Face reading: useful insights or just entertainment?

woman's face

It’s often said that the eyes are the windows into the soul, and that you can tell a lot about a person by looking at their smile.

In my profession, I get to see lots of beautiful faces, from softly wrinkled grannies, tired but happy moms, thirty-something gals with a hint of lines from smiling, tired but proud dads, and some very cherubic kids.

Such a spectrum of faces, and I do look for clues about health beyond the usual exam and conversation.

But can you also learn about someone’s digestive health by looking at his or her lips? Could your cheeks hold clues about the health of your lungs? Does a red nose mean you might have a bladder infection? And if you have big round earlobes are you destined for a life filled with many blessings? I hope so; I’ve got them!

For thousands of years, far longer than Western medicine has been around, healers have studied people’s faces, believing that certain facial features, skin issues, and other traits can point to related issues elsewhere in the body.

In certain traditions, people believed, and still believe, that you can actually “read” someone’s face like a crystal ball to make predictions, not only about that person’s health, but also their personality and even their future.

Face reading, or physiognomy, happened in many cultures around the world, from ancient Greece all the way to China. Face reading enjoyed a surge of popularity during the 18th and 19th centuries, when it became “trendy” due in part to popular stories by writers like Edgar Allen Poe and Oscar Wilde. You can imagine a lively Victorian Era tea party with everyone excitedly crying out, “Read my face!” “No! Do mine next!” It was the “online personality assessment quiz” of its time!

So… is this stuff for real?

Can we really make valuable health (or personality) assessments by staring at someone’s forehead or earlobe?

Or is face reading just entertainment, nothing more?

Here’s my stance as a physician and skincare specialist:

Fact: Your skin can illuminate certain health issues. (Sometimes.)

It is true that your skin can hold clues about your overall health. For example, if you’re a woman and you break out with acne in the lower-third of your face, like your cheeks, jaw line, chin, and upper neck, that suggests that your acne is hormonally-triggered, and could indicate that you’re dealing with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

Another example, during residency, I attended a lecture by a famous facial plastic surgeon. He showed an amazing before and after photo of a woman in her mid-sixties. She looked fabulous… 20 years younger with natural, healthy looking skin. Then he dropped the bombshell. He hadn’t done any surgery on her. No lasers were involved. He had taken a good history and lab work. He then treated her thyroid condition and the results were close to miraculous, so much so that I still remember her photos 20 years later.

Another related example: Fingernails can give clues about the health of lungs.

Questionable: Every part of your face corresponds to a specific part of your body.

Similar to reflexology of the foot, in Chinese face reading, for example, your cheeks correspond to your lungs, your brows correspond to your liver, your lips correspond to your digestive organs, and so on, and so on. The notion is that every part of your face is directly connected to a specific part of your body, so whatever is happening on your face indicates good health (or disease) somewhere else.

This has never been proven by Western medical standards.

Fiction: Your face can be analyzed to predict your future.

I’m skeptical. I believe it’s 20% genes and 80% how your personal choices impact those genes that determines your future, not your eyebrows or earlobes.

Then again, who can say for sure? Much like astrology or palm reading or crystal healing, face reading is a tradition that’s been around a very, very long time—so perhaps there’s a tiny grain of truth to it. But I’d say it’s a grain—not a whole sandbag.

My two cents:

If getting a face reading helps you to understand yourself better, make better choices, or inspires you to take better care of your health, well, that’s great. Go for it.

But if a face reading specialist makes a specific recommendation (like encouraging you to start taking a particular supplement) you’d be wise to run their suggestion by your primary care physician before proceeding.

It’s great to stay open-minded when it comes to health and wellness. After all, new research is just now beginning to prove that some ancient techniques (acupuncture, meditation and deep breathing, for example) really do have clear, definitive health benefits, but if you’re intrigued about a technique that’s never been scientifically proven, be cautious and use common sense. It can go a long way!

~ Dr. Sue

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