Aesthetic medicine is focused on making people more attractive. To fulfill this target, cosmetic physicians have to know the basic rules of attractiveness. While these rules might change according to the era, culture, and personal preferences, universal concepts of beauty still exist. The purpose of this article is to review the basic and universally accepted concepts of female and male attractiveness.

We may not all agree on what or who is beautiful, but the way our brain judges attractiveness seems to be universal. According to Webster’s dictionary, beauty is defined as a combination of qualities that gives pleasure to the senses or to the mind. It is well known that physically attractive people have advantages that unattractive people do not. A number of studies1,2 have demonstrated that there are tremendous social and economic benefits to being attractive. Attractive people receive more attention in most facets of life. In today’s society, beautiful means good. We are all attracted to beauty because our brain attributes good qualities to attractive people. The more attractive a face is judged, the more we tend to transfer positive characteristics to its ‘owner’, such as success, intelligence, creativity, and honesty. It seems that pretty faces ‘prime’ our minds to make an association between beauty and positive emotions.

Beauty and mathematics

The Ancient Greeks used mathematics to define beauty in terms of harmonious proportions of facial features. Greek theoreticians envisioned the ‘perfect’ face in a concept based on a system of triads. The ideal face is, they presumed, divided into three equal vertical sections — from hairline to eyes, to upper lip to chin. In addition, they developed a golden ratio of beauty, based on the Phi number. The Phi number is 1.618, and the ratio of 1 to 1.618 between different components has been found to express the divine proportions across nature. Whether the ratio of 1 : 1.618 is in art, architecture or the face, it will make things appear more beautiful. A golden mask of proportions has been developed based on the Phi number. Apparently, many beautiful people throughout history fit perfectly well into the golden mask. Facial beautification software has been developed based on this concept, to enhance the digital processing of faces and create a more attractive image.

Beauty and evolution

Beauty also has an evolutionary significance. The basic aesthetic preferences of Homo sapiens evolved in order to enhance survival and reproductive success3. Studies have shown that when we recognise a face as ‘beautiful’, we are actually making a judgement about the health and vitality of that individual. We interpret an attractive face as a feature of a person who carries good genes that are essential for future healthy offspring. Therefore, beauty is advantageous biologically. The three main reproductive signals that make the human face attractive are symmetry, averageness, and sexual dimorphism3.