Changes in women's facial skin color over the ovulatory cycle are not detectable by the human visual system

Robert P. Burriss*, Jolyon Troscianko, P. George Lovell, Anthony J. C. Fulford, Martin Stevens, Rachael Quigley, Jenny Payne, Tamsin K. Saxton, Hannah M. Rowland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)
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Human ovulation is not advertised, as it is in several primate species, by conspicuous sexual swellings. However, there is increasing evidence that the attractiveness of women's body odor, voice, and facial appearance peak during the fertile phase of their ovulatory cycle. Cycle effects on facial attractiveness may be underpinned by changes in facial skin color, but it is not clear if skin color varies cyclically in humans or if any changes are detectable. To test these questions we photographed women daily for at least one cycle. Changes in facial skin redness and luminance were then quantified by mapping the digital images to human long, medium, and shortwave visual receptors. We find cyclic variation in skin redness, but not luminance. Redness decreases rapidly after menstrual onset, increases in the days before ovulation, and remains high through the luteal phase. However, we also show that this variation is unlikely to be detectable by the human visual system. We conclude that changes in skin color are not responsible for the effects of the ovulatory cycle on women's attractiveness.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0130093
Number of pages16
JournalPLoS One
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jul 2015


  • Menstrual-cycle
  • Sexual swellings
  • Concealed ovulation
  • Mens testosterone
  • Mate preferences
  • Estrogen-levels
  • Human estrus
  • Female
  • Attractiveness
  • Evolution


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