Beautiful appearance? All a matter of opinion!

Lettering Beyoutiful with emphasis on You (You) to emphasize the individual beauty

Spotless, healthy, smooth, rosy, plump, fine-pored ... The concert of wishes around the perfect skin needs a full-grown symphony orchestra to meet the demands. At least if you aim for the current zeitgeist. The emphasis is on "current", because what is considered beautiful is not only in the eye of the beholder, but also in the respective time. Beauty ideals are a cultural phenomenon and change with the prevailing lifestyles and guiding principles of their era. In this article, we take a closer look at what has happened in this regard over the last 150 years - and what role today's modern media play in this.

Beauty is the trend - always has been

If you like, beauty is nothing more than a fad. An example: The waist circumference of a model today is around 60 centimeters. The most famous German fashion export - Heidi Klum - is even said to reach 65. As recently as the 1950s, 54 centimeters was considered ideal for the famous "wasp waist." A good 100 years earlier, ladies' waists were even supposed to be so slim that two men's hands could encompass them. It's not much different with beautiful skin. In Europe today, a natural, youthful appearance and a light tan characterize a flawless complexion. Today, a moderately tanned complexion is more proof that one can afford to relax - work is mostly done indoors. Anyone who looks too pale is quickly seen as tired or sickly.

Corpse pallor as a beauty ideal

In the Rococo period, both ladies and gentlemen would have turned up their noses at this. In the 18th century, a distinguished pallor was en vogue. Tanned skin was only worn by the poor rural population who had to work physically outdoors. This changed only in the 1960s, when the better-off began to treat themselves to vacations on the Mediterranean. In the Rococo period, the preferred way to achieve a light complexion was to apply a generous amount of powder - or even to use much more drastic means: Invented in antiquity, bleaching creams were still used into the 19th century. They contained toxic lead white, sometimes mercury, and gave many a lady a corpse pallor - in the truest sense of the word.

As a contrast, one gave neat rouge on the cheeks - this even applied to old people and children. There was no trace of naturalness! People stayed at least as far away from the sink as they did from the sun. Bathing was virtually frowned upon as unhealthy. Dirt and old makeup inflamed areas and skin impurities were quickly covered with a mouche. These were beauty patches made of black fabric in the shape of hearts, crescent moons or stars. Unpleasant body odor was covered with perfume in large quantities.

Pale or tanned? 50 Shades of Beauty.

Even today, there are still many different ideas about what constitutes beautiful skin, especially which skin tone is considered particularly attractive. For this, we just have to look a little beyond national borders. In contrast to the German ideal of beauty, women in Japan, Korea and China strive for skin as "transparent as snow" and protect themselves from the sun's tanning rays with coverings that sometimes seem abstruse to us. In Japan, there is even sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 130. Skin bleaching products are also still a big issue, albeit with ingredients that are no longer quite as radical as those described above. And a gigantic business: in 2018, global sales are said to have been 17 billion euros. Healthy these creams and masks are still not. Tests have even detected formaldehyde in some products, which is otherwise used in furniture production. In India, too, it is noticeable that the winners of the nationwide beauty pageant have lighter-than-average skin. In personal ads, men looking to get married often want a candidate with "fair skin. Perhaps it has something to do with the country's colonial history. After all, for a long time the ruling class, endowed with power, was European, i.e. occupied by people whose skin tone was significantly lighter than the skin tone of the Indian population at that time.

Wrinkle free is all the same

In terms of skin texture, too, attractiveness researchers are busy searching for the ultimate beauty formula. In elaborate studies, they devote themselves to the question of which features of the skin increase attractiveness. A study conducted by the University of Göttingen, among others, shows that wrinkles, of all things, seem to play a rather subordinate role: For this, 169 women between the ages of 11 and 76 were photographed. Their portraits were then corrected for wrinkles with the aid of state-of-the-art image processing, without altering the rest of the skin texture. The portraits were then transferred to a standardized 3D head model so that the shape of the face was identical in all the test subjects. The eyebrows, hair and lips were also standardized.

The faces thus unified now differed only in skin pigmentation. The portraits were then shown to female and male test subjects, with the task of judging the faces according to age, health, youthfulness and attractiveness. The results were clear: The more homogeneous the skin, the younger and healthier the face was estimated to be; the range of age estimation by the test subjects included 20 years.

These products provide an even complexion

Nice and boring? Even skin arrives.

