Selfies can significantly distort the face, especially your nose

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — If a particularly bad selfie has you contemplating plastic surgery, think twice, because a new study says that selfie may not be portraying the true you. Researchers with the American Society of Plastic Surgeons say selfies distort depictions of ourselves, “introducing measurable distortions in the size and perception of facial features.”

ASPS Member Surgeon Bardia Amirlak, MD, and colleagues from UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas found that selfies often distort the nose more than any other feature. Noses often appear longer and wider in selfies in comparison to how they appear in traditional photographs. Dr. Amirlak worries many selfie-takers may consider rhinoplasties based on these distorted images.

“With the increasing popularity of front-facing smartphone photographs, these data allow for a more precise conversation between the surgeon and the patient,” study authors write in the media release.

The team explains that social media and selfies in general have contributed mightily to the spike in popularity of cosmetic plastic surgery in recent years.

“There is a noted relationship between the increase in selfie photographs and an increase in rhinoplasty requests, particularly among younger patients,” Dr. Amirlak’s team adds.

Nose reshaping surgery (rhinoplasty) is probably the most common variety of cosmetic plastic surgery. Estimates show doctors performed over 352,000 rhinoplasties in 2020 alone.

Here’s what selfies do to your nose

A total of 30 volunteers took part in this project, with each person participating in a series of three standard photographs. Study authors took the first two with a front-facing smartphone camera 12 and 18 inches away from each volunteer, re-creating the act of taking a selfie at different arm angles. They took the last photo using a digital single-lens reflex camera at a distance of five feet. The team took all three photos in the same area, under standard lighting conditions.

They then compared facial landmark measurements (nose, lip, chin, and facial width) between each person’s three photos, with researchers looking for distortions in the simulated selfies. Each participant also completed a survey asking about their personal satisfaction with their appearance in both the selfies and the clinical photographs.

Results revealed significant distortions among the front-facing smartphone photos. In comparison to the standard clinical photographs, the average nose appeared 6.4 percent longer on 12-inch selfies and 4.3 percent longer on 18-inch selfies.

There was also an additional 12 percent reduction in the length of the chin on 12-inch selfies, causing a significant 17 percent increase in the nose-to-chin ratio. Many selfies also made the base of a nose appear wider in relation to the actual width of the person’s face.

plastic surgery
“Selfies” distort the appearance of the facial features, including making the nose appear larger. 12-inch selfie (left), 18-inch selfie (middle), and 5-foot clinical photograph (right). (CREDIT: Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery)

Smartphones can ‘negatively affect perceived facial appearance’

It’s worth mentioning that when all three photos were placed side-by-side, the facial differences and selfie-induced distortions were very clear and readily apparent.

“As the popularity of selfie photography increases, it is crucial to understand how they distort facial features and how patients use them to communicate,” study authors conclude. “In addition our findings provide data for manufacturers to improve the societal impact of smartphone cameras.”

“Our study further supports the concern that selfies can negatively affect perceived facial appearance,” Dr. Amirlak says. “We need to increase awareness of how false perceptions on selfies may affect rhinoplasty requests, perceptions of self-image, and subsequent depression and anxiety.”

The study is published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Global Open.

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