Characterising the variations in ethnic skin colours: A new calibrated data base for human skin

K. Xiao, Julian Yates, F. Zardawi, S. Sueeprasan, N. Liao, Laura Gill, C. Li, S. Wuerger

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Background: Accurate skin colour measurements are important for numerous medical applications including the diagnosis and treatment of cutaneous disorders and the provision of maxillofacial soft tissue prostheses. Methods: In this study, we obtained accurate skin colour measurements from four different ethnic groups (Caucasian, Chinese, Kurdish, Thai) and at four different body locations (Forehead, cheek, inner arm, back of hand) with a view of establishing a new skin colour database for medical and cosmetic applications. Skin colours are measured using a spectrophotometer and converted to a device-independent standard colour appearance space (CIELAB) where skin colour is expressed as values along the three dimensions: Lightness L*, Redness a* and Yellowness b*. Skin colour differences and variation are then evaluated as a function of ethnicity and body location. Results: We report three main results: (1) When plotted in a standard colour appearance space (CIELAB), skin colour distributions for the four ethnic groups overlap significantly, although there are systematic mean differences. Between ethnicities, the most significant skin colour differences occur along the yellowness dimension, with Thai skin exhibiting the highest yellowness (b*) value and Caucasian skin the lowest value. Facial redness (a*) is invariant across the four ethnic groups. (2) Between different body locations, there are significant variations in redness (a*), with the forehead showing the highest redness value and the inner arm the lowest. (3) The colour gamut is smallest in the Chinese sample and largest in the Caucasian sample, with the Chinese gamut lying entirely the Caucasian gamut. Similarly, the largest variability in skin tones is found in the Caucasian group, and the smallest in the Chinese group. Conclusion: Broadly speaking, skin colour variation can be explained by two main factors: individual differences in lightness and yellowness are mostly due to ethnicity, whereas differences in redness are primarily due to different body locations. Variations in lightness are more idiosyncratic probably reflecting the large influence of environmental factors such as exposure to sun.

    Original languageEnglish
    JournalSkin Research and Technology
    Early online date8 Jun 2016
    Publication statusPublished - 5 Jan 2017


    • Body location
    • Calibrated skin data base
    • Colour space
    • Ethnicity
    • Skin appearance
    • Skin colour
    • Skin colour differences
    • Skin colour variation
    • Skin variation


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