Traits That Secretly Make Your Face More Attractive

Facial traits may not be something you think about often. Nevertheless, you've likely noticed that conventionally attractive people run the world — at least, that's what it seems like. People who are considered attractive are more likely to get job interviews, according to a study in International Journal of Selection and Assessment. They also earn higher salaries (via Princeton University Press). And a Finnish study even found that beautiful people are more likely to win a political seat.

It makes sense, then, that people tend to hold beauty in higher regard. A 2001 study found beautiful people were perceived as healthier (via Insider). Attractive people were also found to be more desirable for long-term relationships, a 2015 study found.

Conventional beauty may be a subjective and cultural construct, but an attraction to someone isn't just a feeling. Humans have evolved to perceive certain body parts as attractive, as a 2016 study in Evolutionary Psychology explained. Yes, some physical traits are simply considered more attractive than others. Here's a look at some of the facial features that have people turning heads.

Facial symmetry is attractive

What makes someone beautiful? According to the Penn State article "The Evolution of Human Sexuality," there are two possible reasons why people find symmetry so attractive. One theory is that facial symmetry represents a healthy body as disease and illness can alter symmetry. Indeed, a 2004 study in Evolution and Human Behavior showed that people perceived symmetrical faces as having healthier skin than asymmetrical faces.

However, don't believe everything you see. A 2014 study in Proceedings of the Royal Society B found no connection between asymmetrical faces and poor health. Still, the theory suggests humans evolved to perceive facial symmetry as beautiful to increase their chances of mating with someone who can pass on strong, healthy genes to future generations.

A second theory suggests the brain processes symmetrical objects more quickly than asymmetrical objects. A 2016 study in Scientific Reports used MRI scans to observe how the brain responds to attractive faces of different proportions. Researchers found various brain activity in the orbitofrontal cortex, which is involved in decision-making, the caudate nucleus, which is involved in romantic interactions, and the right amygdala, involved in fear and stress.

Turn that frown upside down

Smiling has many superpowers — including the ability to look younger, a 2016 PLOS One study found. Seeing a smile is a rewarding experience to the brain, which may be why smiles are so attractive. A 2003 study in Neuropsychologia found that seeing a pretty face activated the brain's medial orbitofrontal cortex, which makes decisions based on the senses perceiving an object as potentially rewarding. When participants saw the same attractive person's face with a smile, it further increased brain activity in that area.

Smiling also increases attraction because they imply positive traits in a person. A 2012 study in Perceptual and Motor Skills found attractive people smiled more, which made them appear more trustworthy. Also, a 2010 study in Perception found that people preferred looking directly at faces that were happy and which were also considered more physically attractive. Men who smiled more were also found attractive and perceived as better candidates for long-term relationships, according to a 2015 study in Evolutionary Psychology.

"There is a simple message here: looking good costs nothing, and need not be dangerous," Dr. Alex Jones, a lecturer in psychology at Swansea University in Wales and an expert in facial perception, told the Daily Mail.

You're likely more attractive to people who look like you

In late 2020, Kourtney Kardashian shared that she was autosexual, meaning she is sexually attracted to her own image (via Poosh). While not everyone self-identifies as autosexual, science shows that we do tend to find ourselves attracted to people who look similar to us. "You're familiar with your own appearance, so seeing other people who share those similar sorts of traits might lead to more liking for that reason," social psychologist Justin Lehmiller told Time.

Other experts believe lookalike couples may end up together because we tend to stay in one place in our lives and find social and cultural commonalities with nearby people. "Genetic similarities are either causing people to be in similar environments, or are just correlated with other things that are causing people to be in similar environments," Ben Domingue, an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University, told the publication. "Once you're in those environments, that's where you find your partner."

Although attraction can eventually lead to love, it's not a sure bet, of course. "Initial similarity might lead you to be attracted to somebody, but it doesn't mean you'll have a happy relationship. Attraction is not something that's easy to predict," Lehmiller added.

Looking like your crush's parent can increase attraction

While you may never want to grow up to be like your parents, chances are you're going to fall in love with someone who looks like them. A 2004 study in Proceedings of The Royal Society B found that women tend to choose husbands who look like their fathers — biological or adoptive. Likewise, a 2002 study in Personality and Individual Differences found men were more likely to choose partners who physically resembled their mothers.

Before you start reevaluating your life choices, Judith Wright, a relationship therapist, told Marie Claire that this might be because your parents were your first glimpses of love. "As infants, we develop an unconscious schema of what love is, based on the way we are treated by our primary caregivers," she explained. "Then, as adults, we're attracted to people who stimulate us in the same way."

