Lip colour affects perceived sex typicality and attractiveness of human faces

Ian D. Stephen, Angela M. McKeeganh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Citations (Scopus)


The luminance contrast between facial features and facial skin is greater in women than in men, and women's use of make-up enhances this contrast. In black-and-white photographs, increased luminance contrast enhances femininity and attractiveness in women's faces, but reduces masculinity and attractiveness in men's faces. In Caucasians, much of the contrast between the lips and facial skin is in redness. Red lips have been considered attractive in women in geographically and temporally diverse cultures, possibly because they mimic vasodilation associated with sexual arousal. Here, we investigate the effects of lip luminance and colour contrast on the attractiveness and sex typicality (masculinity/femininity) of human faces. In a Caucasian sample, we allowed participants to manipulate the colour of the lips in colour-calibrated face photographs along CIELab L* (light - dark), a* (red-green), and b* (yellow-blue) axes to enhance apparent attractiveness and sex typicality. Participants increased redness contrast to enhance femininity and attractiveness of female faces, but reduced redness contrast to enhance masculinity of men's faces. Lip blueness was reduced more in female than male faces. Increased lightness contrast enhanced the attractiveness of both sexes, and had little effect on perceptions of sex typicality. The association between lip colour contrast and attractiveness in women's faces may be attributable to its association with oxygenated blood perfusion indicating oestrogen levels, sexual arousal, and cardiac and respiratory health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1104-1110
Number of pages7
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Lip colour affects perceived sex typicality and attractiveness of human faces'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this