November 2, 2022 / Editor

How Skin Colour Can Relate to Colour Preference and How Both Can Be Integrated

Colour attributes in various studies have been reported to influence colour perception, while colour harmony concepts have even been reported to be also influenced by individual and cultural characteristics as well (Nemcsics, 2009). Can these same principles be applied to skin colour and colour preference? Or is the human skin unique when compared to the standard colour patches that use well-established colour systems? The pigmentation of skin colour has been attributed to not only the amount but type, size, and distribution of melanin in the human skin (Costin & Hearing, 2007). Regardless, there is evidence that reports lighting effects such as sun exposure and even seasons have a tremendous influence on the perceived skin colour. Literature also indicates that even though every person has their individual preference in colour combination, only a few can spell out the specific features of their own preferences (Hu et al., 2013). Studies also show that colour preference is subjective and is influenced by a variety of factors that cannot be generalized to the wider population. With this background in mind, this paper critically discussed skin colour and colour preferences, including considerations of how skin colour could be related and integrated into colour preferences.

Colour Preference & Skin Colour

When talking about colour preferences, it is essential to note that these are colour judgments that are made and are relevant only to a particular individual. One thing however to consider is the fact that before a colour judgment is undertaken, one has to first perceive colour stimuli. This understanding changes the whole dynamic of this discussion by bringing in earlier learned concepts that revealed colour attributes influenced how colour was perceived by individuals. By doing so, this discussion, without doubt, acknowledges that colour attributes, including other factors such as background colours and light sources, have an influence on colour judgments since they influence how colour is perceived. Even so, colour preference judgments largely depend on people’s relationship to colour, and the underlying cognition. (Kuehni 2003) previous studies have highlighted that colour decisions are the outcome of cognition whereby each decision is passed through complex yet unknown kinds of mental filters. Since cognition presents a complex interaction of perception, learning, and reasoning, the outcome of colour preference hence tends to include very many factors such as gender, age, location, culture, etc. This was similarly supported by Nemcsics (2009) in the study that investigated colour preference differences between various age groups.


This discussion is, however, relevant to colour as displayed on colour patches and paper since most, if not all, studies being referred to investigated colour preferences using colour patches. Can this line of reasoning also be adopted for skin colour? Even though one might argue that similarities might exist, one essential factor to consider is that skin presents a different situation because it has other features, such as texture, and other factors, such as melanin distribution which varies across the skin (Saito, 2000). This hence calls for an in-depth understanding of skin colour and the unique factors involved before any attempts to integrate skin colour and colour preference can be undertaken.

Skin colour is unique. The human skin is attracting considerable attention because it’s a rich source of both biological and emotional information (Nishino et al., 2012). According to Xu & Yaguchi (2005), texture structures on the skin influence the visual suprathreshold colour tolerances of lightness, chroma, and hue. Kikuchi et al. (2019) also noted that the fluctuation of melanin/hemoglobin pigment, which determines the skin colour varies depending on the facial part and season. Additionally, there are areas on the face where the skin colour differs, and other colours can, such as redness of the cheeks, dullness around the eyes, or a suntanned forehead, can be perceived even on the same person (Kikuchi et al., 2019).

According to Saito 2000, skin colour is one of those key aspects that is perceived to make a woman appear beautiful. Even so, these preferences tend to vary across cultures. Even though studies such as the one conducted by Nemcsisc’s investigated colour preferences in relation to age and gender, the results of such studies present one limitation if their results were to be fully adopted into this context. The limitation is based on the fact that the stimuli used in such experiments were primarily based on coloured paper/patches that did not factor into account surface texture. As a result, Saito conducted a study where he investigated the preference for colour and texture of the skin in Chinese women (Saito, 2000).

This study was conducted in China, and participants enrolled to participate in this experiment were aged between the years of twenty to forty. Unlike studies that used colour patches, this experiment used photographs that depicted the skin on the cheek. Photographs used in this experiment were varied in terms of colour and texture, i.e., fair, medium, and dark; fine, medium, and rough. In the procedure, observers/participants were presented with twenty-five words representing these images in terms of description. For every word, they were required to choose only three photographs that they believed were best suited (Saito, 2000).

