My watch list  


This article is about skin colour. For the combination of the four humors, see Complexion (humorism).

Complexion refers to the natural colour, texture, and appearance of the skin, especially that of the face. The word is derived from the Late Latin complexi, which initially referred in general terms to a combination of things, and later in physiological terms, to the balance of humors.

Additional recommended knowledge


The four humours were four fluids that were thought to permeate the body and influence its health. The concept was developed by ancient Greek thinkers around 400 BC. People were thought to be either Choleric, Melancholic, Phlegmatic, or Sanguine.

Complexion was thus thought to be a sign of character. Many surnames arose out of the existence of a complexion whose particularities may have differed from that of the village or town’s population, and thus attracted enough notice to warrant a nickname. The Irish surname Rogan (from Ruadhán) referred to a person with red hair, or a ruddy complexion. The Scottish surname Bain (from bàn) referred to a fair-haired person, while Dunn (from donn) implies brown/dark hair, and Duff (from dubh) implies black hair. The English surname Brown, an extremely common surname in the English-speaking world, was originally applied to anyone with a slightly darker complexion, in the same manner that the surname White was applied to anyone with a particularly light complexion. The surname Gough is derived from the Welsh goch or coch, meaning "red" or "ruddy." King William II of England was called William Rufus ("the Red") because of his ruddy complexion. Ludovico il Moro ("the Moor") was called as such because of his swarthy complexion.

Complexion and Racism

The variation in complexion has also been used through the centuries to justify racism, the tone of one's skin (and other traits, such as skull shape and size) believed to be proof of one people’s innate inferiority or superiority over another. From the Renaissance onwards, Europeans developed the idea that they differed from other groups and constructed a hierarchy of human beings, according themselves a higher status than Africans or Asians. Aryanism, which flourished in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, declaimed the superiority of the so-called "Aryan complexion" (blond hair, blue eyes, contradicting the Indo-Aryans and Indo-Iranians).

Complexion and Biology

A person’s complexion is, however, a biological trait. The protein molecule known as melanin causes variation in tone. Melanocytes insert granules of melanin called melanosomes into the other skin cells of the human epidermis. The melanosomes in each recipient cell accumulate atop the cellular nucleus, where they protect the nuclear DNA from mutations caused by the sun's ionizing radiation. The human body tends to protect itself against harmful surroundings. The epidermis of the body, very sensitive and delicate, reacts almost immediately to most outside affects. People whose ancestors lived for long periods in the regions of the globe near the Equator generally have more active melanocytes, and therefore larger quantities of melanin in their skins. This makes their skins very dark and protects them against high levels of exposure to the sun (it also depends on the country). In areas of the globe closer to the poles, people have far less need for protection from ionizing radiation, so their skin is usually lighter.

See also

  • Fitzpatrick scale
  • Human skin color
  • Skin
  • Pigmentation
  • Racism
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Complexion". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE