Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall

Do You Look Older...or Younger than You Really Are? Here's How to Boost Your Youthfulness and Beauty

By Farah K. Ahmed

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but that hasn't kept scientists from analyzing faces and bodies in an attempt to understand - and quantify - the perception of age and beauty.1, 2 One goal of cosmetic science is to create products that help us look more beautiful and youthful.

Researchers have found that each of us uses several visual cues to calculate a person's age and attractiveness.3 Many cues involve skin and hair, but it's not only about the number of wrinkles we have, or the amount of gray hair. Perceptions of attractiveness depend on a number of physical phenomena, and are remarkably consistent across race, nationality, and age.4 Let's take a dip into the fascinating world of beauty perception - and the simple things we can do to boost our own va-va-voom!


Skin tone, which can be defined as a combination of skin color and texture, is a key factor we use to evaluate appearance.5 The more even-colored and smooth-textured our skin is, the younger and more attractive we appear. Even-colored skin is a result of the regular and uniform distribution of melanin (pigment or color).6 Skin with a smooth, firm texture is also considered attractive, since it reflects light more evenly than rough, sagging, or wrinkled skin, creating fewer shadows.7 Fortunately, there's much you can do to enhance skin tone.

Proper Skin Care

The key to taking care of our skin is consistency - devoting time every morning and every night to your skin care regimen. It takes commitment, because it really is a regimen (or as I like to call it, "my beauty ritual").


Proper skin hygiene is essential to achieving and maintaining an attractive skin tone, so cleansing your skin morning and night is a must. Start by choosing a product that meets your particular skin needs (such as a gentle makeup remover if you wear color cosmetics, or a cleanser formulated for dry, oily, normal, sensitive, combination, or acne-prone skin). Some people find that using a manual or vibrating facial brush helps to achieve an even deeper clean, and many people follow this cleansing step with a toner to further balance the skin. Whatever methods you choose, cleansing every morning and night is a key step in any good skin care regimen.

Sunscreens and Moisturizers

In addition to causing the kind of damage that can lead to skin cancer, the ultraviolet (UV) rays emitted by the sun and tanning machines cause more than 90 percent of the visible signs of skin aging, including wrinkles, rough patches, sagging, skin discoloration, mottling, and dullness.8 Daily use of sunscreen, which protects the skin from the sun's UV rays, is a critical part of a complete sun protection regimen, along with seeking shade and wearing sun-safe clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes the anti-aging benefits of daily sunscreen use. It allows broad-spectrum (UVA/ UVB-screening) sunscreens with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher to claim on the label that the product not only protects against sunburn, but, if used as directed with other sun protection measures, can reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging.9 [The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that sunscreen be applied liberally 30 minutes before heading outside, and reapplied after two hours outdoors, or immediately after swimming or sweating heavily. For extended outdoor activity, the Foundation recommends a broad-spectrum, waterresistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30+.]

While a moisturizer alone cannot prevent sun damage, it can improve the appearance of the skin, hydrating it and making it look and feel softer, plumper, and more supple. It can be an excellent addition to your skin care routine. Some products combine moisturizer and sunscreen, but if you use them primarily to help prevent UV-induced skin aging, make sure the sunscreen is SPF 15 or higher and provides broad-spectrum protection.


Color cosmetics such as foundation, bronzers/self-tanners, blushes, and highlighting creams and powders help give you the look of even, luminous skin. Look for makeup that matches or complements your skin color. Some foundations contain sunscreen, which is an effective way to add an extra layer of UV protection to your skin. Just make sure the SPF is 15 or higher. Sunless tanners (or self-tanners) are another way to help achieve even-looking skin. If you use a self-tanner, remember to exfoliate beforehand to avoid streaks and blotchiness; also remember that the faux tan created by self-tanners and bronzers does not provide any protection from the sun. For that you need sunscreen.

Don't be afraid to use color on the eyes and lips! In one study, scientists found that people whose lips and eyes contrasted more strongly with the surrounding skin were perceived as younger,10 and red lips are definitely considered attractive on women!11

Since the lips are among the most sun-sensitive areas of your body, don't forget to use SPF 15+ lip sunscreen as well; it will help prevent chapped, wrinkly lips as well as skin cancers.

Makeup artists agree that good lighting is important when applying makeup - applications that look flattering and subtle indoors under low light can appear obvious and overdone in broad daylight. I believe the ideal lighting for makeup application is natural daylight. That's why my makeup mirror sits on the shelf right next to my bedroom window.


As with skin, melanin plays a role in the hair's appearance: when the root stops producing melanin, hair becomes gray or white. While gray hair is certainly a sign of aging, hair density (thickness),12 luminosity, and luster may be even more important to our perception of peoples' age and attractiveness.13, 14, 15

Gray hair is typically associated with a coarser, more difficult-to-manage texture, while soft, sleek tresses often seem youthful.16 Several products on the market address the issue of coarseness, and can diminish the aging effects of gray hair. Historically, long hair has also indicated youth, perhaps because long hair is comparatively easy for healthy young people to grow.17

Shampoo and Styling Products

Keeping your hair and scalp clean, nourished, and protected from sun and heat plays an important role in maintaining hair health, shine, and luster. Washing and heat styling, for example, can strip it of nourishing natural oils, damaging its softness, shine, and overall health. So consider skipping daily shampoos and blow-outs or opting for a dry shampoo between washings. Also consider products that exfoliate and feed the scalp, and protect the hair from UV exposure, which can break down protein and cause color to fade. Of course, a wide-brimmed hat is an ideal way to protect both your hair and your skin.

