This article is part of our series about skin: why we have it, what it does, and what can go wrong. Read other articles in the series here.
We’re all attracted to a beautiful face. We like to look at them, we feel drawn to them and we aspire to have one. Many researchers and others have investigated what we humans identify as “beautiful”: symmetry, large evenly spaced eyes, white teeth, a well-proportioned nose and of course, a flawless complexion. The skin is of utmost importance when people judge someone as beautiful.
When choosing a mate, men rank female beauty more highly than women rate male appearance. Female beauty is thought to signal youth, fertility and health.
Beauty can also signal high status. People with “plain looks” earn about 10% less than people who are average-looking, who in turn earn around 5% less than people who are good-looking.
Read more: The skin is a very important (and our largest) organ: what does it do?
Skin as a marker of health and beauty
Even the best facial structure can be unbalanced by skin that is flawed.
There are many skin conditions that are perfectly natural, yet because of our beliefs around skin and health, these can cause the sufferers extreme self-consciousness.
Examples include: chloasma, the facial pigmentation that often occurs during pregnancy; starburst telangiectasias, the broken capillaries that appear on the lower thighs and calves of many women as they age; and dermatosis papulosa nigra, the brown marks that accumulate on the upper cheeks and temples, especially in people of Asian or African descent.
Teenagers with acne are more likely to withdraw socially. It may impair school performance and result in severe depression and even suicide.
There are hundreds of skin diseases that can change facial appearance, including rashes such as rosacea and skin cancers. Surgery for skin cancer can leave noticeable marks and scars that make the survivor self-conscious.
Read more: Why does Australia have so much skin cancer? (Hint: it’s not because of an ozone hole)
Industries built on our self-consciousness
Perhaps alongside the greying of the hair, skin is the most visible sign of ageing. As we age the skin changes. These changes are most pronounced in the areas exposed daily to the sun, such as the face, neck and the backs of our hands.
There the skin thins, loses volume and elasticity and becomes dull. Dark rings develop under the eyes. Wrinkles appear. The skin sags and blemishes and scars accumulate.
People spend a lot of money in attempts to regain their youthful appearance. The global cosmetics industry is worth about US$500 billion. Sales of skin and sun care products, make-up and colour cosmetics generate over 36% of the worldwide cosmetic market.
We use foundation makeup to conceal freckles and blemishes, moisturisers and fillers to hide dryness, concealers to disguise broken capillaries and pimples. And increasingly people are using botox to remove wrinkles, fillers to replace volume, and laser to remove flaws from the top layer of skin.
Read more: Common skin rashes and what to do about them
We should all use sunscreen to protect the skin from sun damage and prescription medications to cure the skin of diseases when necessary.
In 2018, we find ourselves living longer, working later and remarrying more. We’re having to trade on our beauty much later in life.
In a better world, beauty would be irrelevant. Unfortunately in our world it’s one of our most valuable assets. The best we can do is to protect our skin from sunburn, seek advice from a dermatologist when we notice any skin problems, and accept we weren’t born with the skin of Beyonce.