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Chinese Face Reading for Health

by Maura Bright(more info)

listed in chinese oriental medicine, originally published in issue 49 - February 2000

The ancient art of face reading has been used since the time of Confucius by Chinese doctors as an aid to diagnosis and a way of helping their patients. Close observation of the face afforded them a deep knowledge of the personality of their patients.

Map of the facial zones
Map of the facial zones

There were also professional face readers during this time who combined the roles of priest, astrologer and counsellor. They were well-educated men with great compassion for human frailty. The Chinese understood the concept that the face represents the energies, health and fortune of a person and they wished to live in harmony with these, and with the prevailing energies of the five elements, yin and yang, and the seasons. This wisdom has seen a huge resurgence in the West during the past 20 years with the growth of acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, Feng Shui and Qi Gong.

Chinese face reading is as relevant today as it was in the past and its use is cross cultural. We all have a blend of elements and all faces reflect part of nature's pattern. Face reading first appeared in China during the 6th century BC, possibly as the speciality of "magic men" not affiliated to any religion. It is thought that they were probably Taoist shamans from rural areas such as Szechwan who specialised in non-traditional divinational arts. By 220 BC, the art of face reading was established in Chinese life and classic treatises, such as the Golden Scissors and Bamboo Chronicles, were written at this time.

The Principles of Face Reading

The starting principles of face reading are the cosmic energies of the five elements and yin and yang. The elements are symbols and represent qualities of energy within each person which are reflected in the face. An elaborate physical, psychological and emotional profile can be built up, incorporating the energies of the features, the 'life points' of the face, the three divisions from top to bottom (forehead, midface and lower face) which show the nervous, circulatory and digestive systems and the facial zones which represent the internal organs.

Each face is a map of the past, present and future. The past would be described as our inherited constitution, our mother's pregnancy, our childhood and adolescence, with either difficulties or support in the family, and our early years as we start out in the world. The present reflects our health at the time of the reading. This is something we create ourselves. Coco Chanel said: "We get the faces we deserve": inappropriate diet, persistent negative emotions, drugs, toxins and stress all contribute to lines, congestion, and colours on the face. The facial zones affected are related to the internal organs under stress. In the same way that the feet are a microcosm of the whole in Reflexology, so the face shows the inner health status and the person behind the persona. The future is not predestined in Chinese philosophy: acts of compassion can lengthen one's life, and taking greater care with health can resolve possible future symptoms. Sometimes destiny and the ups and downs of life can be improved by facial surgery – correcting squints helps one's fortunes during the years 35-40. However, nose jobs which expose the nostrils and shorten the nose can affect the end of the 40s!

Balance and proportion are important in face reading, as in Chinese paintings. There needs to be harmony between the mountains (the yang element, represented in the face by the bones) and the rivers, (the yin element which is the soft tissue). Although a face may be considered beautiful by society, in face reading terms it may be too yin (upturned nose, large wide mouth, eyes too far apart, thin eyebrows). Many "waif" models have this look. In our language we have many expressions to describe character traits: "stiff upper lip, pay through the nose, two faced, keeping one's nose clean, chinless wonder". We may have forgotten how these came into a language in the first place, but to a face reader the nose is a "money box", the mouth relates to communication, and the chin signifies determination, ambition and practicality. So, face reading can be used to sum up a person's energies, to get a health read-out, to assess character, to help gain self knowledge and to plan for good health.

Wood face
Wood face

Fire face
Fire face

Earth face
Earth face

Metal face
Metal face

Water face
Water face

Fig 1
Fig 1

Fig 2
Fig 2

Fig 3
Fig 3

Fig 4
Fig 4

Fig 5
Fig 5

Fig 6
Fig 6

Fig 7
Fig 7

Fig 8
Fig 8

Fig 9
Fig 9

Types of Face

Each of the five elements has a corresponding face shape which tells the face reader that certain energies, talents, or possible health problems may be found in this person's make up. Most people's faces show mixed elements and thus harmony or conflict can help to determine how the person will use their energies. Harmony and balance of the elements and features can indicate times of life which are easy, while the converse can mean difficulties, poor health or bad luck. However, all the indications must be taken into account before a full reading can be done. The Chinese also say that the eyes rule the face and that a steady glow or "glitter" in the eyes shows a strong heart-spirit or lack of inner stress which can mitigate against times when the energy will be low. This certain glow of energy indicates that the heart is straight and will enhance good features and modify imbalances. Confucius said: "Look into a person's pupils – he cannot hide himself".

