The circles of prominence: a collection of shapes and angles based on the iris, nasal tip, and lower lip that defines facial beauty qualitatively and quantitatively. The iris, nasal dorsum, nasal tip, alae, and lower lip are all 1 iris width in dimension.
The basic circles of prominence (COP) are the iris, nasal tip, and lower lip. These shapes serve as centerpieces from which successive COP arise to define the face. Distance between these basic shapes are ideally at 3 iris widths (IWs).
The circles of prominence in the eye and mouth are equal in size and shape. All dimensions of the face are defined by the width of the iris; SO indicates second oblique.
The basic circles of prominence are central in forming 3 obliques and 1 vertical that define the face and bring attention to the eye.
Everything in the face is related. The largest circles of prominence (fourth COP) of the eye and mouth are equal to the interpupillary distance and half-face width.
The angles of the medial and lateral eyebrows, nasal tip to alae, and lower lip to commissures are 18°. The angle of the horizontal palpebral fissure is 9°. Everything in the face is related by shape, size and angles.
Young PA, Sinha U, Rice DH, Stucker F. Circles of ProminenceA New Theory on Facial Aesthetics. Arch Facial Plast Surg. 2006;8(4):263-267. doi:10.1001/archfaci.8.4.263
Author Affiliations: Department of Otolaryngology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles (Drs Young, Sinha, and Rice); and Department of Otolaryngology, Louisiana State University Health Sciences, Shreveport (Dr Stucker).
Correspondence: Philip A. Young, MD, 1501 Kings Highway, PO Box 33932, Shreveport, LA 71130 (firstname.lastname@example.org and www.drphilipyoung.com).
Objective To elucidate key elements of facial aesthetics through a new hypothesis called the circles of prominence.
Design In this subjective survey, 32 persons in the medical field rated frontal-view photographs of 20 subjects in 5 categories on a 0-to-100 scale, 0 representing the most unaesthetic rating, 100, the most aesthetically pleasing. The study was conducted in an academic setting, and the subject photographs were of 9 women (aged 27-65 years) from a clinical setting and 11 women whose pictures appeared in entertainment magazines. Each subject’s eyes, nose, mouth, and chin were subjectively rated for their aesthetic quality. A general rating was also given for the subject's face as a whole. The subject’s faces were then analyzed and measured based on the circles of prominence theory. A total of 52 measurements were chosen for the analysis. All raters' numbers for each anatomic unit and the face in general for each subject were averaged. The theoretical measurements were also averaged for each unit. The percentage of the ideal for the face in general was calculated based on weighted averages of the measurements from the individual units of each subject. The Wilcoxon signed-rank test was used to determine whether a significant difference existed between the raters' averages and the averages measured based on the facial analysis. Spearman rank coefficient correlation was used to determine if a significant correlation existed between those means.
Results We set statistical significance at P≤.05 and found that the mean ratings of 11 of the 20 raters for the face in general were not significantly different from the measured means based on the the circles of prominence theory. There was a significant correlation between the raters' means and the measured percentages of the ideal for all units and the face in general based on the Spearman rank test.
Conclusions Although the statistical analysis showed that many of the raters' subjective averages were significantly different from the averages calculated on the circles of prominence theory, the trends for those averages showed that the theory has meaningful validity in assessing facial aesthetics. The measured average ratings based on the theoretical calculations were higher than the subjectively rated averages. This was especially true for the photographs of clinical subjects and might be the cumulative result of multiple measured deviations from what is most aesthetically pleasing, thus creating an impact greater than the sum of its parts on the observer's subjective interpretation. The possible synergistic effects of multiple deviations for each anatomic unit or the face in general might have resulted in the much poorer subjective ratings than what the equally weighted, linearly determined measurements could analyze.
