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I'm looking for an adjective which describes a complexion. I understand that the term complexion is primarily used to describe the color of someone's skin. However, I'm looking for a word which says that I find the complexion attractive, without actually specifying any color.

Her complexion was _____

I'd prefer to avoid any generic positive word like good, great, amazing and the like. The word should be (at least somewhat) specifically applicable to complexion.

Oxford lists these collocations:

a dark/pale/light/sallow/ruddy/olive/swarthy/clear complexion

Almost all of them denote some color. Clear doesn't (arguably), but it doesn't necessarily connote attractiveness.

For the sake of illustration, I tried "her complexion was beautiful" on Google books, which gave has a mere 1500 hits. It doesn't sound right.

Is there a common collocation/turn of phrase I could use here?

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  • If colors can be beautiful, which they can, why can't complexions?
    – Robusto
    Jun 17, 2015 at 10:41
  • 1
    Seductive, fetching, charming, enticing—or do you absolutely need a cliché?
    – Robusto
    Jun 17, 2015 at 11:02
  • 5
    The problem with a phrase like "her complexion was beautiful" or "her complexion was attractive" or even "her complexion was alluring" is that, while colorful purple prose, none of them actually describe any details about the person's complexion - just like how "her complexion was ugly" doesn't describe if she has a scar under her right eye, a blemish on her left cheek, a missing eyebrow with a burn mark over it, or any real details about the person's face. It's a very...empty phrase.
    – Zibbobz
    Jun 17, 2015 at 16:09
  • 2
    @Zibbobz: Not giving details is precisely the point here. I want to communicate that I find the complexion attractive even if I can't/won't describe the details. All that matters is that it's beautiful. I'm not writing a medical report; details aren't important. Call it 'purple prose' if you want.
    – Tushar Raj
    Jun 17, 2015 at 18:11
  • 1
    Complexion is not just about color. "Complexion refers to the natural color, texture, and appearance of the skin, especially that of the face."
    – smci
    Jun 17, 2015 at 21:08

11 Answers 11

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A common term for what the OP describes is, "Her complexion was flawless." (a Google search for flawless complexion returned about 1,110,000 results)

flawless adjective: without any blemishes or imperfections; perfect. "her brown flawless skin"

synonyms: perfect, unblemished, unmarked, unimpaired

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  • 2
    +1. I had considered flawless, but I was saving it for another part of what I'm writing (it's kind of apt there, and I didn't want to be repetetive); but now I think it's the best (and maybe only) choice here. Consider it accepted, unless someone tops it.
    – Tushar Raj
    Jun 17, 2015 at 12:09
  • Thanks, Tushar - and you're correct in that you really want to be discriminating in employing terms like "flawless."
    – user98990
    Jun 17, 2015 at 12:24
  • @ermanen - I didn't conduct that search using quotation marks, I simply Googled flawless complexion, the figure listed, 1,110,000, was copied/pasted from that search.
    – user98990
    Jun 17, 2015 at 17:26
  • @ermanen - "flawless complexion": About 432,000 results / "her complexion was flawless": About 4,910 results.
    – user98990
    Jun 17, 2015 at 17:43
  • Interestingly, ngrams suggests perfect complexion was significantly more popular than flawless complexion until only recently.
    – talrnu
    Jun 17, 2015 at 19:42
18

Other words often used in connection with complexion are:

A radiant complexion

adjective

1 emitting rays of light; shining; bright: the radiant sun; radiant colors.

2 bright with joy, hope, etc.: radiant smiles; a radiant future.

www.dictionary.com

and also...

A clear complexion (which the OP mentions, but possibly alludes to a very narrow interpretation). "Clear" is often used to denote beauty through purity in respect of a complexion.

adjective

3 without discoloration, defect, or blemish: a clear complexion; a clear pane of glass.

www.dictionary.com

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  • Thanks Marv. But clear doesn't connote attractiveness, like I said in the post. Radiant might, but not primarily.
    – Tushar Raj
    Jun 17, 2015 at 11:02
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    Well "clear" in and of itself doesn't, but it is commonly used in connection with "complexion" and when used in this way the combination is taken to mean, as I said, beauty through purity. YMMV.
    – Marv Mills
    Jun 17, 2015 at 11:09
  • Thanks for the usage note. I think clear would indeed be a great second adjective in my sentence. +1.
    – Tushar Raj
    Jun 17, 2015 at 14:16
  • @TusharRaj Please note specifically that "radiant complexion" is something of a stock phrase, connoting beauty. google.com/search?q="radiant+complexion" It's widely used and may be your best option.
    – recognizer
    Jun 17, 2015 at 14:53
  • @recognizer: Right on both counts. However, IMO, using radiant puts emphasis on the glow of the skin. This might be me being anal, but I'll avoid words like those if I can
    – Tushar Raj
    Jun 17, 2015 at 18:06
12

I proffer, without actually specifying any color-

Fresh, glowing, healthy, lovely, perfect.

