Facial reading pretty much does what it says on the tin. The practice, which involves analysing facial features, has been used for generations in Traditional Chinese Medicine and in Ayurveda (a mind-body healing system developed in ancient India).
It’s said to be able to predict the health of bodily organs by observing facial cues – like dark circles, yellowing skin and breakouts – and, according to ayurvedic skincare brand, Urban Veda, it’s used to “connect points of your face to an organ or body part.” Essentially, it “suggests what to treat internally for external results,” they say.
In ayurveda, the face is generally split into five areas – the forehead, cheeks, nose, chin and between the brows. Breakouts on the forehead have been linked to problems with poor digestion. Congestion between eyebrows have been linked to liver troubles. Inflamed or spotty cheeks are said to signify allergic or over-polluted skin, (“it’s a good idea to make sure you regularly wash or sanitise items which regularly come in with your face, such as your pillow cases and mobile phone,” says Urban Veda). Spots around the nose are considered to be linked to your heart and blood pressure and breakouts on the chin are said to suggest an imbalance in our hormones.
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But aside from looking at what might be causing our spots, our facial features can point to wider issues also.
“I don’t look at face mapping per se,” says top acupuncturist, Ka Hang Leoungk, “but since the channels branch out into the face as well, there are signs of a person’s health you can tell. For example, dark circles around the eyes tend to indicate deficiencies and dysfunction with the kidney channel; these people might also have low back aches, or incontinence issues. They might appear a little lethargic and just not as vibrant. Unlike the pulse and tongue though, I look at the face more for symptoms rather than to confirm a diagnosis.”
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Much of this sounds sensible. In fact, facial reading is an important part of western medicine also, but we asked Doctor Clare Morrison, GP & Medical Advisor at Medexpress how far facial reading stands up from a medical and scientific perspective.
What do you think of facial reading from a medical perspective?
“Like today, close observation of the patient has always been a vital part of the medical assessment, says Dr Clare. “Before blood tests and scans were invented, there wasn't any other way of confirming a diagnosis. Ancient practitioners, like modern doctors, realised how important the facial appearance is, with regard to general wellbeing. However, I am sceptical that facial reading can really give detailed or accurate information about a person's health.”
It’s based on generations of observations, but is there any scientific proof to it?
“I'm not aware of any scientific proof that facial reading is accurate. However, the same can also be said for many other alternative health practices, and yet they have their devotees. Presumably patients benefit from the opportunity to be taken seriously, and to be assessed by someone they trust. There is also the 'placebo effect', which in studies, confers an efficacy of at least 15%, and sometimes a lot more.”
Is it fair to say that a similar practice of examining faces to identify potential problems is used in western medicine?
“The face is the first thing a doctor examines. By looking at the face, we can look for signs of specific illness. For example, pallor (pale white skin) can indicate anaemia. Jaundice or yellow looking skin can indicate liver disease. Hormone diseases, such as polycystic ovaries, can cause facial acne, and hirsutism (facial hair). An over-active thyroid may cause the eyes to bulge, while an under-active thyroid may cause a puffy face, drooping eyelids, and loss of the outer part of the eyebrows.
Many infections cause a rash, which will be most noticeable on the face. For example, the viral infection 'slapped cheek virus', speaks for itself, causing characteristic red cheeks.
Bowel diseases such as Crohns disease can occasionally cause a rash.
The face may also give indications of rare disorders. For example, some autoimmune conditions, such as lupus and scleroderma, cause a characteristic facial rash and drooping eyelids may indicate the muscle-weakening condition, myasthenia gravis.”
Is there any cross over between this and ayurvedic face reading?
“For both western medicine, and ayurvedic face reading, close observation of the face is a key part of the assessment. I would agree that we can learn a good deal about our health by looking at the face, particularly the skin and eyes. There are some specific features that correlate in both disciplines. For example, horizontal wrinkles across the forehead are considered to be a sign of chronic worry and anxiety in both.”
Are there any problems or limitations of face reading to be aware of?
“Face reading doesn't bear scrutiny with rigorous scientific study, and seems to rely on blind faith and placebo effect. In my view, many of the links that practitioners of ayurvedic face reading make between innocuous facial features and disease in other parts of the body, seem rather improbable, and aren't compatible with what we now understand about physiology and anatomy.”
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The eastern approach is to keep a daily eye on general wellbeing rather reporting to a doctor when seriously ill – is there something to be taken from this?
“The rise of eastern practices to help alleviate modern maladies, may be due to a desire for natural health remedies, that are seen to have minimal risk of adverse consequences. Many argue that with western medicine, there is a tendency to over-diagnose and over-treat mild illness, leading to unnecessary side effects. People may feel more comfortable when seen by someone who sees them as a whole person, rather than a collection of illnesses; and natural herbs may seem preferable to prescribed drugs.
In addition, the eastern practice of keeping an eye on general wellbeing, rather than waiting until one feels very unwell, seems sensible. It doesn't hurt to be vigilant about a subtle change to ones facial appearance, in case it signifies something that needs attention.
However, given the lack of proven evidence, I would be very wary of relying on ancient practices like this to diagnose and manage serious illness. If there is significant concern about one’s health, I would recommend that one sees a medically qualified doctor.”
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Overall, it seems that face reading can be helpful to identify low-level concerns, such as tiredness and overindulgence. It may even point to more serious issues such as problems with our kidney or liver. However, if we think of our health like our cars, facial mapping is the oil change. It’s adding petrol and pumping up the tyres. But for anything more serious, it’s best to head to your GP for a full MOT.