Results indicated that photographs with fine textures were highly associated with words like beautiful, likable, healthy, and clean. Additionally, words like elegant, gentle, eye-catching, and arrogant were linked to photographs that depicted fine to fair texture (Saito, 2000). Darker skin that also had a rough texture was associated with words like disagreeable and old, while low standards of tidiness were linked to those with rough skin. Overall, the analysis showed that positive images were highly linked to fine texture (Saito, 2000). These results showed that even though colour plays a crucial role in the perceived skin colour preference, texture also carries a significant influence on the judgment of skin preference as well.

Even though, ultimately, this context will look at how skin colour and colour preference can be integrated, the above study revealed a difference between how skin colour and the colour of other surfaces are perceived. Studies such as the one conducted by Melgosa (2000) indicated while hue was the most easily perceived attribute in colour perception, followed by chroma, confounding effects such as saturation, light sources, and background colours were equally important when perceiving colours in reality. Regardless, it is essential to note that, in this case, the textures of these surfaces were not considered in these experiments.

According to Yoshikawa et al. (2019), the subjective evaluation of facial skin colour is something that has been in use not only in cosmetics but also dermatology. Even though the use of colorimeters in skin evaluation has also become common, little is known with regard to the association between metric lightness and the perceived whiteness/brightness of the skin. This is despite whiteness/brightness of the skin being one of the most important factors that affect beauty. Yoshikawa et al. (2019) thus hypothesized that the whiteness or brightness of facial skin being perceived is affected by both lightness and chromatic attributes, i.e., hue and chroma.Two experimental studies were conducted. 

  • In the first experiment, the brightness of the lower cheek in one hundred and twenty Japanese females aged between eighteen years and sixty years was evaluated using six cosmetic experts. They graded their responses on a scale of five from ‘slightly dark’ to ‘bright.’ Using a spectrophotometer, the reflectance of their lower cheeks was also recorded, and the lightness, chroma, and hue were calculated from the matching functions (Yoshikawa et al., 2019).

  • The second experiment was geared to examine the effect of hue and chroma on perceived facial whiteness single-handedly and included an investigation of how the interactions of hue and chroma affected this outcome of facial whiteness (Yoshikawa et al., 2019). Artificial images of young Japanese females were used, where images were displayed on a twenty percent gray background that had a white reference. The results revealed that metric lightness fails to agree with perceived whiteness/brightness when compared in a narrow lightness range (Yoshikawa et al., 2019). In high-lightness regions, the reddish colour of the skin appeared brighter/whiter when compared to a yellowish skin colour in similar settings. Additionally, a low chroma skin colour appeared whiter/brighter when compared to that of a high chroma in similar settings (Yoshikawa et al., 2019).

What the results of this context above highlighted was that the perceived skin colour was subjective and when compared to the metric attributes such as lightness, they failed to agree. Subjective means something that is taking place within the mind and is modified by individual bias. That before a decision is rendered, it passes through the mind and complex filters/modifications before that judgment is delivered. When critically analyzed, this process shares huge similarities to that undertaken when an individual is making colour judgments in colour preferences. Both perceived skin colour and colour preferences rely on the aspect of colour perception that is highly influenced not only by hue but also chroma and other factors such as colour modes, background colours, and lighting effects (Nemcsics, 2009).

The subjective aspect of both perceived skin colour and colour preferences can be explained in similar terms. Take, for instance, after being exposed to stimuli, all the sensory-related information transmitted by the nerves in terms of colour is delivered to the occipital lobe in the brain, where numerous processing is undertaken, especially colour perception. Even so, since the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus are the main areas of the brain responsible for decision-making, it is at this point where cognition weighs in all the factors related to age, gender, geographical location, cultural afflictions, learning and education, past experiences and so on. As a result, the final decision that is made with regard to either the perceived skin colour or colour preferences becomes a function of the subconsciously implemented filters that are based on the above-named factors (Kuehni, 2003).

