Changes in attractiveness over the menstrual cycle due in part to changes in acne and skin oiliness

Open Access
Gorodesky, Lea Ladorna
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • David Andrew Puts, Thesis Supervisor
  • Timothy Michael Ryan, Honors Advisor
  • concealed ovulation
  • estradiol
  • progesterone
  • attractiveness
  • menstrual cycle
Ovulation in many female mammals is preceded by estrus, physical changes that advertise to potential mates their high fertility status and act to attract male mating efforts. In humans, estrus was previously assumed to have been lost because natural selection favored concealed ovulation, but recent evidence shows that there are subtle changes in females that may help both males and females to detect ovulatory status of other women. Varying levels of estradiol and progesterone across the cycle act as a strong marker for ovulatory status that we cannot observe directly, but clearly have an effect. Past research has showed that women are rated as more facially attractive at ovulation when they are most fertile, suggesting some change that people are unconsciously able to pick up. Using a subsample of photos and hormone measures from a previous study, we investigated possible physical changes occurring that may be responsible for differential ratings of attractiveness across the cycle. The current study had 188 participants come into the lab to rate 83 pairs of photos in a forced-choice survey in which each set contained a photo of the same woman taken at low fertility and one taken at high fertility. Participants were asked to choose between the two session photos for these characteristics: acne, brightness of complexion, skin oiliness, friendliness, and attractiveness. Acne was found to be significantly correlated with change in estradiol, and oiliness significantly correlated with change in progesterone. Attractiveness correlated positively with friendliness and brightness, but correlated negatively with oiliness and acne.