The Wood Face

The wood type has a long face and long nose, a broad and high forehead and narrow cheeks. The eyes should have a kindly look, and the hair and eyebrows should not be thick or wiry. The forehead should be high and wide in wood as mental direction is important for this elemental type. Wood has the energy of growth, seeing the overall picture and a vision of the future, planning and seeing through projects. Wood types with balanced faces are leaders, administrators and organisers with strong ideals. They are capable of shouldering much responsibility and willing to work for the benefit of others. They need to grow and achieve, as this is the way they learn about themselves and their path in life. One of the challenges of the wood element is to be able to "see the wood for the trees" and not get enmeshed in structures. The Chinese say that a balanced wood face is a pre-requisite for Government.

The emotion that relates to wood is anger which is also the energy used for growth, development and reaching maturity. It is the desire to assert who we are and to fulfil our vision. When this desire is frustrated and blocked it can become explosive anger (the yang aspect) or implode into depression (yin aspect). If the wood type cannot put out "new twigs" every year the "tree" gets very stunted and this can translate into irritability, frustration and indecisiveness instead of good judgement, self motivation, precision and sound planning. Blockages in the free and easy flow of wood energy makes the liver and gall bladder susceptible to disease as well as causing headaches, PMT, digestive problems, gallstones, and ulcers. Foods to be avoided are oily or greasy food, and alcohol. Examples of wood faces are Tony Blair and Prince Charles, although Prince Charles's eyes are smaller than Tony Blair's, indicating a more reserved personality.

The Fire Face

The fire type also has a long face with narrow, prominent cheekbones, pointed chin and a more pointed forehead than the wood type. They may have freckles, red, curly or wiry hair, rapid speech and quick body movements. The fire element brings warmth and enthusiasm to the personality with a capacity to inspire and get people "fired up". They are active and outdoorsy, goal centred, fast paced and adventurous. They can sometimes take crazy risks, and constantly seek stimulation and excitement.

If the fire goes out, the fire type becomes a rather withdrawn and timid character, lacking in joy and motivation. The challenges of the fire element are to find that warmth and positive joy inside. You can see this in the eyes – if the "glitter" or sparkle of the eyes is controlled – think of Ram Dass, the spiritual teacher. Excess fire can make you prone to heart problems, anxiety and insomnia or skin rashes. Fire types need to include some bitter foods into their diet from time to time such as chicory, dandelion, and burdock. Blood nourishing foods and herbs are an important consideration for them. Some do very well on ginseng.

Although classic fire shapes are quite rare, people with a lot of fire are Joan Collins and the Duchess of York.

The Earth Face

Earth personalities are characterised by short square faces with distinct jawlines, sallow complexions, thickset bodies and deep voices. The features can be large, especially the mouth which relates to the stomach and intestines. Earth has the ability to be still and to build a solid base in life.

Earth types are practical, persevering, reliable, stoical and careful with money and make good treasurers. They are not so dreamy or idealistic as wood types and not as swayed by emotion as water types. They tend towards the traditional ways of doing things and can have problems with worry, food issues, stomach and spleen disorders, and assimilating food (and life) and transforming these into Qi energy. The stomach channel runs along the jaw line and a weak earth can mean no jaw line. Conversely, too much earth can signify a tendency to stubbornness, selfishness and a reluctance to change.

The emotion of sympathy is associated with the earth element – this can manifest as over-caring and nurturing, or a lack of sympathy and inability to nurture oneself. Nutritional advice, supplementation and digestive enzymes are often suitable for earth types. A diet which avoids sugar and dairy is suitable as these foods tend to "blow out" the digestion and create what the Chinese call "damp" – a form of internal mucus which gets trapped in the connective tissue and causes symptoms such as heavy legs, bloating, excess catarrh, muzzy heads and lethargy. The challenges for earth personalities are to be in the material world and to experience fruition, harvest, nurturing of self and others, rhythms, stillness and a sense of being centred and grounded.