Conversely, people with emotionally unavailable parents could have a distorted view of love. "It's very common for a woman to say, 'Oh, he's too nice' about a potential partner, which is a sign that they had an unavailable father, either emotionally or physically," said Wright to Marie Claire.

According to women, an aging face is an attractive face

Being a silver fox has its benefits. A 2010 study in Evolutionary Psychology found that women gravitated more towards older men. Scientists have coined this the "George Clooney effect." The study also found that financially secure women preferred older men for their looks and not what's in their wallets.

"Previous research shows that men place greater importance on physical attractiveness when picking a partner, whereas women focus much more on whether someone can provide material resources," Fhionna Moore, lead author of the study, said in a statement to PsychCentral. "However, the preferred age difference did not change as we'd expected — more financially independent women actually preferred even older men. We think this suggests greater financial independence gives women more confidence in partner choices, and attracts them to powerful, attractive older men."

Stephen Proulx, a zoologist at the University of Oregon, told The Guardian that women may be attracted to older men due to their perceived strength, as reflected in the animal kingdom. "If males can display ostentatiously at that age then they really have to have something going for them," he explained. 

Looking like the average Joe or plain Jane isn't a bad thing

Beauty standards nowadays may have you wishing you looked like a supermodel. Yet, science finds that people prefer a plain Jane over an exotic face. In fact, having an average-looking face may be as important as other attractive facial traits. A 2009 study in Acta Psychologica found that men rated a photograph more beautiful when the face was symmetrical and average-looking. And even if the face isn't symmetrical, a 2004 study published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review found that people still prefer average faces.

"Averageness includes all kinds of factors. Such as the size of the features of your face and their arrangement," Anthony Little, a psychologist at Scotland's University of Stirling, told Science News for Students.

The preference for average-looking faces may just be because such faces are easier to process visually. A 2015 study in Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience found that "faces are perceived as attractive when they approximate a facial configuration close to the population average and suggest that processing fluency underlies preferences for attractive faces."

Having a baby face makes you more likely to be successful in love and life

While there's no fountain of youth, people with baby-like facial features have a lot of success in getting what they want. A 2009 study in Psychological Science found Black CEOs with baby faces were perceived as warmer. They also had higher salaries and were in charge of more prominent companies than mature-faced CEOs.

Having a baby face benefits a person in the romance department too. A 2013 study in PLOS One found that people with brown eyes were considered both trustworthy and attractive. But it's more to do with the rest of the face than the eyes. When researchers looked further, they found that participants with brown eyes were more likely to have a rounder face shape.

"The big eyes, the long lashes, the arched brows, the plump lips, the small chins, the round face, the cute little nose — if I wasn't describing a baby, I'd be describing a supermodel," Caroline Keating, an expert in non-verbal communication at Colgate University, New York, told BBC Future. "Evolutionary psychologists say that what men are looking for in a woman is someone who will have his babies and make healthy babies — and there are markers of this," Adrian Furnham, a psychologist at University College London, also remarked in an interview with BBC Future.

Attraction to a thicker face may be subjective

The jury's still out on whether a thicker or thinner face is more beautiful. According to a 2019 research study in Frontiers in Psychology, having more fat on the face helped underweight and average-sized men look more masculine.

Interestingly, technology can distort what "beauty" means. A 2014 study in PLOS One showed that Salvadorans without internet access preferred masculine women and women with more fat on their face than Salvadorans with access to the internet. However, a 2015 study in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that losing enough weight to have a thinner face boosted a person's facial attractiveness.

"It is a robust indicator of one's health," Nicholas Rule, professor of psychology and department chair, said in a University of Toronto press release. "Increased facial adiposity [fat] is associated with a compromised immune system, poor cardiovascular function, frequent respiratory infections, and mortality. So, even a small decrease can improve one's health." Still, a 2018 review in Frontiers in Psychology argues there's insufficient evidence linking facial weight with being unhealthy or less attractive.

Women find facial scars attractive in men

Harry Potter's lightning bolt forehead scar is iconic. Beyond its importance in the storyline, science suggests his facial scar would have done more than any love potion. A 2008 study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found that women rated men with this unexpected facial feature as highly attractive. However, in assessing mating potential, women considered them more for short-term rather than long-term relationships. Facial scars made no difference in the way men perceived women's attractiveness.

"Women may have rated scarring as an attractive quality for short-term relationships because they found it be a symbol of masculinity, a feature that is linked to high testosterone levels and an indicator of good genetic qualities that can be passed on to offspring," Rob Burriss, an evolutionary psychologist, said in a University of Liverpool press release. "Men without scars, however, could be seen as more caring and therefore more suitable for long-term relationships."