She had dark and abundant hair, so glossy that it threw off the sunshine with a gleam, and a face which, besides being beautiful from regularity of feature and richness of complexion.

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  • 1
    Good suggestions. +1. These would be great if I was describing the effects of a healthy diet! Also, you made me realize that I still haven't read 'The Scarlet Letter' (It has been on my to-do list since I watched 'Easy A')
    – Tushar Raj
    Jun 17, 2015 at 14:14
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    +1 the term "glowing" is very often used in skincare ads.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 17, 2015 at 22:02
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Then, too, one might claim that the person in question was blessed with an “exquisite” complexion.

exquisite adjective: 1. extremely beautiful and, typically, delicate. "exquisite, jewel-like portraits";

synonyms: beautiful, lovely, elegant, fine; see, Google

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  • Dude. You're on fire today!
    – Tushar Raj
    Jun 17, 2015 at 17:57
  • ngram
    – Tushar Raj
    Jun 17, 2015 at 17:59
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    That's for confusing me when I had all but finalized flawless :) Seriously though, another incredibly apt suggestion. Thanks.
    – Tushar Raj
    Jun 17, 2015 at 18:05
  • wow word for me....A+.
    – Manish
    Jun 17, 2015 at 18:45
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    Between you and me, I went with exquisite. But I'm thinking I should let flawless be the accepted answer.
    – Tushar Raj
    Jul 1, 2015 at 12:47
4

I think beautiful would be the most suitable adjective to indicate that the complexion is... beautiful. (if you don't want to say just plain good).

As it appears in William Hogarth's The Analysis of Beauty, written with a view of fixing the fluctuating ideas of taste:

a beautiful complexion

Google Ngram might give an idea with the wildcard search also (has a * complexion):

enter image description here

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  • 1
    So it is indeed correct to say that. Thanks. +1. Although flawless complexion rivals its popularity in recent years
    – Tushar Raj
    Jun 17, 2015 at 17:31
  • @TusharRaj: Well, in the end, more flashy words were upvoted and you chose the most upvoted one. In my opinion, flawless is better to describe the skin; but complexion is more than the skin and "beautiful" better defines it. It is also more common in stock phrases.
    – ermanen
    Jun 19, 2015 at 2:07
  • That's a bit unfair, since as soon as I saw it, I clearly stated that I'll accept flawless unless someone topped it. I know beautiful is suitable here, which is what I initially wrote and said in the comments was my last resort. I hesitated, and asked the question, only because beautiful sounded a bit too pedestrian here, imo.
    – Tushar Raj
    Jun 19, 2015 at 6:08
  • @TusharRaj: I'm not questioning your choice so it's fine. But I thought you were thinking that "beautiful" doesn't fit. So instead of finding a nice adjective only, I gave you further details.
    – ermanen
    Jun 19, 2015 at 11:46
3

"Her complexion was lovely."
Personally, I'd put the adjective before the noun (She had a lovely/beautiful complexion), which seems to get more hits (for beautiful and lovely) than the word order you suggested.

1
  • +1 for Lovely (again, I probably won't be using it though). And good suggestion on the order. I was just checking it the way I wrote it. The adjective comes last for emphasis.
    – Tushar Raj
    Jun 17, 2015 at 13:44
2

I like "luminescent" to describe a complexion. Radiant implies an emotional context - that of joy or hope. "Luminescent," rather, refers to light. Evidently the beauty products industry agrees that "luminescent" has a positive connotation, since an internet search for "luminescent complexion" returned hundreds of links to skin products.