Two classic earth shaped faces are David Coulthard, the racing driver, and Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington. Both these faces show the yang aspect of earth which is focused intention.

The Metal Face

The metal face is oval with widely set, chevron cheekbones and a pale complexion. Usually good looking, they have clear, shining eyes with a lot of energy coming out of them. The eyebrows are pale, the speech is clipped and the hair is usually straight. They are good advisers, lawyers and counsellors. Metal is the element of the mind and so they are strong willed and solve their own problems. A good sense of humour, lively outlook and hardworking attitudes are all facets of metal at its best. At its worst, it can become toxic with negative thoughts, cut off and caustic, with a "why is this happening to me?" mentality. Metal types also make good teachers and healers. When depressed, they suffer with diseases of the respiratory system and lower intestines. It is important for them to breathe deeply to let in the heavenly Qi and to make sure that they eat good quality food with lots of minerals, and stay away from junk food which can be difficult for them to eliminate. They tend to respond well to psychotherapy, homoeopathy, Bach flower remedies and treatment protocols which are rational and well thought out. To feel happy, they need to express their creativity or the bright shining metal gets dull and rusty.

Classic metal faces: Charlotte Rampling and Lauren Bacall who used their metal creativity in their acting careers.

The Water Face

Water personalities can be recognised by their round, chubby, soft faces and sometimes, rotund bodies. Large soft eyes are a water feature as is dark hair and colouring. Water people are quiet and gentle, much ruled by sensation and susceptible to any appeal to the emotions. They are good communicators and storytellers and are sensitive, and aware of trends either at work or society. They can be psychic and make good listeners, carers and counsellors. There is an aliveness and vitality about clear water which can attract what it needs like a magnet, unlike wood types, for example, who decide what they want and then make a plan about how to get it. If the water is clear, they have strong reserves and the ability to flow freely in any situation. If it gets stagnant through unexpressed emotions, the skin can develop a blue tinge with dark rings under the eyes.

Like pure fire faces, the classic water face is quite rare. Most people are mixtures, and some have a lot of water in their face, although the basic shape may be wood, earth or metal. Excess soft tissue means held in anxieties and deep emotions which may be affecting the kidney energy. Although the water type is often very ambitious, too much yin can mean that they get bogged down and lethargic. The water element rules the kidneys which hold the essence of life and are the foundation of yin and yang. Long term stress, particularly mental stress and overwork, deplete kidney yin which can no longer cool the body, giving rise to inflammatory conditions and inner heat.

Examples of water faces: Queen Victoria, who loved telling and hearing stories, and Deng Xiao Ping, the late Chinese Premier, whose large ears showed huge constitutional kidney reserve which helped him to remain in office into his nineties.

The Face as a Map

One of the core beliefs in Chinese medicine is that the part contains the whole. The idea of the face as a map can be applied in many ways, not just as in indicator of past and future health, or times of life, but also as a way to diagnose organs and body parts. This is based on pathways of the deep and superficial meridians and on the three divisions from top to bottom.


If you've been overworking, worrying, not sleeping, drinking too much coffee and trying to juggle too many commitments, look at your kidney/liver area which is the half moon-shaped area under the eye. If the area is puffy and blue, you are working too hard, depleting your adrenals, eating too much rich food and causing an imbalance in the fluid balance of the body. Look at your ears and if they are redder than the skin on your face, you are overworking your adrenal glands. This also applies if the inner corner of the eye has a sunken, dark blue look to it.


However, if the area is dark brown and has a congested look, your liver is showing signs of "liver energy stagnation". This could mean that your liver is stressed, possibly through pent-up frustration or anger or rich food and alcohol. If this indication is combined with one-sided headaches, jaw tension and two vertical lines between the eyebrows you could find that fat and hormone metabolism is affected. If the two vertical lines from the end of the eyebrows are combined with two smaller hook-shaped lines, this means that the gall bladder is also showing stress. Spots and lines on the forehead point to congestion from too much oily food or dairy.

