A simplified way to do the eye squinch so you can look better in photos

dr. brett kotlus squinching

Have you heard of the “squinch”?  It’s a term coined by NY celebrity photographer Peter Hurley describing a specific move you can make when someone takes your picture to look more confident and attractive.  It’s a slight squint involving the lower eyelid more than the upper eyelid.  When paired with a smile, it makes you look warmer and more genuine.

His video about squinching went viral because he was on to something real – but as an expert in cosmetic eyelid surgery I quickly picked up on some errors in his theory that I will clarify in order to help you perfect the squinch so you’ll look your best in your next snapshot.

Why the squinch makes you look better

The squinch is the way your eyes look when you have a genuine smile on your face.  Another term for this expression is the “smize” (smiling with your eyes).  This is how you express warmth and sincerity.

Look at your face in the mirror while you are really smiling.

It’s not just your mouth that moves, your cheeks lift up and your eyes slightly narrow.  Also note that your eyebrows don’t lift.  If anything, they lower slightly.  You smile with your whole face- This is what a genuine smile (or smize) looks like and it can be one of your most powerful social and beauty tools.

We all have a keen ability to quickly and effectively detect the difference between a genuine smile and a “polite” smile.

One study in 2011 by Shore and Heerey demonstrated that genuine smiles have the ability to influence social behavior. In their study, subjects were willing to give up a potential monetary reward in order to receive a genuine smile.  However, the same subjects were not willing to give up a chance to make money in exchange for a polite smile.

The take-home message is that authentic smiles are attractive, and they are influential.

If you have a genuine smile (it doesn’t have to be a huge smile) on your face in your photos your warmth and personality will come through and it can overcome many other cosmetic and aging concerns, even eye bags and dark circles.

Squinch myths

Peter Hurley, who coined the term squinch, is a well-known photographer in NYC and he has a very good reputation.  I have photographer clients that have taken his course and they said it was invaluable to the quality of their professional photos.  But there are some problems with his tips on helping you squinch.  It’s hard to replicate by following his advice unless you just stumble upon the moves I describe below.

In Peter Hurley’s squinch video, he offers two misleading tips.  I’ll clear it up for you and simplify the squinch, based on how your eyelids actually work:

  1. Hurley says you need to squint slightly, but raise your lower eyelid up without squinting your upper eyelid.

The muscle that makes you squint is a sphincter called the orbicularis oculi muscle that encircles your eye.  When you tighten it, your eyes narrow and when you tighten it more, your eyes close. Hurley gets this right.

What he gets wrong is that you can’t make one part of a sphincter muscle move without another part.  It either tightens or it doesn’t.  And we don’t have any muscle that lifts the lower eyelid by itself.  So you can’t simply squint the lower eyelid by itself.  At least not in that way.

But there is a way to squinch that makes more sense.

  1. Hurley says you have to tighten the lower eyelid ligament to lift up the lower eyelid.

He’s right that you have a ligament that supports the lower eyelid on either end.  In the video below, I explain how the eyelid tendons and ligaments work.

But one thing you don’t have is the ability to consciously tighten your ligaments, just as you can’t directly shorten the ACL in your knee by just thinking about it.

The canthal tendon at the inner and outer corner of your eyelids are connected to the eyelid squinting sphincter muscle so when you squint, the eyelid lifts up just as a clothesline would raise up if you shortened the length of the rope.

So “tightening your eyelid ligament” and squinting are the same thing.

The real way to squinch:

Make a genuine smile with your whole face.  (it doesn’t have to be a wide smile and you don’t even have to show your teeth if that’s not how you smile)

Relax your eyebrows- don’t raise them.

Allow your cheeks to lift up and allow your eyes to squint.

Here is the key:  As you are slightly squinting and your eyes start to narrow, very gently keep your eyes open.  This should be subtle. 

Here is what happens: You have the ability to consciously open your upper eyelid using a completely different muscle, the eyelid lifting muscle called the levator palpebrae superioris. Let’s just call it the levator. The levator muscle makes the upper eyelid move up and it works against the squinting/closing of the upper eyelid caused by the eyelid sphincter.  If you stare, the levator muscle is activated, lifting the upper eyelid, but the lower eyelid doesn’t move down. There is no conscious muscle that makes the lower eyelid open or move down.

So this is the easiest way to squinch and make your face warmer and have a more attractive glow in photos.  Allow your eyes to slightly close with your genuine, full-face smile, and then very subtly open your eyes.  If you look upward just a tiny bit that will also raise your upper eyelid.  That’s it.

This will narrow the distance between the lower eyelid and the pupil without lowering the upper eyelid.

The simple squinch summarized

Don’t think about tightening a ligament or raising your lower eyelid to look better, warmer, and more attractive in photos.  Just a full face smile allowing the eyes to squint a bit, and eyes slightly open.