Facial Anatomy and Proportions

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Our face shape is created by the underlying bone and muscle structure. A makeup artist should understand facial anatomy and proportions to be able to enhance a person’s features, to create the makeup and character look required, or to make an actor or stunt double look like someone else. Prosthetic work needs a solid knowledge of anatomy and how the body is proportioned. For hairdressing, knowing the bones of the cranium is important for sectioning and cutting lines, as well as understanding facial proportions for styling.

The Skull

A skull is composed of two main parts: the cranium and the mandible. The cranium is a series of joined bones, which allow for very little movement, and the mandible is the moving lower jaw.

The human skull can also be divided into two categorical parts: the neurocranium and the viscerocranium. The neurocranium is the protective structure surrounding the brain and the viscerocranium is formed by the bones supporting the face.

The bones of the skull
Alas, poor Yorick. The bones of the human skull.

Bones of the Face

  • Nose: the two bones that sit side by side and form the bridge of the nose are called the nasal bones. We can make this look wider or narrower with contouring, create a broken nose or correct a wonky nose.
  • Temple: the slightly concave temple area at the side of our eyes has the temporal and sphenoid bones sitting underneath it.
  • Cheeks: our prominent cheeks are created by the zygomatic bones. Highlighting on the top make cheeks look wider, and shading underneath creates shape and depth.
  • Jaw: consists of the upper jaw area made up of two maxilla, and the lower jaw – the moving and powerful mandible. We can define a jawline with a little shading under the jaw bone.
  • Eye: the eye socket or orbit is formed by seven articulated (i.e. joined) bones: the small thin lacrimal bone that sits in the inner eye; the frontal bone; the ethmoid bone; the zygomatic bone (cheeks); the upper jaw maxillary bone; the tiny palatine bone in the back of the socket and the sphenoid bone.

Bones of the Head

  • Occipital bone: the bone that creates the curve at the back of the head just before the nape. Often used in hairdressing as a reference point for cutting.
  • Parietal bone: sits under the crown.
  • Temporal bone: which helps to create the indentation at the temple.
  • Frontal bone: forms the forehead.

Muscles of the Face

Muscles of the face
Some of the muscles found in the face

Muscles are either cardiac, striated or non-striated:

  • Striated muscles are attached to the bones and allow us the freedom of voluntarily movement i.e. we are in control of it. So when we frown, smile and gurn generally, we control that movement using our muscles. These are the muscles we work with.
  • Cardiac muscle is in the heart
  • Non-striated muscles (also known as smooth muscles) are generally involuntary and work automatically.

There are lots of muscles in the face. They allow us to move our faces to make expressions and to communicate, and the muscles around the mouth are important for speech.

We can use makeup to convey an emotion or to add to a character’s disposition e.g. adding lines and shading to the brow can add tension, anger or sadness.

It is also the muscles, along with the skin, that contribute to our looking older by sagging and creating lines and wrinkles – this is important to understand this when creating an ageing makeup.

Facial Proportions and Symmetry

Proportions, angles and contours of the face vary with age, sex and race – giving rise to the myriad of faces out there.

Facial Harmony

For facial harmony to exist, there has to be a balance between all the features. No individual component of the face exists in isolation, and changing any one part of the face has an affect on the face as a whole.

That’s why when someone has even a discrete plastic surgical procedure, we may not know what has been done specifically, but we can spot that there is some sort of difference in the person’s face as a whole.


You can draw a line right down the middle of our face – going down through the forehead, nose, lips and chin – and the features on either side roughly match each other. Note: roughly!

No one’s face is perfectly symmetrical and minor differences occur in everyone. Some differences are just more or less noticeable than others.

Facial anatomy and symmetry
No one’s face is perfectly symmetrical.

For example, look at the picture of Uma and George, showing how faces are not perfectly symmetrical, though, in their case, still looking pretty good. The centre picture is their real face, just as it is; the left image shows the left sides mirrored; and the right image shows the right side of their face mirrored.

Facial Geometry

While everyone’s face does vary, there is still a pattern of geometry and mathematics at work, giving us a guide as to how a face is proportioned; indeed the whole body follows a “proportion formula”.

Take your eyes, for example – your face’s width is about “five eyes wide”. There is “one eye’s width” between your eyes.

There is a whole science behind facial proportions, but we’re not going to get that deep and, for those interested, there are lots of books on the subject. All we need to know is how features relate to each other generally, and how we use makeup to change the perceived size and shape of our features.

Facial anatomy and proportions
Facial proportions – how the face is “five eyes wide” (Photo courtesy of http://macksnotebook.blogspot.co.uk)

Natural and beauty makeup is about balancing features through contouring – the highlighting and shading. Therefore, you can change the perceived distance between features, or how prominent something looks.

For example, if eyes look “close set”, we use highlighter in the inner corners of the eyes to create the illusion that the eyes are set a little further apart.

Likewise, we use highlighter on cheeks to push someone’s face out wider to balance a long face, or use shading to shorten a long chin. And so on.

If we are creating characters, we can use exactly the same principles. Sometimes we use these principles in reverse to go against “the norm”, creating quirks or oddness in a face.

In summary, know your facial anatomy! Look at how the muscles lie, how they move and how they contribute to expression and ageing. Know where the bones start and finish and how they are shaped. Understand how features lie in relation to each other. On a side note, have you ever seen a forensic facial reconstruction of someone using just their skull as a starting point? Impressive stuff. Now, go stretch your zygomaticus and run free!

Find Out More:

Erian A., Shiffman M. A. eds. 2011. Advanced Surgical Facial Rejuvenation: Art and Clinical Practice. Springer Heidelburg Dordrecht. London. 740pp.
Papel D. I. ed. 2009. Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. Thieme. New York. 1200pp.

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