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Have you ever noticed that fashionable mature women tend wear lipstick, and it's usually a bright shade of red? Psychologists at Gettysburg College teamed up with R & D scientists at Chanel to explain why red lipstick makes faces look younger.

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Women around the world have literally tens of thousands of choices in lipstick, but the most common shade is red. And as women get older, red lipstick looks better. A research collaboration between psychologists at Gettysburg College in Pennsyvania in the USA and cosmetic chemists in the Research & Development Division at cosmetics giant Chanel recently elucidated the reasons why.

Aging Produces Predictable Cosmetic Problems

Our faces stop growing at about the age of 20, but they continue to change throughout our lives. Hormonal changes in women are especially likely to result in the appearance of pigmentation of the skin of the face, in the form of pregnancy spots, age spots, and estrogen-deficiency related patches of dryness and irritation. As the tissues underlying the skin become less flexible, the face develops bags and sags, and the pigments that make the lips more prominent begin to fade at the same time patches of skin get shinier.

The lips are a prominent signal of aging in women. We are "pre-programmed" to recognize a woman's age by the height and contrast of her lips to the rest of her face. As the lips grow thinner, their pigment fades, and the lips fail to reflect light as well as they used to, a woman looks older.

Women's age is also detected in their eyes. Rounded eyes are perceived as younger. The color and contrast of the eye brows and eyes likewise affect the perception of age. The eye brows and eyes also lose their color as a woman ages, but they continue to reflect light well. A woman's lips not only lose their color, they tend to be less reflective.

Loss of Contrast Makes Women Look Older 

The Gettysburg College researchers photoshopped images of young, middle aged, and older women to make lips and eyebrows darker or lighter, and more or less luminescent, that is, with more or less shine. The researchers did not photoshop wrinkles, age spots, bags under the eyes, or sagging skin. These were left the same in both photos.Then the scientists asked the students to rank the ages of the women in the three sets of photos as younger or older.

The results of the study were unequivocal. The more contrast there was in  color and luminosity between the eyes and the lips and the rest of the face, the younger the woman in the photo was judged to be (with exceptions in only about 5% of viewings). And color contrast was more important to the student participants' perceptions of age than any other facial characteristic. Bright red lips and, to a lesser extent, dark eye brows, compensated for wrinkles, sags, and bags. It was as if the students didn't care about some imperfections in the face if the lips were red and glossy. This finding goes a long way to explain why women often don't get the responses they expect after a face lift.

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