facial scars have minimal influence on attractiveness - two faces

New study finds that small facial scars don’t have a significant negative impact on attractiveness

A new study finds that minor facial scars have little or no effect on ratings of attractiveness, and are even viewed as slightly more friendly than average.

A new study finds that minor facial scars have little or no effect on ratings of attractiveness, according to a new study published in the latest issue of the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

In fact, the study found that scars are actually linked to slightly more favorable ratings in terms of “perceived friendliness.”

“Contrary to our predictions,” said lead author and University of Pennsylvania professor Jesse A. Taylor, “we found that a single well-healed scar generally does not affect individuals’ first impressions of perceived attractiveness or confidence negatively, and may even increase perceived friendliness.”

Facial scars on 50 faces, ranked by 1800 observers

For the study, researchers designed an online survey to test the “core tenets” of facial scars, with the goal of identifying potentially modifiable factors that improve how facial scars are perceived.

About 1,800 online participants rated 50 different faces in terms of confidence, friendliness, and attractiveness. Overall, the data included nearly 89,000 ratings.

The raters were recruited via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. They were on average 39 years old, about 55% male, and racially representative of the U.S. population.

Fifty photographs with neutral expressions were selected from the Chicago Face Database.

The photographs were characterized by equal distributions of male and female subjects, from backgrounds that approximate the racial and ethnic diversity of the U.S. population.

The faces were selected to balance the number of attractive, average, and unattractive faces according to the normative ratings that are included with the Chicago Face Database.

The researchers digitally altered the facial photographs by adding 14 unique scars in various locations and orientations.

Scarring had no significant impact on attractiveness, and actually boosted perceived friendliness

“The presence of a facial scar did not have a significant impact on attractiveness,” Professor Taylor and his coauthors write.

Average ratings for attractiveness (on a 0-to-5 scale) were 4.25 for scarred faces, and 4.26 for unscarred faces.

Ratings of confidence were not significantly different, while faces with scars were actually rated friendlier than their non-scarred counterparts, with an average “friendliness” score of 4.27 for scarred faces and 4.23 for unscarred faces.

Subtle interactions

The results suggested some subtle interactions: for example, faces with scars located at the mid-lower eyelid were rated lower for attractiveness, confidence, and friendliness.

But that was only if the scars were oriented perpendicular to facial tension lines.

In contrast, lower eyelid scars in the same location were actually rated more attractive, if oriented parallel rather than perpendicular to resting tension lines.

The researchers note that the effects on ratings were small – at most equal to “roughly two percent of the overall rating value.”

Positive news for patients worried about facial scars

Minimizing the severity of scars, particularly on the face, is an important objective for plastic surgeons.

Professor Taylor and colleagues note the industry for scar care is expected to surpass $34 billion by 2023. 

Scar revision is the third most frequent type of reconstructive surgery procedure, performed in nearly 264,000 patients in 2020, according to statistics published by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Surprising and perhaps welcome news

“Our faces are vital to our identities and bear a significant portion of the burden for self-expression,” the authors write. “Yet the social consequences of well-healed facial scars are poorly understood.”

The findings are “surprising and perhaps welcome news” to patients concerned that facial scars or incisions may negatively affect their appearance or how others perceive them, Professor Taylor and colleagues write.

The researchers note that these findings do not alter the long-held fundamental principles of facial scars’ severity , based on their location, position, and orientation along facial tension lines.

Nonetheless, the study’s authors write, well-healed scars have minimal effects, “and likely would not benefit from scar revision.”


Study: “Facial Scars: Do Position and Orientation Matter?”
Authors: Zachary D Zapatero, Clifford I Workman, Christopher L Kalmar, Stacey Humphries, Mychajlo S Kosyk, Anna R Carlson, Jordan W Swanson, Anjan Chatterjee, and Jesse A Taylor.
Published in: Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
Publication date: December 1, 2022
DOI: 10.1097/PRS.0000000000009728

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