Dewy" is another option. Again, the beauty products industry seems to think so! As "dewy" refers to moisture, I think it also implies youth as skin dries and wrinkles with age. Dew (according to dictionary.com) is often used in comparisons for purity, delicacy, and refreshing qualities. All are generally considered to be positive attributes

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  • 2
    "Dewy" is another option. Again, the beauty products industry seems to think so! As "dewy" refers to moisture, I think it also implies youth as skin dries and wrinkles with age. Dew (according to dictionary.com) is often used in comparisons for purity, delicacy, and refreshing qualities. All are generally considered to be positive attributes.
    – Tina
    Jun 17, 2015 at 11:34
  • I haven't seen "luminescent complexion" before but I've encountered "luminous" often enough for it to be a catch phrase.
    – dnagirl
    Jun 17, 2015 at 11:49
  • Hi Tina, I like your suggestion of dewy, even if I probably won't end up using it. Please edit your post to add it. +1. ngram
    – Tushar Raj
    Jun 17, 2015 at 12:12
  • Hi. I've taken the liberty of editing your answer. You find the edit/delete links below your answer (grey text). Please delete the second answer, which is redundant now.
    – Tushar Raj
    Jun 17, 2015 at 14:19
  • Thanks Tushar. I'm new to the site (obviously) and haven't figured how to perform many of the functions. I think I tried to edit my post and could not, but I also had two sign-on's this morning so that could have been the problem. I'll delete the other answer now. I appreciate your help and patience!
    – Tina
    Jun 17, 2015 at 19:02
2

Since we're talking about a woman's complexion, and a state of flawlessness, you could say she had a smooth complexion. Smooth skin is highly desirable in almost any complexion, and is strongly evocative of a flawless nature(meaning it will carry the same connotation of 'flawless', while saving you from being repetitive).

There's also soft, which carries a similar connotation and suggests a gentleness to the touch - though you might want to save that for if the description you're trying to write has someone touching her face to experience this firsthand - otherwise, I'd go with smooth.

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  • Incidentally, if you need to modify it for skin tone, "her complexion was fair and smooth" works as well as "her complexion was dark and smooth" or "her complexion was tan and smooth", all depending on the actual tone of her skin. "Green and smooth" might be a little odd, but I won't judge. ;)
    – Zibbobz
    Jun 17, 2015 at 18:07
  • smooth is a good suggestion, and +1 for that. However, I still sense your conviction that describing a complexion without giving details is 'empty'. Like I said: details don't matter here. All that matters is that it's 'exquisite', as @LittleEva put it. (Nailed it, rather.)
    – Tushar Raj
    Jun 17, 2015 at 18:19
  • @TusharRaj Note that I wrote this answer before you wrote that comment. ;) I'm leaving this here, because I think it's still useful, but I won't begrudge you for wanting to use something that's more abstract, especially if it's completely intentional.
    – Zibbobz
    Jun 17, 2015 at 18:20
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    Yeah, I thought of responding when you wrote the earlier comment, but got tied up and it slipped my mind later. Your answer is a good one, and might be useful to others who see this post. You should indeed leave it as is.
    – Tushar Raj
    Jun 17, 2015 at 18:24
1

"Fair" is another word as in "Monday's child is fair of face" in the poem.

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  • Fair used to be the word for pale. Still is in InE. Ergo, it's not applicable (specifies color).
    – Tushar Raj
    Jun 17, 2015 at 14:21
  • @TusharRaj that maybe so in InE but in BrE fair of face is synonymous with pretty. Although fair haired refers to a colour.
    – Chenmunka
    Jun 17, 2015 at 14:32
  • Consider the quote of the witches in Macbeth "Fair is foul and foul is fair/Hover through the fog and filthy air" and Macbeth's comment "So fair and foul a day I have not seen". Both are contrasting beauty with ugliness, rather than light and darkness.
    – Alchymist
    Jun 17, 2015 at 15:22
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    While "fair of face" is synonymous with "pretty," when "fair" is paired with "complexion" it connotes as pale "coloration."
    – user98990
    Jun 17, 2015 at 15:37
  • @TusharRaj, "fair", my guess, will score over every other adjective in the Indian sub-continent....
    – Misti
    Jun 17, 2015 at 17:57
0

How about "Her complexion was becoming"?

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  • Thanks for answering, but if something is 'becoming', it denotes that it suits you. Which is why it is mainly used for clothing. To say someone's complexion is 'suitable or appropriate' doesn't seem like the right thing to say; and isn't what I'm going for regardless.
    – Tushar Raj
    Jun 17, 2015 at 10:34
-2

Maybe: Her complexion was buttery.

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  • 1
    "buttery complexion" seems to me to suggest a certain range of colors (light-brown to yellow). Would you mind adding more explanation of how this is a good answer to the original question, which excludes words related to skin color?
    – herisson
    Jun 18, 2015 at 17:43
  • Hi, and thanks for taking the time to post under this question. It's great that you want to help. However, this answer doesn't really seem to be a full answer. When answering it's best, in the case of single-word-requests, to give a good explanation why the word you're suggesting is a good one. If necessary quote and reference a dictionary. Jun 19, 2015 at 7:54

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