What Your Facial Features Say About You

Cosmetic surgery may have an impact on the way you're perceived.

Posted Aug 20, 2019

People typically gravitate toward facial cosmetic surgery as a means to improve their appearance of youthfulness and attractiveness. Research over the last few years, however, has found that changes to the way we are perceived after these procedures extend beyond looking younger or more attractive. 

Facial profiling is a subconscious evolutionary adaptation that helps us make personality judgments based on someone’s facial features. Interestingly, it has been shown that it takes as little as 100 milliseconds to create these preconceived notions about someone else's personality. The eyes, for example, are an area of the face associated with trustworthiness and vitality. The position of the corners of the mouth or the fullness of the cheeks can insinuate a smile and convey traits such as extroversion and social skill. With this in mind, it becomes apparent that changes to these areas from surgery may change the way our faces are perceived. 

We have noticed that these basic principles are nuanced and not the same for every individual. The story conveyed by the face is a complex one, and the interpretation is not always the same for every viewer. Furthermore, the way anatomic variations may inform the perception of underlying character traits is likely not the exact same for men and women.

In our recent study, which was published in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery, we highlighted some of these essential differences. In this study, participants evaluated pictures of the same men before and after cosmetic surgery procedures—including upper and lower eyelid surgery, face-lifts, brow-lifts, neck-lifts, rhinoplasty, and chin implants. In addition to the expected favorable change in perceived attractiveness, raters also viewed the post-surgery patients as more likable, trustworthy, and socially skilled.

In a separate study published in 2015, we similarly found that women also experience an improvement in scores of attractiveness, likability, and social skills when looking at all procedures together. They were not, however, viewed as more trustworthy like the male population. Another key distinction was that women had a statistically significant increase in perceived femininity after cosmetic surgery while males were not rated as more masculine. When broken down by procedure, women were found to gain the most improvements after face-lift and lower eye-lid surgery. Men had the largest gains from upper and lower eyelid and neck-lift surgery. 

Taken together, these findings illustrate that men and women differ in the way cosmetic surgery may benefit their appearance. This may be due to the inherent differences in the "ideal" facial form of males and females, which are thought to be mainly based on the growth influences of testosterone on the male facial skeleton that lead to a wider jaw and lower brow. There is also consideration of gender norms and expectations that shape our construct of personality and attractiveness, which we will explore in more detail in later blog posts.

In this series, our goal is to dissect the relationship between facial plastic surgery and the human experience. In the process, we hope to shed new light on what it means to have cosmetic surgery. We will explore how subtle changes in facial features can affect our day-to-day interactions with those around us. We plan to take a deeper dive into the decision-making process to undergo cosmetic procedures, and we will explore social media as a driver of cosmetic surgery. If there are any topics you’d like to hear about, please let us know by leaving a comment below!