Face Facts

When it comes to achieving a well-proportioned face, a new set of guidelines catering to Asians was published late last year. Besides the use of the Golden Ratio, learn what other standards were used and what is meant by a ‘well-proportioned face’.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

This famous sentence, which means that the perception of beauty is subjective, is attributed to Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, who wrote that line in her 1878 book, Molly Bawn. But while Hungerford’s exact string of words is probably the most famous iteration of that idea, the idea itself has been in existence for millennia, since the time of the ancient Greeks.

So if every person has his or her own notion of what is beautiful, how do judges in beauty pageants such as Miss World and Miss Universe decide on a winner? And how do plastic surgeons assure patients that the procedures they recommend will make them appear more attractive to the rest of the world? Is there a way to make the process more objective and systematic?

A well-proportioned face
Merz, a company that provides US FDAapproved skin fillers and skin tightening ultrasound devices, commissioned an Asiawide search for the most well-proportioned faces. Called the MAAT Golden Ratio Search, it sought to provide information so that people can better understand facial proportion relative to attractiveness; it was also integral to the launch of the first medical guidelines to provide a holistic approach in aesthetic treatments to achieve well-proportioned faces in Asians.

The guidelines are listed in the paper ‘Pan- Asian consensus – Key recommendations for adapting the World Congress of Dermatology on combination treatment with injectable fillers, toxins and ultrasound devices in Asian patients’, which was published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. The paper was presented at the 38th Annual Meeting of the International Society for Dermatological Surgery in 2017 and the guidelines will be made available to more than 1,000 aesthetic doctors in Asia, including Singapore.

The search lasted three months (it closed in September 2017) and covered 10 Asian nations. More than 3,000 submissions were received from Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

One of the key findings from the search was that there are five main facial shapes in this region: oval (67%), square (13%), round (9%), inverted triangle (7%) and oblong (5%). The proportions for the 80 Singaporean submissions were 65%, 19%, 6%, 1% and 1% respectively.

Another important finding was that the oval face was found to be the most wellproportioned facial shape - the winner from each country that took part in the search all had oval-shaped faces. This is why aesthetic doctors involved in the project say that the oval face is ideal among Asians, and the guidelines mentioned earlier provide strategies on how to modify their patients’ current facial shapes into the oval ideal, including aesthetic procedures on the upper, middle and lower face. Current guidelines predominantly cater to Caucasian patients, which is why the new guidelines will be invaluable to all parties involved.

Criteria used
What does it mean to have a "wellproportioned" face? Was it going to be a subjective exercise or did the organisers of the search rely on something more concrete?

In fact, the submissions received were checked against three specific criteria:

  • Golden Ratio The ratio of the facial height to facial width should be 1.618. Known as the Golden Ratio, this number exists in the beauty of nature and is manifested in paintings universally acknowledged as masterpieces.
  • Horizontal Proportions Divide the face into three horizontal portions: from the forehead to eyebrow, from eyebrow to nasal base, and from nasal base to chin. These three measurements should be equal.
  • Facial Symmetry Draw an imaginary vertical line to divide the face into two equal halves. The facial features should mirror each other.
"The MAAT Golden Ratio Search used the science of measurements to create an awareness of symmetrical face ratios relative to beauty. This knowledge of facial proportions and shapes gives women more positive control over their facial appearances and, ultimately, life," says Nurin Nisha M Heallmy, the 29-yearold Singapore winner of the search.


In mathematics, a and b are said to be in golden ratio if a/b = (a+b)/a = 1.618


Many studies have shown that people prefer other people who have symmetrical faces. There are two schools of thought as to the reason why.

The Evolutionary Advantage theory says that symmetry is a reflection of health, so we prefer people with more symmetrical features because of our desire to have healthier mates. This is commonly displayed in wildlife: swallows and peacocks with symmetric tail feathers are particularly healthy and desirable.

The second theory, Perceptual Bias, claims that our brain processes symmetrical stimuli more easily, so they tend towards symmetrical features. For example, it has been shown that people prefer symmetrical pieces of abstract art and sculpture to relatively asymmetric versions.


None other than the great artist Leonardo da Vinci himself came up with a formula for assessing facial beauty. The Rule of Thirds is illustrated by the Horizontal Proportions section. The Rule of Fifths is an extension of the Facial Symmetry section: vertical lines are drawn at the inner and outer corners of each eye, resulting in five vertical sections. In a “well-proportioned” face, each of these sections should be of the same width.


Which are the well-known paintings that show this Golden Ratio, also known as the Divine Proportion? Since Leonardo da Vinci was mentioned, let’s see two of his masterpieces and see where the Golden Ratio is manifested.

The Last Supper
One of da Vinci’s most famous works, this painting shows Jesus having a meal with his disciples before he died on the cross. Note how the dimensions of the room, the dining table, as well as the ornamental shields are all based on the Golden Ratio.

Salvator Mundi
In 2017, at Christie’s in New York City, this painting sold for US$450,312,500, becoming the most expensive painting ever sold at an auction.
Note the subject’s head, right hand and the embroidered emblem in the centre of the neckline of his attire are all in the right proportion. There are other such examples scattered throughout the painting.
Says Dianne Dwyer Modestini, the art conservator who restored the painting, “I found that Leonardo thought long and carefully about the Salvator Mundi, since he was trying to create a portrait of a divine being and used a number of devices to achieve the extraordinary presence and power of the image. I’m not surprised that he made extensive use of the Golden Ratio, the Divine Proportion, and it is very interesting to see it mapped out in this way.”

The Creation of Adam
Consider the work of another Renaissance master, Michelangelo, he who painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. One of the most recognisable portions of this masterpiece is The Creation of Adam. If you were to box up the area that contained God and Adam, and you measured the point where these two figures touched to the right and left edges of the box, those two measurements would give you the Golden Ratio.

The Sacrament of the Last Supper
It wasn’t just Renaissance paintings that contained the Golden Ratio. A much more modern painter such as Salvador Dali also incorporated such dimensions in his works. For this particular painting, Dali actually framed it in a golden rectangle. From the top of the painting to the table top and from the table top to the bottom of the painting, these two distances are in a Golden Ratio. Dali also positioned the two disciples kneeling on the foreground at the golden sections of the painting’s width.