This is quite remarkable, since all faces were "equalized" - the original photos of the young girls were no longer recognizable as such. The conclusion of the study: in addition to wrinkles as a visible age feature, it is above all the degree of discoloration and inhomogeneity of the skin that determines how healthy and not least attractive a face is perceived. Interestingly, when the test subjects evaluated the processed photos, the assessments of the women did not differ from those of the men - even though only women's faces were shown. Everyone finds even skin beautiful. Incidentally, this circumstance has already proved to be a disturbing factor in other experiments on beauty characteristics: In order to determine an average face - from a scientific point of view - several photos were superimposed. The "average face" created in this way was perceived by the respondents as extremely attractive.

Only subsequent examinations showed that the fusion of the individual portraits resulted in an almost unnaturally homogeneous skin surface. The test subjects seemed to be attracted precisely by this, and less by the proportions of the artificial face. Nevertheless, proportions and symmetry play an important role in our understanding of beauty - and have done so for a long time. Admittedly, there is little that can be done about symmetry with skin care - but please allow me to make the following thematic detour.

No cream in the world can help: The symmetry of beautiful faces

Although in the course of time people in all corners of the earth adored completely different ideals of beauty, researchers were always searching in parallel for a universal formula for beauty. The first were probably the artists of the Renaissance. This is where the principle of the golden section came into being, which ensures a particularly harmonious division of images in painting and photography and can also be found in nature.

In the number-driven research competition, there is also the rule of sevenths. It can be traced, among other things, in the face of Botticelli's Venus, an apparently space- and timeless representation of female beauty: Hair top seventh, forehead and nose each two adjoining sevenths, distance nose to mouth one seventh, distance mouth to chin another seventh. Many other attempts to calculate the beauty of a face followed. Again and again, symmetry emerged as the central beauty factor.

Illustration of the Fibonacci spiral using the example of a plant and Mona Lisa
The Golden Spiral is the visualization of the so-called Fibonacci number sequence, which Leonardo Fibonacci developed at the beginning of the 13th century. It describes an infinite sequence of numbers, in which each following number is the sum of its two previous numbers. The Golden Spiral is closely related to the Golden Ratio. It is the basis of many forms that occur in nature and therefore has a particularly beautiful and appealing effect on the human eye. It has been used by artists and architects for thousands of years.

An evolutionary-biological argument serves as justification: certain genetic defects or viral diseases lead to asymmetries in the face. Choosing a partner with symmetrical facial features increases the chance that he or she will be healthy - and so will possible offspring. So it makes sense that people find symmetrical faces attractive. In contrast, however, is the scientific finding that we forget all-too-symmetrical faces very quickly. People with slight deviations remain in our memory much longer. So in order to be visible, a face definitely needs a trace of asymmetry.

The rule of sevenths

Recently, a research result from psychologists at the Universities of Toronto and San Diego went through the press. According to this, the dream dimensions for the face are 36 and 46 - percentages, mind you: in a beautiful woman's face, the distance between the eyes and the mouth measures exactly 36 percent of the face length, measured from the hairline to the chin. In the horizontal plane, beauty is said to exist when the distance between the eyes is 46 percent of the width of the face (measured between the two bases of the ears). Interestingly, very many celebrity beauties such as Angelina Jolie or Elizabeth Hurley do not correspond to the 36/46 ratio at all, but the average face of a Caucasian woman does. So - what to do if your own face is not blessed with these apparent ideal dimensions? For one thing: breathe a sigh of relief. Because if it's really just a matter of proportions, there are a few things that can be tricked out, with hairstyles, for example. Bangs change the perception of facial length just as much as hair falling over the ears conceals width. Good hairdressers can use such tricks to completely transform a person's type. Appropriate make-up can also be used to create targeted contours that balance the shape of the face and its proportions.

Illustration of the rule of sevenths using the example of Venus by Boticcelli
Both the centuries-old "seventh rule", which was already used in the Renaissance, and the comparatively new 36/46 rule attempt to cast the subjective perception of a beautiful face into a formula.

The desire to conform to an ideal of beauty is taking on ever greater proportions. Self-optimization is the buzzword of the prevailing zeitgeist. Everything should be radiant and as flawless as possible - if need be, by means of an Instagram filter. Care products bear terms like photo-ready in their names and are supposed to help us achieve a wrinkle- and pore-free self-portrayal. We've all known for a long time that model photos are more than a little helped along by professional image editing. Most of us now edit our profile pictures for WhatsApp & Co. ourselves. A little smoothing here, a little glow there - and you look much healthier and more attractive. But despite the knowledge that we are faking it, these images shape our expectations of ourselves. The filters on our smartphone apps are both the curse and the blessing of our self-promoting times.

