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Image: Facial ratios
UC San Diego  /  Courtesy of Pamela Pallett
The distance between a woman's eyes and between her eyes and mouth determines her attractiveness, a new study suggests. Researchers at the University of California asked subjects to compare photographs of identical features set at different distances.
By JoNel Aleccia Health writer
msnbc.com
updated 12/21/2009 8:30:19 AM ET 2009-12-21T13:30:19

For every woman who has ever obsessed that her chin was too long or that her eyes were set too close together, scientists appear to have a new message: You might be right.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, claim they’ve discovered the ideal alignment of female facial features, a pair of measurements that explain why one woman is perceived as attractive and the other, well, isn’t.

It all has to do with the horizontal distance between the eyes and the vertical distance between the eyes and the mouth, says Pamela M. Pallett, a researcher who believes she has identified new “golden ratios” for facial beauty.

That may be bad news for gals who don’t conform, but the upside, says Pallett, is that even if your face isn’t perfectly proportioned, a strategic haircut can help.

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“Everybody can achieve these golden ratios,” said Pallett.  “For most people, it might be just as simple as pulling your hair back, or having it hang down in front of your ears. If they have bangs, that can affect the length you perceive of the face.”

Faces were judged as most attractive when the distance between the eyes was 46 percent of the face’s width and when the distance from eyes to mouth was 36 percent of the face’s length, according to the study published in the most recent issue of the journal Vision Research.

A matter of inches
That means a woman with a face 5 ½ inches wide from ear to ear and 7 inches long from hairline to chin ideally would boast about 2 ½ inches of distance between her eyes and another 2 ½ inches between her pupils and mouth.

Women whose measurements varied from those markers were ranked less attractive, according to the undergraduate college students who participated in the study. The 126 students, mostly women, were asked to compare paired photographs of young, white, female faces with identical facial features but different distances between the eyes and between the eyes and mouth.

Pallett and colleagues Stephen Link of USCD and Kang Lee of the University of Toronto conducted four experiments using 10 different women’s faces to verify their conclusions. Surprisingly, they found that the preferred proportions closely match the dimensions of the average face.

“Averageness has always been known to be important,” in measuring attractiveness, said Pallett, who suggested that people are biologically hardwired to prefer typical faces rather than exotic ones.

Beauty experts say it’s not news to them that there’s a perceived ideal and that women are acutely aware if they deviate.

“I think all women have their perceived things that they hate,” said Scott J. Buchanan, owner of three Scott J. salons in New York City and a vice president with the Professional Beauty Association, an industry trade group.

Use hair, makeup to alter proportions
That’s why good stylists have for years steered certain women away from heavy bangs and urged others to avoid pulling their hair away from their faces.  And it’s why some celebrities who might not match Pallett’s “golden ratio” look gorgeous in certain hair styles and drab in others.

Actor Sarah Jessica Parker, for instance, has close-set eyes and a long, narrow face. When she wears her hair tied back, it emphasizes those dimensions, Buchanan noted. Better to go for a full, tousled look to give the illusion of a fuller, shorter face, he said.

Although Pallett’s study identified one version of ideal beauty, she’s quick to note that further research is needed to determine perfect facial proportions for other racial groups and for men. And she and Buchanan both emphasized that  even if a face isn’t perfect, it can still be beautiful.

“There’s always a way to enhance what you have and to minimize the flaws,” Buchanan said.

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