Despite that, the above discussion reveals a similarity in how perceived skin colour and colour preference judgments are made; the study by Saito revealed one crucial difference, which was texture. Unlike in colour preference judgments, where texture is not one of those factors used in the judgment process, in perceived skin colour, texture is considered one of those inputs since this factor also carries a significant influence on the final outcome. Kikuchi et al. (2019) also provided similar insights noting that not only does skin colour distribution differ, but also does it influence the perception of age, health, and attractiveness of a face. Since the fluctuation of the melanin and/or hemoglobin pigment, which determines skin colour, also varies depending on the facial part and season, season can also be factored in as one of those unique factors when it comes to the perceived skin colour.

Luo et al. (2015) investigated how texture influenced the instrumental colour of fabric. Previous studies and literature have reported an existing difficulty in establishing a quantitative model that adequately shows the relationship between texture and aspects such as colour differences and colour attributes, i.e., hue, chroma, and value. In this study, the researcher included eighty-four knitted and dyed fabrics with twenty-one different texture structures (Luo et al., 2015). Even though the experimental procedure was not presented in this paper, the results of this study revealed that the surface texture of the fabric affected the measured reflectance. Fabrics that had different texture surfaces defined a set of lines that were identical in direct but different in magnitude in the reflectance space (Luo et al., 2015). Without going into further details of the above study, one key aspect that can be noted is that the surface texture of an object affects the reflectance ability of that surface. Even so, since the study was based on theoretical analysis and used fabrics instead, its results cannot be utilized in the case of skin colour. Regardless, what this study shows, is that presumptuously, the texture of the skin affects its reflectance, hence consequently, aspects of hue, chroma, and value, which in turn affect how skin colour stimuli is perceived in the brain. This understanding is essential when it comes to the integration of these two aspects: perceived skin colour and colour preference. Bringing these two aspects to achieve this holistic view into the matter requires that similarities and differences be fully understood in depth.

The integration of skin colour with colour preference simply borrows the process of colour preference judgments. Nonetheless, in this case, rather than applying the colour preference judgment process to a set of colour pairs, the process is applied to a set of different skin colours and their corresponding textures. This integration basically questions if the same process used in coming up with colour preferences can be adopted in coming up with skin colour preferences as well.

This integration is possible and has been used by people every day in judging the perception of age, health, and attractiveness of face based just on perceived skin colour. Taking into consideration, that texture has been suggested to influence reflectance; thus, colour attributes, integrating the colour preference concept together with skin colour requires an in-depth understanding of just how the texture of the skin influences how the skin colour is perceived. By doing so, the integration will be able to explain how individuals come up with skin colour preferences, not only as a function of perceived colour but also texture. This is because the conventional concept of colour preference does not take into account texture but has been based on stimuli as observed on colour patches/paper. 

One other aspect to consider is that unlike stimuli from colour patches that is standardized in length and width, stimuli from facial skin colour, for instance, is not standardized since the shape or size of individual faces varies. This limitation can, however, be overcome by using the facial feature points analysis that enables a comparison at relatedly equal positions on the face without depending on the shape or size of the individual’s face (Kikuchi et al., 2019).


One of the preliminary assumptions taken into consideration in this discussion was that there was a need to consider all three colour attributes, hue, value, and chroma since they are highly different when providing signification. Even so, since colour preference is dominated not only by the colour attributes, deemed important to include colour appearance modes and other factors such as background colours. Additionally, as depicted in the above discussion, there were several factors that presumptively influenced colour preferences, and these included: age, gender, cognition, geographical location, and cultural afflictions. Lastly, there is a need to teach/ educate/ train users to understand what their own colour preferences are based on and to provide them with resources.


This context revealed that colour preferences were influenced by complex processes associated with cognition and factors such as age, gender, and culture. Despite perceived skin colour being subjective and equally being influenced by complex mind filters and prone to modification based on biases, the main difference that arose between perceived skin colour and colour preferences was texture. Texture had been reported to affect the reflectance ability of surfaces and hence consequently, the color attributes such as hue, chroma, and value. Since these colour attributes also carry an influence on perceived colour, understanding the influence of skin texture was a crucial aspect before the integration of skin colour and colour preferences could be undertaken. By doing so, this integration would be able to explain how individuals come up with skin colour preferences, not only as a function of perceived skin colour but also texture.


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