Despite the attempts of numerous articles on facial aesthetics to determine the definition of beauty,1-9 its ultimate qualitative and quantitative characteristics remain elusive. Farkas and colleagues10 showed in 1985 that the facial characteristics of the neoclassic canon did not represent average facial proportions and so are a poor standard for ideal facial aesthetics. Others agree.11 Some believe that there exists a divine proportion based on the number phi (ϕ), 1.618, by which the face is divided proportionately.3, 12-13 However, faces that fit into that scheme are not necessarily beautiful.13
Perhaps the standard for facial aesthetics lies in the direction of our analysis. The canon has been traditionally based on horizontal and vertical planes of reference in 2 dimensions. It also depends on external landmarks that may have little or no relevance to the observer who encounters a new face. Perhaps we need to concentrate on what the observer actually sees and the analytic process he or she uses to assess what is beautiful. Specifically, our minds identify very subtle gradations of light that help us to subjectively interpret in 3 dimensions. Ganglion cells in the retina are arranged in concentric circles linked by inhibitory pathways that increase the sensitivity of these cells to appreciate borders between light and darkness. The brain is thus highly stimulated by contrast, predisposing our sight to distinguish between gradations of light. Because of their geometric arrangement, the retinal ganglion cells possibly create a preference for appreciating circular elements as well.
Our perceptions of these subtleties constitute our notions of beauty.13 We must see no lines, blemishes, or highlights that deviate from this collection of shapes that determine our aesthetics. We must see only gradations of light that demarcate specific shapes, and these shapes must be balanced, symmetrical,1 and proportionate.
Gradations of light, ironically, might also be the underlying reason why beauty has remained such a mystery. In the past we have relied on the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,”14 but there has always existed some basic arrangement of shapes in which minor variations (in millimeters) endow uniqueness to each particular face. These minor variations in combination with the subtleties of shading are the elements that have precluded us from precisely identifying the “beautiful” arrangement. These factors can also explain cultural differences in beauty as well. Minor variations may give each ethnicity its own distinction, but in essence the collection of shapes is basically the same, and beauty is similarly interpreted across cultures.2, 4, 13
In addition to the difficulties of definition created by gradations of light, beauty is appreciated preferentially in the right hemisphere of the brain, which is separated from the analytic left hemisphere.2 Because beauty incites a predominantly emotional response in the limbic system and a large part of our appreciation of beauty is in the subconscious realm, the conscious and analytic part of our mind is further kept from discovering the precise definitions.2-3,13
Circles of prominence (COP) is a unique theory discovered by one of us (P.A.Y.) to explain the ideal arrangement of shapes that make up a beautiful face. Previous work has shown that there exists a hierarchy of interest for the observer when assessing a new face.9 Studies based on recordings of eye movements show that a person fixates first on the eyes, nose, and mouth, then other landmarks, but returns again and again to the eyes, nose, and mouth. Specifically, the observer fixes the most attention on the iris. The COP theory is based on this vital finding. All subtle shapes, sizes, and dimensions in the face are defined by the iris and, specifically, the diameter of the iris. The width of the nasal dorsum, the diameter of the nasal tip highlight, the diameter of the partial circles formed by the alae, the width of the lower philtrum, the distance from subnasale to upper lip, and the height of the lower lip (Figure 1) all should equal 1 iris width (IW).
Incorporating mathematics, we use the values 0 and ∞ (infinity) to help us make judgments on many things in nature, and this certainly includes the human face. Figures 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 illustrate more of these mathematical relationships. (More detailed information on these Figures and mathematical relationships is available in the “Eye COP and Facial Obliques” and “Mouth COP” subsections of Web-only text). That we spend so much time focusing our attention on the iris indicates that we perceive the size of the iris as the ideal median between 0 and ∞ for facial stucture size. When the diameter of a facial structure is greater than 1 IW, the attention is drawn away from the iris and other structures that are ideally an IW and toward the larger structure. The ultimate result is that the beauty of the iris and eyes is decreased. When the structure is smaller than 1 IW, less attention is brought to it. Hence, it is better for the structure to be smaller than an IW. However, the smaller the shape is than 1 IW, the less association with other structures it has, and consequently the less harmony, proportion, and balance. Hence, the closer to 1 IW that facial structures are, the more aesthetically pleasing they are (Figure 1).
