The Science of Spring 2012’s Beauty Trends

Take a gander at some of the world’s most majestic animals, like cheetahs and peacocks; you’ll notice patterns, shading and crowning adornments so absurdly loud, they can’t help but command your attention. The high fashion runways of the world provide a similar arena for humans, where makeup, hair and nail trends are often so creative, they leap the line of wearable practicality. “When I create hair for the runway, it’s usually an outlandishly exaggerated concept,” says YouBeauty Hair Expert Guido. “It’s meant to communicate an inspirational vision—not a literal one.”

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But whether it’s the plumage of a peacock or the deeply smoked eyes of a model, the evolutionary psychology of sexual selection is at play. Check out these fresh-off-the-runway trends, and learn how they tie into our most animalistic instincts and desires.

1Trend: Long, Pretty Hair

Seen at: Prada, Versace, Celine, D&G, Loewe, Sonia Rykiel, Akris

An evergreen classic that is associated with feminine beauty across countless cultures, long hair swept the runways in romance. Soft and healthy-looking waves were clipped to the side with a barrette at Sonia Rykiel, while D&G saw a voluptuous version of Victoria’s Secret-esque tousled locks. “More than any other style, pretty long hair just makes you want to touch it,” says Guido, who created both looks.

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Indeed, Rapunzel was on to something; many men claim a weakness for long hair on women, and it’s with strong evolutionary reason. “Every strand of hair has a blood supply, and reflects what’s going on in the body,” explains Nancy Etcoff, Ph.D., and psychologist at Harvard Medical School. Thus, the ability to grow a lush and long head of hair is a timeless signal of vitality and youth—and in ancient times, was even observed as an indicator of how likely a woman would be able to bear children and have the health and vigor with which to care for them.

2Trend: Smoked Lids

Seen at: L.A.M.B., Rodarte, Paco Rabanne, Erin Fetherston, Alexander Wang

Lids smoked something fierce across the runways, with Indian-inspired black kohl at L.A.M.B., and a midnight blue take influenced by Vincent Van Gogh’s impressionist “Starry Night” painting at Rodarte. “Modify this look for real life by using a bronze or deep metallic grey instead of black and deep blues,” suggests YouBeauty makeup expert Fiona Stiles. “The metallic element will add light to the eye, preventing it from looking too goth.”

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So what of womankind’s seemingly endless love affair with the smoky eye? According to evolutionary researchers at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, high estrogen levels—which aid in stronger health and higher fertility rates in women—actually cause facial features like eyes and lips to grow larger in size during puberty. The clever shading of a smoky look makes the eye appear bigger and more doll-like—all the better with which to ensnare a mate.

3Trend: Ombré Nails

Seen at: Jen Kao, Diego Binetti

The gradation of dark-to-light color known as “ombré” was born a celebrity hair color trend, now evolving to encapsulate nails. At Jen Kao, vibrant sapphire blue tips transitioned to deep ink, while another variation married hunter green with seafloor darkness. “A dramatic fade from dark into primary blue or green looks beautiful yet dangerous,” says CND founder Jan Arnold.

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You need only look to the peacock for nature’s most spectacular collision of ombré and evolution. Male peacocks drag a brilliantly patterned—and heavy—plumage to attract females, who select mates based on the diameter size, quantity and quality of the ombré circles known as “eyespots” that splatter the tail design. Studies have shown that males bedecked in these type of eyespots produce offspring that is larger, stronger and more skilled at survival—lending whole new meaning to notion that “bigger is better.”

4Trend: Pony Girls

Seen at: Marc by Marc Jacobs, Carolina Herrera, Reed Krakoff,

It’s the workhorse of all styles: the ponytail. At Marc by Marc Jacobs, a topsy tail-like pony was pinned to the head at mid shaft for out-of-the-face ease, and at Carolina Herrera, the looped pony seen at gyms nationwide went high class, with shiny, sleek texture and a more refined shape. “It doesn’t take much work to make a ponytail look polished,” says Guido. “Using hair powder on the roots will give you the chic texture you see on the runway.”

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Historians credit Greek soldiers with first popularizing the pony; warriors would tie long hair (en vogue on men at the time) back with a string, so that enemies couldn’t grab a hold of hair during battle. Pony tails were also worn during long battalion marches as a functional way to keep hair out of eyes. The efficient style continues today as a favored style for hectic lifestyles on-the-go, though celebrities like Reese Witherspoon and Beyoncé have glamourized the ponytail with volume and shine in recent years as an option for red carpet and evening wear.

5Trend: Blush Flush

Seen at: Marc by Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren, Tracy Reese, Jen Kao, Timo Weiland

They say that every woman’s complexion is enhanced by a touch of blush, and designers appear to agree. Apricot and pink blushes blended to create a candlelight glow at Ralph Lauren, while apples of peachy pink popped at Marc by Marc Jacobs. “Cream blush is great if you’re going bright, because you can apply it thinly and still see the skin through it,” says Stiles.

