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Study shows minor facial scars do not produce negative first impressions

Minor facial scars have little or no effect on ratings of attractiveness and would not benefit from revision, according to the results of a survey published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. The study reports that scar revision is the third most frequent type of reconstructive surgery procedure.

According to a news release, the online survey was designed to test the "core tenets" of facial scar design, with the goal of identifying potentially modifiable factors that could improve the perception of facial scars.

The researchers added 14 unique digital scars to 50 facial photographs with neutral expressions selected from the Chicago Face Database. The photographs were characterized by equal distributions of male [n=25 (50.0%)] and female subjects from different racial and ethnic backgrounds—White [n=30 (60.0%)], Black [n=7 (14.0%)], Asian [n=3 (6.0%)], and Hispanic/Latino [n=10 (20.0%)]. There were 1,800 voluntary participants who provided nearly 89,000 ratings of these faces.

Initial findings indicated the presence of a facial scar did not have a significant impact on attractiveness. Using a 0-to-5 scale, average ratings for attractiveness were 4.25 for scarred faces and 4.26 for unscarred faces. Confidence ratings were not significantly different either, while faces with scars were actually rated friendlier than their non-scarred counterparts.

"Contrary to our predictions, we found that a single well-healed scar generally does not affect first impressions of perceived attractiveness or confidence negatively and may even increase perceived friendliness," Dr. Jesse A. Taylor and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia wrote.

The researchers note these findings should not alter the fundamental principles of facial scar design for dermatologists and plastic surgeons. These fundamentals are based on location, position in anatomic subunit, or orientation along facial tension lines. However, the results may provide evidence that well-healed scars that violate all three principles may ultimately have minimal effects and likely would not benefit from scar revision.

The findings of this study may be "surprising and perhaps welcome news" to patients concerned that facial scars or incisions may negatively affect their appearance or how others perceive them, the authors say.


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