Why Your iPhone Selfies Don’t Look Like Your Face

When a prominent YouTuber named Lewis Hilsenteger (aka “Unbox Therapy”) was testing out this fall’s new iPhone model, the XS, he noticed something: His skin was extra smooth in the device’s front-facing selfie cam, especially compared with older iPhone models. Hilsenteger compared it to a kind of digital makeup. “I do not look like that,” he said in a video demonstrating the phenomenon. “That’s weird … I look like I’m wearing foundation.”

This isn’t a totally new phenomenon: Every digital camera uses algorithms to transform the different wavelengths of light that hit its sensor into an actual image. People have always sought out good light. In the smartphone era, apps from Snapchat to FaceApp to Beauty Plus have offered to upgrade your face. Other phones have a flaw-eliminating “beauty mode” you can turn on or off, too. What makes the iPhone XS’s skin-smoothing remarkable is that it is simply the default for the camera. Snap a selfie, and that’s what you get.