#SKINPOSITIVITY - much more than a hashtag

So it's all the nicer that hashtags like #skinpositivity continue to set an important example, at least on occasion. On Instagram, there are already more than 40,000 posts on #skinpositivity. Under this hashtag, users from all over the world show their skin as it is. This often includes the unvarnished truth about acute skin problems such as acne, atopic dermatitis or psoriasis.

In the captions, those affected describe their journey of suffering, encourage each other, share care tips and above all want one thing: to come clean with themselves and their skin. They report on stressful experiences when other people openly stare at them and on how important it is to accept and embrace oneself. Admittedly, modern and type-appropriate skin care can achieve a lot today and dermatologists can treat skin diseases such as acne or psoriasis very well. Nevertheless, the skin always needs time to heal or even just to regenerate. And there are always relapses. The participants in the #skinpositivity movement also report openly and unembellished on these relapses - and that is precisely what encourages other sufferers. Because beautiful, healthy skin requires patience, especially when skin diseases play a role. That is why it is so important to take away the immediate pressure from those affected to achieve an improvement in their skin appearance as quickly as possible. This pressure to perform is fatal and leads to indiscriminate, far too frequent product changes. Stressed skin is thus deprived of the opportunity to slowly get used to a new care product or active ingredient. Too fast changes overtax every skin and make incompatibilities more difficult to understand.

How much "anti" is there in "anti-aging"?

Happy smiling older woman with wrinkles on her face applying cream

After a certain age, one inevitably encounters the term "anti-aging" more and more frequently: it is part of the fixed vocabulary of many lifestyle magazines and fashion magazines. Doctors, wellness facilities and the food industry use it to describe a wide variety of "rejuvenation" offers. However, the term is still most present on the beauty shelf. The double A is used to describe everything that is supposed to turn back the clock: For younger-looking skin, a more vital appearance, more fun and success in life - at least that's the subliminal message. But what is actually meant by anti-aging?

Anti-aging: Handbrake or time machine?

Even though anti-aging is undoubtedly a marketing term, there is nevertheless a technical definition. According to Wikipedia, the term "anti-aging, also age prevention, refers to measures that aim to maintain the quality of life in old age at a high level for as long as possible and to delay the biological aging process, thereby extending life expectancy." According to Wikipedia, however, anti-aging does not aim to turn back the wheel of time, but merely "to slow down aging processes." For the resetting of biological aging processes, for example through medical interventions, experts have reserved the term "rejuvenation".

So when a cosmetics manufacturer advertises a product (or an active ingredient) with the term anti-aging, what is usually meant is that the natural aging processes in the skin are to be slowed down (and their visible signs delayed). So far, so legitimate - as long as the promises are realistic. But why has the term recently become so polarized?

Anti-aging: A term looks old

For some time now, there has been resistance to the word anti-aging. Women's magazines are publicly deleting the term from their vocabulary, and surveys among journalists reflect that the term is increasingly understood as misogynistic, ageist and sexist. Anti-aging refers to the natural process of aging as a disease that must be fought, according to the tenor. Particularly in the social media age, in which the obsession with youth and perfection is taking on grotesque features, the term is only adding fuel to the proverbial fire, it is concluded.

As a result, new paraphrases have emerged and continue to emerge that dispense with the word "anti" - for example, this one:

  • Pro aging
  • Well aging
  • Slow aging
  • Gentle aging
  • Age control

But there are also proponents of the term "anti-aging": they counter the critics by saying that the new terms basically mean nothing else, namely controlling or slowing down the natural aging processes. Or simply: the conscious care of one's own appearance. Another argument put forward is that more than two thirds of visible skin aging is not natural (intrinsic) but "self-made" (extrinsic) - primarily due to excessive consumption of sun, alcohol and cigarettes. Their conclusion: The attempt to reduce these signs should be similarly self-determined, for example with a suitable cream.

Perhaps in the word "self-determined" the consensus can be found to the concept of practiced "anti-aging". Because of course everyone can and may age the way he or she wants to.

By the way: We at HighDroxy have chosen the term "slow aging" when describing corresponding active ingredients or modes of action. Because that's what it's all about: slowing down the aging processes in the skin as needed. Learn more about skin aging and the internal and external aging factors you can read in this blog post.