This article was first published in the South China Morning Post on Monday, Feb 22 2016.

Photo: Jonathan Wong/SCMP

Eric Standop has read many a face in his years as a professional face reader, and the one that haunts him the most is his father’s.

In November 2012, Standop and his brother decided to bring their father to watch the latest James Bond film. The elderly man, a big 007 fan, had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) a few months prior and was given three years to live.

While helping his father into the car, Standop saw his father’s face illuminated by the garage light. “When I looked at his face, I saw all signs of death,” Standop recalls. “At that moment, I knew he would only live for another 24 to 72 hours.”

The following night, this father died. Standop says it was the “most shocking” moment of his career and the “biggest proof” of face reading’s credibility.

Face reading dates back thousands of years in Chinese culture and in the West. In her book Face Reading in Chinese Medicine, American practitioner Lillian Bridges writes that face reading was one of the diagnostic tools – with pulse, tongue and smell – used by Chinese doctors and healers.

The ancient Greeks studied physiognomy, which is the assessment of a person’s character or personality from their outer appearance, especially the face. Both Aristotle and Plato wrote about faces, and Europe has had a long tradition of evaluating faces. In America, Abraham Lincoln was known to have picked his cabinet members based on their faces.

A German native, 50-year-old Standop trained under one of the last masters of face reading, studied micro expressions and the Chinese version of face reading (shiang mien), as well as the Greek and Roman techniques of physiognomy.

He helps clients read their health, nutrition status, love life, career, personality, character, destiny and life purpose. On February 25, Standop will be in town for a week as a visiting consultant at Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong’s Mandarin Spa, offering one-on-one face readings as well as an open talk and a workshop.

Standop says his accuracy is “85 to 95 per cent”, adding “the accuracy depends on what you want to know”.

He was once a sceptic of face reading, until an encounter with a face reader in Cape Town in 2003 that transformed his beliefs.

The face reader said Standop was intolerant and ignorant, and then told him about the skin problems on his back, a hernia, asthma and several allergies.

The results were so shockingly accurate that the then 37-year-old quit his job as a marketing director – he’d already suffered burnouts in that career – and set out to become a face reader.

Face reading, Standop says, is not a gift. “Everyone is a face reader,” he says.

Scientists say that we recognise our mothers’ face within weeks of our birth. Babies can differentiate their mother’s face from every other.

Apart from revealing one’s character, the face is also believed to reflect the inner state of the body. “Everyone has 43 muscles in the face, and every muscle is connected via the nervous system with the brain or the organs. Whatever happens there gives a signal to the face,” Standop says.

Lines below the eyebrows are related to health, while those above are related to personality. Chronic disease, he says, leaves messages all over the face.

Standop’s readings can be as short as two minutes or as long as five hours. “People are always surprised what can be seen in two or three minutes,” he says.

After checking my nails for lines, he does a quick read of my face. Then he looks for signs of metabolic weakness of (resulting in an inability to digest) carbohydrates, fat, protein and minerals.

A person with carbohydrate weakness would have little bags at the jaw. Someone with fat weakness would have greyish spots at the corner of the mouth and eyes, have a connective tissue problem behind the chin, and develop zits on the upper eyelid. People with protein weakness usually have a very masculine look (even women). And those with mineral weakness tend to develop a lot of lines all over the face.

I, apparently, have mineral weakness.

“The minerals inside you is like a roller coaster – in, out, in, out. It seems to me you sweat a lot, but you replace them almost immediately. This is usually seen in people who have an overworked thyroid, people who naturally sweat a lot, or people who do sports,” Standop says.

At this point I reveal to him that I had just ran a 100 kilometre trail race two days ago, and he suggests whatever he reads on my face could be a consequence of that intense effort. With my active lifestyle, he recommends that I eat foods that are high in magnesium to prevent cramps, a craving for sweets, migraines and neck problems.

He also advises that I eat more slowly and chew my food more, because he says it seems the food is “not in the best situation” when it reaches my stomach. I then reveal to him that I have never eaten so quickly since becoming a mother 19 months ago because there’s always something more important to do than to eat.

Standop’s quick reading seemed to be spot on for me and removed some scepticism I had about face reading prior to our meeting. But without a real scientific basis of the link between one’s face and everything else, many people out there question the practise. Recent studies, however, could help strengthen the reputation of physiognomy.

Carmen Lefevre, a research associate at UCL, says the idea is that our biology, like genes and hormone levels, influences our growth – including facial structure – and the same mechanisms will also shape our character.

In her studies, Lefevre has found that people with higher levels of testosterone tend to be wider-faced with bigger cheekbones, and they are also more likely to have more assertive, and sometimes aggressive, personalities. She’s also found that subtle differences in skin colour may reflect differences in lifestyle. In particular, a slightly yellowish, golden skin tone is associated with a diet high in fruit and vegetables, and this reflects robust health, as well as seen as highly attractive.

In a 2014 study by Keith Welker, a postdoctoral researcher in the University of Colorado’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, analysed the facial-width-to-height ratio (FHWR) of about 1,000 players from 32 countries who competed in the 2010 World Cup. He found that midfielders and forwards with higher FWHRs were more likely to commit fouls. Forwards with higher FWHRs also were more likely to score goals or make assists.

Past studies have shown that a high FWHR is associated with more aggressive behaviour. For example, high FWHR correlates with greater antisocial and unethical behaviour, but it also correlates with greater success among CEOs and achievement drive among US presidents.

Whether you believe in face reading or not, at the end of the day, Standop advises that face readers are not therapists.

“I tell my clients that I’m not a therapist. Very often I push them to go to the doctor. A face reader is a counsellor, an advisor; he is not a therapist,” he says. “It’s nice to ask me for advice, but they need further help from a health professional.”