You can find a plethora of hair care products that increase shine (glosses and serums) and softness (leave-in conditioners and frizz-taming products). Volumizing products ("root lift" hair sprays, shampoos, mousses, gels, and waxes) also help your hair look thicker and fuller.


Finally, to put it simply, what hurts your health hurts your looks. Smoking,18 pollution,19, 20 sleep deprivation,21 poor nutrition,22 unprotected sun exposure, and high stress all put your appearance at risk.23 They take a toll on the way you look and feel. So, take care of your health and spirit, every day, because healthy skin is a beautiful thing.

Farah K. Ahmed is Chair of the Sunscreen/Skin Care Committee at the Personal Care Products Council.

Published on February 26, 2014


  1. Little AC, Jones BC, DeBruine LM. Facial attractiveness: evolutionary based research. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 2011 June 12; 366(1571): 1638–1659. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih. gov/pmc/articles/PMC3130383/
  2. Borelli C, Berneburg M. Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder? Aspects of beauty and attractiveness. J Dtsch Dermatol Ges 2010; 8(5):326-30.
  3. Stephen ID, Law Smith MJ, Stirrat MR, Perrett DI. Facial skin coloration affects perceived health of human faces. Int J Primatol 2009; 30:845–857.
  4. Fink B, Neave N. The biology of facial beauty. Int J Cosmet Sci 2005; 27(6):317-25.
  5. Fink B, Grammer K, Thornhill R. Human (homo sapiens) facial attractiveness in relation to skin texture and color. J Comp Psychol 2001; 115:92–99.
  6. Grammer K, Fink B, Matts P. Visible skin color distribution plays a major role in perception of age, attractiveness and health in the female face. Human Behavior and Evolution Society Annual Meeting. Philadelphia, Penn, 2006. Poster # 53. http://evolution. anthro.univie.ac.at/institutes/urbanethology/resources/articles/ articles/publications/skin%20color_2006.pdf
  7. P&G Beauty Science. Enhancing skin tone research update. http:// www.pgbeautygroomingscience.com/assets/files/research_updates/ FINAL%20TONE-2.pdf
  8. Gilchrest BA. Skin and Aging Process. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1984:124.
  9. US Food and Drug Administration. FDA sheds light on sunscreens. Updated May 17, 2012. http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/ consumerupdates/ucm258416.htm
  10. Porcheron A, Mauger E, Russell R. Aspects of facial contrast decrease with age and are cues for age perception. PLoS One 2013; 8(3):e57985. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/ PMC3590275/
  11. Stephen ID, McKeegan AM. Lip colour affects perceived sex typicality and attractiveness of human faces. Perception 2010; 39(8):1104-10.
  12. Robbins C, Mirmirani P, Messenger AG, et al. What women want — quantifying the perception of hair amount: an analysis of hair diameter and density changes with age in Caucasian women. Br J Dermatol 2012; 167(2):324-32.
  13. Nagase S, Kajiura Y, Mamada A, et al. Changes in structure and geometric properties of human hair by aging. J Cosmet Sci 2009; 60(6):637-48.
  14. Proctor & Gamble. Eye tracking shows “good hair day” is linked to higher perceived attractiveness. P&G Beauty & Grooming http:// www.pgbeautygroomingscience.com/breakthroughs-x.php
  15. Sinclair RD. Healthy hair: what is it? J Investig Dermatol Symp Proc 2007; 12(2):2-5.
  16. Kaplan PD, Polefka T, Grove G, et al. Grey hair: clinical investigation into changes in hair fibres with loss of pigmentation in a photoprotected population. Int J Cosmet Sci 2011; 33(2):171-82.
  17. Hinsz VB, Matz DC, Patience RA. Does women’s hair signal reproductive potential? J Experimental Social Psychol 2001; 37(2):166- 172.
  18. Ortiz A, Grando SA. Smoking and the skin. Int J Dermatol 2012; 51(3):250-62.
  19. Lanuti EL, Kirsner RS. Effects of pollution on skin aging. J Invest Dermatol 2010; 130(12):2696.
  20. Vierkötter A, Schikowski T, Ranft U, et al. Airborne particle exposure and extrinsic skin aging. J Invest Dermatol 2010; 130:2719–2726.
  21. Axelsson J, Sundelin T, Ingre M, et al. Beauty sleep: experimental study on the perceived health and attractiveness of sleep deprived people. BMJ 2010; 341:c6614.
  22. Schagen SK, Zampeli VA, Makrantonaki E, Zouboulis CC. Discovering the link between nutrition and skin aging. Dermatoendocrinol 2012; 4(3): 298–307.
  23. Muizzuddin N, Matsui MS, Marenus KD, Maes DH. Impact of stress of marital dissolution on skin barrier recovery: tape stripping and measurement of trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL). Skin Res Technol 2003; 9(1):34–8.