Breaking Down the Subliminal Beauty Theory

Breaking Down the Subliminal Beauty Theory
Breaking Down the Subliminal Beauty Theory

Isn’t the best compliment we could give a Hollywood starlet, a friend or a relative, “I think she’s had work done, but I’m just not sure?” That’s the crux of the ‘subliminal beauty theory’, and what’s difficult about it is that it completely contradicts what plastic surgeons are taught. Board-certified plastic surgeon, Dr. Steven Dayan says that defining beauty with preconceived dimensions and measurements thrives in the face of the formula for successful cosmetic surgery outcomes.

“Perhaps we’ve gone off on a tangent in plastic surgery and we make people look unnatural,” he says. “How do you make people look natural when patients are demanding to look unnatural?” The issue is giving patients what they say they want, but when what they want is subliminal, it adds an element of executive decision-making on the part of the plastic surgeon. It is kind of difficult when the person who’s paying thousands of dollars is giving direction, especially when that direction is about changing his or her face.

Also, there’s a bias to want to make a difference. Just as with my industry (journalism), where editors can potentially change a story just to put his or her mark on it (while not necessarily improving the piece), plastic surgeons are naturally driven to make demonstrable changes. But Dr. Dayan says that, “if we can see the changes, then we failed.” He notes that the change should be so subtle that it hits you subconsciously. Today he not only practices making subliminal differences, but also teaches the concept and even wrote a book, Thrive, which resulted in a national series of training seminars to educate physicians about it.

According to him, aesthetics make people feel better about themselves for many reasons, one of which is helping them make a good first impression. What makes a person more subliminally beautiful? The beauty equation gets a lot of press, but while Dr. Dayan loves it, he says he struggles with anything so formulaic when it comes to that. “Beauty is raw,” he notes. “Hair care, skin care, pheromones are all components of attraction.” He adds that the beauty equation is a bit narrow. “We’re trying to propose form and function but need to consider mind and mood, as well.”

Dr. Dayan’s study shows that looking younger is more attractive. He attributes looking younger to having a small chin. “When you have a small chin, it gives you a diminutive look especially when you gaze up,” he says. “You recognize that in puppies and babies who have a smaller lower third of the face.” Another youthful trait that is inherently attractive is skin that’s slightly translucent, with the red glow of vascularity showing through and no dark spots. Botulinum neuromodulators such as Botox, Dysport and Xeomin help patients achieve a more youthful look. They work by removing wrinkles and help to open up the eye area — bigger eyes make a person look more youthful.

But, less is not necessarily more. Less is more if it is in the right places, according to Dr. Dayan. The key is to better understand what patients really want. Ultimately we want to make the patient look happy by creating balance, nothing unnatural, distorted or bizarre. “Too often we give patients what we think is perfect, not what they want,” notes Dr. Dayan. “It’s about really listening. Performing a massive surgical procedure on someone who just wants to look refreshed and happier isn’t going to meet the patient’s needs.”

Subliminal beauty theory is difficult to teach because it’s abstract. “We all know it when we see it, but it’s not easy to grasp,” Dr. Dayan says. Like Apple founder Steve Jobs said, “It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.” It turns out, designing faces is similar. To learn more about subliminal beauty theory, check out Dr. Dayan’s 2014 book, “Subliminally Exposed.”

About the Author

Amber Katz is a freelance writer, consultant, copy writer/editor and founder of, a pop culture-infused beauty blog featuring everything from skin smoothers to hair spray to body scrubs. A former financial copy writer, Amber started her blog in 2006 as an outlet from which to rave about her favorite lotions and potions to fellow beautyphiles—instead of her non-target audience of middle-aged (straight) male auditors at the office. Amber writes frequently for,, and Yahoo Beauty.