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.
Burriss, R. P., Troscianko, J., Lovell, P. G., Fulford, A. J. C., Stevens, M., Quigley, R., Payne, J., Saxton, T. K., & Rowland, H. M. (2015). Changes in women’s facial skin color over the ovulatory cycle are not detectable by the human visual system. PLoS One, 10(7), [e0130093]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0130093