Facial hair can help you make it or break it in the romance game

Men looking to land a lady may want to consider growing a beard. Yes, it's a scientific fact that women like men with beards. But adopting a total caveman look may not be the best idea, according to a 2016 study in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology. While any type of beard was more attractive than a clean-shaven face, having heavy or light stubble was the most appealing to women looking for a long-term relationship.

The reason for choosing stubbly facial hair versus a full beard may be due to the perception of a heavy beard being dirty. A 2020 study in Royal Society Open Science found that women who thought parasites could be living in beards were more likely to have a reduced preference for them. Ironically, though, they still rated people with full beards as highly attractive.

Beard attractiveness depends on sexual orientation. A 2017 study in Evolution and Human Behavior found gay men were more likely to prefer thicker facial hair because it exudes a masculine look. There are also different preferences within different cultures. People in Brazil, for instance, prefer full beards, which may be because beards are regularly worn in Brazil.

Eyebrows are the window frames of the face

Where would we be without Frida Kahlo's or Cara Delevingne's iconic eyebrows? According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, eyebrows help protect our eyes from irritants such as dust, rain, and sweat. However, they've also since evolved to help with subtle facial expressions, according to a 2018 study in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

Not unlike Kim Kardashian, eyebrows have turned into quite the social influencer. "Eyebrows are the framework for the entire face," said Anastasia Soare, an eyebrow expert, to Redbook. "The proper eyebrows can balance wide cheekbones or make the length of the face appear more proportionate." Eyebrow shape can even give the impression of different eye sizes, according to a 2015 study in Perception. Having lower brows made eyes appear larger, while high brows made eyes appear smaller.

A 2018 study in Frontiers in Psychology found that men found thick eyebrows on women highly attractive, especially for long-term dating. Interestingly, different age groups have different brow preferences, according to a 2007 study in Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Younger people preferred eyebrows close to the eye or low brows, while people over 50 preferred high arched eyebrows.

Lips can influence facial attractiveness

In the search for the perfect lips, a 2017 study in the Journal of Cranio-Maxillofacial Surgery found symmetrical lips to be the most attractive. A study in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery suggests that white women preferred lip proportions with a fuller lower lip. This coincides with the popular pout exhibited by Kylie Jenner and Taylor Swift.

Full lips may be attractive because they signal youthfulness, anthropologist Jamie Gordon told Women's Health. "Young lips are full because young skin contains plenty of collagen and naturally-occurring hyaluronic acid, which keeps your lips moist and plump from the inside out," Jessica Wu, a dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Southern California, told ByrdieUnfortunately, the fullness in our lips naturally declines as we age.

Avoiding unhealthy practices may help prevent lips from thinning out prematurely. "Don't smoke, stay out of the sun and don't overdo the booze if you want your lips to be naturally full for longer," Julian De Silva, a facial cosmetic surgeon, told The Independent.

Your gaze may build intimacy

People not only find eye contact attractive, it's also a powerful and unspoken indication of desire. "It's a clear symbol of interest and openness to further engagement," Chris Donaghue, sex and intimacy expert, told AskMen. "It can be an automatic and unconscious response, as no thought process is utilized, but instead just an honest and immediate expression of attraction or disinterest."

Eye contact captures a person's attention because of the way our brains work. A 2016 study in PLOS One found that our brains respond more to a "direct gaze" than a face looking away. Strong eye contact also helps in judging a person's character. A 2004 study in the Journal of Vocational Behavior found that eye contact implied feelings of confidence. It also helped in forming feelings of closeness and familiarity, according to a 2018 study in The Journal of General Psychology.

"A clear sign someone is attracted to you is making eye contact, briefly averting their eyes and then returning their gaze to you," Donaghue revealed. "They know they shouldn't stare, so they look away but can't help but bring their focus back to you. It's a natural push-pull."

Your pupils play a role in attractiveness

It seems that attraction may start in the eyes. A 2019 study in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences found women preferred to date partners who had dark circles called limbal rings around the iris compared to those that didn't. Also, a 2011 study in Aesthetic Plastic Surgery found that having dilated pupils and more whiteness in the outer area of the eye increased facial attractiveness. While blue eyes are considered conventionally attractive, they were rated no different from other eye colors.

The attraction toward blue eyes may be attributed to cultural stereotypes. "Our culture often idolizes a 'blond-haired, blue-eyed' person; this has been emphasized in movies and the media for decades," clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly told MindBodyGreen. "As such, the 'fun' and 'sexy' aspects attributed to a blue-eyed person are certainly a result of the heavy media influences."

However, eye colors may influence attractiveness because of the personality traits they exude. A 2010 study in Current Psychology found that people with lighter eye colors appear less agreeable and more competitive. Meanwhile, another 2010 study found dominance was correlated with brown-eyed men.