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Think of blush as nature’s seduction cosmetic. As the saying goes, “love at first blush,” is what happens when your body begins to pump adrenaline at the sight of a potential mate who has ignited your desire, causing your circulation to increase and your cheeks to flush pink. The same rosy glow happens during sexual stimulation and climax, making you appear even more beautiful to your partner. In fact, the connection is so strong, you need only look to the name of the best-selling luxury blush on the market today: Orgasm by NARS.

6Trend: Sculpted Hair

Seen at: Jean Paul Gaultier, Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana, Jil Sander, Louis Vuitton

Updos have morphed into sculpted shapes, from the rigid triceratops-like horns that models wore replete with tattoos and piercings at Jean Paul Gaultier, to the elegant Renaissance-era crowning braids at Valentino. Texturizer like Redken Guts 10 Root Targeted Volume Spray Foam was key to supporting and holding the shapes, though perfection was not the goal. “The thing about today’s updos is that you don’t have to be good at them,” says Guido. “If some hair falls out, leave it. It’s modern.”

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In “On the Origin of Species,” Charles Darwin credits generations of sexual selection with the ornate head patterns of nature, seen in everything from the thorns of male deer antlers to the opulently patterned feathers of birds of Paradise.  Humans mimicked the concept from ancient through to medieval and colonial eras, with elaborate headdresses, wigs and braiding as ways to communicate wealth and high class; almost as if evolution happened by bobby pin.  Those sculptured and latticed updos on the runways? Merely man’s latest installment.

7Trend: Bold Brows

Seen at: Altuzarra, Derek Lam, Donna Karan, The Row, Victoria Beckham, Naeem Khan.

Make way—the Liz Taylor brow is back. At Altuzarra, the grand dame influenced the thick black brows MAC makeup artist Tom Pecheux painted on models, and he took it a step further at Derek Lam, where dark brows shocked the face with shading that started further down the brow bone. But how can a real life inhabitant look bold and fabulous in this trend, and not like Groucho Marx’s twin? “Use a pencil instead of a powder for a subtle, feathery look,” instructs Stiles. “Powder can look too dense.”

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In an MIT study led by behavioral neuroscientist Javid Sadr, researchers found that eyebrows are essential to identification and even fame; while participants recognized well-known faces like former U.S. president Richard Nixon and actress Winona Ryder 60 percent of the time when eyes were digitally removed, that number dropped to 46 percent when brows were removed instead. Is it any surprise that some of Hollywood’s most memorable faces—think Marilyn, Liz and Sophia—had such strong and distinct eyebrows?

8Trend: Long, Oval Nails

Seen at: Naeem Khan, The Blonds, Joy Cioci, Kate Emilio

After seasons of short, dark nails, a long and oval shape is emerging. At Joy Cioci, a clear bed with hand-detailed lace work oozed sophistication, while thunderstorm blue made for moody tips at Naeem Khan. “An almond-shaped nail embraces a sense of femininity,” explains Arnold, who collaborated on the nail looks with both designers.

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Long, strong nails are a sign of youth; while your average nail takes about four to six months to grow out, that rate slows as you get older, and decreases by 50 percent by the time you’re 80. As nail growth slows with age, the fungus that seeps into cracks in the nail bed to cause thickening and yellow discoloration becomes more common—and so it’s no surprise that children and young adults are more likely to have the smooth, uniformly colored and ridge-less nails that we associate with youth and vitality.

9Trend: Coral Red Lips

Seen at: Jason Wu, Erin Fetherston, Jen Kao

A throwback to the ‘50s, pop art inspired the vibrant pout at Jason Wu, where makeup artist Diane Kendal dabbed M.A.C. Pigment in Neon Orange over a lipstick base of Scarlett Ibis (which will launch in the spring).  Meanwhile, Maybelline’s Coral Crush and Are You Red-dy were blended at Jen Kao for neon-like lips. “A bronzer looks especially lovely with a coral lip,” says Stiles. “Keep the rest of the makeup clean.”

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Kiss scientists known as philematologists—yes, there is such a thing—have never conclusively agreed on whether kissing is instinctual or learned behavior. But human lips and tongues have clusters of nerve endings, which create heart-fluttering sensations when interlocked. Bright coral red is a shade that universally makes lips look larger, and calls instant attention to a most sensual and intimate feature.

10Trend: Wet Hair

Seen at: Alberta Ferretti, Diesel, Bottega Veneta, Lanvin, Ports 1961, Victoria Beckham, Yves Saint Laurent

“The idea of a woman going out with wet hair has such a sexy nonchalance about it,” says Guido of the trend that rocked runways. Hair slick with shine was pulled back into messy low ponytails at Diesel, while center-parted waves at Alberta Ferretti glistened in damp medias res between soaked and dry.  For a wet look that says chic, not sloppy, hair should be in good condition and have a fresh trim.

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In the same way that it takes clear skin to pull off a no-makeup look, hair needs health to look alluring wet, since it can’t rely on the smoke-and-mirrors of product and styling. “It sort of has a naked feel to it, which takes confidence to wear,” says Guido.  And whether you’re a man or a woman, confidence always ranks high on the attraction index.