Nine photographs of female patients were randomly selected from a clinical setting and 11 photographs of women from popular magazines were chosen for the study. Each was selected based on several facial aesthetic characteristics. All photographs were frontal views. Models were assigned odd numbers (except subject 20, who was a model), and clinic patients, even numbers (details available in an online eTable). Thirty-two participants in the medical field were asked to rate each picture based on 5 areas: (1) face in general, (2) eye, (3) nose, (4) chin, and (5) mouth. They were asked to assign a number from 0 to 100, with 0 being the lowest aesthetic rating and 100 being the most aesthetically pleasing. For the 4 specific areas, they were asked to judge each area, to the best of their ability, separately from the other anatomic units.
Each frontal picture was then analyzed based on the COP theory by taking specific measurements from each picture. To distinguish one unit edge from another, we used the point at which a 50% change was reached from one unit's maximum shade to the other unit's maximum shade, be it a highlight or shadowing. The parameters were measured, and their distances were then divided by each subject's IW to standardize each picture for individual size differences. The following measurements were taken for each parameter: (1) interpupillary distance; (2) pupil to midline; (3) pupil level to nasal tip; (4) tip to lower lip; (5) lower lip to mentum; (6) palpebral aperture; (7) width of third eye COP; (8) nasal dorsal width at midpoint (horizontal level defined as midway between interpupillary level and supratip break or alar crease); (9) width at nasal base at same midpoint; (10) interbrow width; (11) tip width; (12) alar width; (13) philtrum width; (14) lower lip height at midline; (15) top of eyebrow prominence to second oblique and vertical pupil plane intersect; (16) width of fourth eye COP; (17) subnasale to center of chin highlight; (18) upper eyelid crease to bottom of shadowing produced by lower eyelid; (19) top of eyebrow to center of cheek highlight; (20) lateral canthus to upper eyelid crease; (21) eyelid margin at vertical pupil plane to upper eyelid crease; (22) medial canthus to upper eyelid crease; (23) commissure to commissure; (24) tip to lateral cheek shadowing; (25) horizontal width of fourth mouth COP; (26) width of second COP of the lip (highlight of lower lip puckering); (27) lateral edge of lip unit from pupil vertical plane; (28) nasal base width; (29) upper eyelid crease to eyebrow at the lateral canthus; (30) upper eyelid crease to eyebrow at pupil vertical plane; (31) upper eyelid crease to eyebrow at medial canthus; (32) chin width; (33) lateral edge of third eye COP to lateral facial plane at pupil horizontal plane; (34) facial width at pupil horizontal plane; (35) facial width at zygomas; (36) facial width at mandibular angles; (37) forehead shadowing to midline (at the top of the eyebrow); (38) lateral cheek shadowing from midline at the level of the lower lip; (39) top of upper lip to bottom edge of shadowing produced by lower lip; (40) angle from center of lower lip to commissure; (41) medial eyebrow angle; (42) lateral eyebrow angle; (43) endocanthion to exocanthion angle; (44) angle from center of nasal tip to center of alae; (45) vertical distance of superior helix to second oblique; (46) vertical distance of ear lobule to third oblique; (47) subnasale to mentum; (48) endocanthion to exocanthion; (49) intercanthal distance (endocanthion to endocanthion); (50) lateral plane of face to lateral ear; (51) tip to mentum; and (52) distance of first oblique to center of largest height from lateral canthus to eyebrow.
Distances were standardized and individualized by dividing them by each subject's IW. Because the theory is based on multiples of IW, the distances of the frontal pictures measured could easily be compared with the ideal distances. To calculate a percentage of the ideal, the lowest aesthetic measurement was set at 0 and the best was set at the ideal distance for each parameter based on the theory.