Stomach and Intestines

The mouth shows the energy of the stomach and intestines and the lower part of the face relates to the lower abdomen. Congestion such as white spots or a granular-like feeling under the skin and blotchy areas may point to yeast infection, too much dairy or sugar in the diet.

If the chin is red and swollen, it may mean that there is a structural weakness in the organs, candida or stuck energy in the abdomen. If the lower lip protrudes, this shows a sluggish colon (Fig. 7) and if the top lip is cracked, red, or has spots at the corner, this could indicate stomach acidity or heat caused by inappropriate diet. Lines which go down the cheek from the inner corner of the eye are another indication of a bowel problem. A yellow colour around the mouth and lack of tone in the mouth (Fig. 8) indicate that the digestive energy is weak and a change of diet and enzymes are needed. On the other hand, a green colour indicates that the liver is the prime cause of the problem. Very thin lips indicate someone who may have workaholic tendencies (Fig. 9).


Redness, puffiness and breakouts around the nostrils and lower cheek indicate too many dairy products which produce mucus and congestion in the lungs. You may be on the verge of a bronchial infection if this area suddenly becomes red and dry.

Energy and Vitality

The eyebrows relate to our creative, mental and sexual energies and the amount of drive and go we have. They are also a pointer to how we relate to others, family and society. The larger and thicker they are, then the more forceful, driven, active and possibly aggressive their owner will be (Fig. 1). By contrast, fine eyebrows denote sensitivity and less robust health (Fig. 2). Hairs growing in different directions show a restless mind, someone who needs help to focus (Fig. 3), while pointed eyebrows (Fig. 4) belong to someone who is innovative, determined, independent and likes to be first in everything they do. Dark crescent-shaped eyebrows belong to people who need to make decisions intuitively and like to work with others. They show strong water energy (Fig. 5). Thyroid problems are indicated by eyebrows which dissipate at the ends (Fig. 6).

The elements present in a face indicate the strengths and weaknesses that the person has to deal with in this life; the shape of features set the pattern and timing of events in a life. The zones show current and potential health patterns. So, when reading a face it is important to take each feature within the context of the whole.


  1. David Collier said..

    i understand the two vertical lines above the nose relate to blockages in liver meridians equivalent to repressed anger in Freudian or Janovian (the Primal Scream) terms. Thus botox injections to further deny one's internal anger, generally from unresolved childhood trauma. Your perspective on this would be appreciated. PS my own 2 lines became less prominent after cathartic work on childhood issues; no need for botox!

  2. maryk said..

    I have 1 (one) line that is very noticeable that goes up closer by by left eye. What does that mean?

  3. maryk said..

    Well I think I've got this figured out. After studying my face a little more and reading more on face reading, I've had alot of dissapointments in my life.So the scowling face is where the vertical lines come from plus the corners of my mouth are down in the frown position. Yes I have thought of botox but not at $500 and it only lasts for about 5 months. I've read that we can change some of our wrinkles by figureing out what caused them in the first place (usually a certain person or thing that happened in our lives) and making peace and letting go of the negativity of the problem.

  4. vanessa said..

    Hi, I would appreciate it if anyone could suggest a good face reading doctor in Toronto Ont. I would like to discuss some health issues. Thank you.

  5. Sara said..

    This is kinda useless for people with darker skin. how are we supposed to see blue or brown or red under our eyes or any part of our face really. Other than that its kinda helpful. I can confirm one of these points so i know this is true information

  6. regina said..


  7. Hannah james said..

    I should like to see a practitioner who can diagnose my condition from my face with advice after. Do you know anyone who does that in the south of England. Thanks. Hannah

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About Maura Bright

Maura Bright is a member of the British Acupuncture Council, has been working as an acupunc- turist for 17 years and has been studying and teaching face reading for 10 years. She works in London at The Bright Practice and can be contacted on 0171-487 5873 or

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