shows that even young, healthy university students can benefit from a complexion reflecting more blood and more oxygen to the skin."
Skin contains tiny blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood to skin cells. The process nourishes skin cells and allows the body to release heat during exercise. People who are physically fit or who have higher levels of sex hormones have more of these blood vessels and flush easier than people who are unhealthy, unfit, elderly or who smoke, the researchers said.
All this, of course, is a reason to encourage people to exercise more, Stephen said. "Since your attractiveness relies upon how healthy you look, you might be able to make yourself more attractive by being kind to your heart and lungs in doing more exercise or quitting smoking."
-- Shari Roan
Photo: Robert Pattinson stars as the vampire Edward in the move "Twilight." His palor didn't seem to bother his human girlfriend, Bella. Credit: Deana Newcomb / Summit Entertainment