We evaluated 52 facial areas for percentage of the ideal for each patient. Of those 52, 29 were chosen to further evaluate the eye unit, and 13, 12, and 19 for the chin, nose, and mouth, respectively. Each unit was expressed as a mean by averaging all of the measured percentages of ideal for that particular unit. All parameters were weighted equally, and no multipliers were applied in determining the separate units. For the face in general category, we multiplied each separate unit's mean rating by the number of aesthetic values used to analyze that particular unit then added them all together. We then divided that number by 73 (the total of all the measured parameters used for the units: 29 + 13 + 12 + 19). The weighted means were used to emphasize the units that required more measured values to analyze. For subject 1, for example, the calculation proceeded as follows: [(85.55 × 29) + (93.15 × 13) + (83.33 × 12) + (92.16 × 19)]/73 = 88.26. We compared each of the raters' means with the measured means using the Wilcoxon signed-rank test to see if there was a significant difference between the two (online eTable).
The subjective ratings from the 32 raters and the calculated parameters based on the COP theory were both averaged to determine whether they correlated significantly for the eye, chin, nose, mouth, and general face (Table).
The online eTable details the 32 raters' mean scores for each subject's eye, chin, nose, mouth, and face in general. The standard deviations and P values for the Wilcoxon signed-rank test are also listed. For example, the eyes of subject 1 of 20 were subjectively rated with a mean (SD) score of 87.3 (12.7). The mean percentage of the ideal based on 29 of the 52 COP parameters was 85.55% (online eTable). That is, her eyes displayed 86% of the ideal aesthetic characteristics based on the COP theory. The raters felt that her eyes reached 87% of aesthetic ideal. There was no significant difference between these scores (P = .21).
As a whole for the eye, 8 of the 20 raters' mean scores showed no significant difference from the mean COP scores (P≤.05 for all 8) (online eTable). For the chin, only 3 of 20 showed no significant difference between the 2 means. For the nose, 6 of 20 were not significantly different. For the mouth, there were also 6 of 20 that were not significantly different. And for the face as a whole, based on a weighted average of the individual units, 11 of 20 mean scores showed no significant difference between subjective ratings and COP theory scores.
The raters' means and the measured COP means were then analyzed by the Spearman rank correlation coefficient and showed that the means for all the units and the face as a whole demonstrated significantly positive correlations (Table).
Our results show that a large number of raters' mean scores differed significantly from the measured mean percentages of the ideal based on the COP theory. In addition, further analysis reveals that the raters' mean percentages of the ideal were much lower for the less aesthetically pleasing subjects (clinic patients) than were the mean scores determined by the COP theory. The clinic patient scores represented the greater number of significantly different means.
However, there was a significant correlation between the raters' mean percentage of the ideal and the means determined by the COP measurements (Spearman rank correlation), indicating significant validity to this theory's ability to assess facial aesthetics (Table). (For a more detailed explanation of some discrepancies, and for further explanation of the foundations of the COP theory, see the “Discrepancies and COP Foundations” subsection of Web-only text.)
The problem with theories in the past has been the external landmarks that they were based on, which people did not find important. However, these external landmarks were easier to base a theory on compared with subtleties of light that change with the orientation of the face. The COP theory concentrates on the forms that grab a person's attention and proposes a schema by which the mind assembles the shapes of the face and determines whether the face is beautiful. From there, the quantitative elements become better defined. Because the COP is based on mathematics, simple geometry, and what a viewer finds important, these elements together with the adherence to existing anatomy make this theory an original thought that could stand the test of time. The difficulty with this theory is that it is dependent on shades of light. Although exactly the elements viewers' use to judge beauty, these elements are not easy to identify. The use of computers to quantify these grades of shading or differential light projection in photography could aid our appreciation of how these subtleties impact our perception of the face. If we could translate these studies to quantify variances that may be adjustable through surgical means, our ability to improve our patient's lives for the better will be changed forever.
Accepted for Publication: September 21, 2005.
Previous Presentation: This article was presented at the Combined Otolaryngology Scientific Meeting; May 13-15, 2005; Boca Raton, Fla.
Additional Information:Online-only text and an eTable are available.
Acknowledgment: We acknowledge Gloria Caldito, PhD, for her data analysis contribution.