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Facial Anatomy & Proportions

A makeup artist should understand facial anatomy and proportions to carry out their work effectively. Prosthetic work also needs a solid knowledge of anatomy and how the body is proportioned. Likewise, knowing the bones of the skull is important for hairdressing. This post looks at how our faces are proportioned and structured – and how we use this knowledge to create and change.

A skull is a bony structure that forms the head, creating our facial anatomy and structure. It also provides a protective cavity for the brain.

The skull is composed of two main parts:

  • Cranium – a series of joined bones.
  • Mandible – the lower jaw, which is the only moving part in the skull.

The human skull can also be divided into:

  • Neurocranium – the protective structure surrounding the brain.
  • Viscerocranium – the bones that create the face structure.
facial anatomy and 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 (joined) bones: 1) the small thin lacrimal bone that sits in the inner eye. 2) the frontal bone. 3) the ethmoid bone. 4) the zygomatic bone (cheeks). 5) the upper jaw maxillary bone. 6) the tiny palatine bone in the back of the socket. 7) the sphenoid bone.

Bones of the Head

  • Occipital bone – is 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

facial anatomy and the facial muscles
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 voluntary movement. That is, we are in control of it. So when we frown, smile and gurn generally, we control that movement using our muscles.
  • The 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. Likewise, the muscles around the mouth are essential for speech.

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

The muscles and skin contribute to our looking older by sagging and creating lines and wrinkles. It is important to understand when creating an ageing makeup.

Facial Proportions & Symmetry

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

Facial Harmony

For facial harmony to exist, there has to be a balance between all the features. It means that no facial feature exists individually or in isolation. So, if one feature is changed, it can affect the balance of the face as a whole.

For example, someone has plastic surgery on their face that is not balanced. In due course, we see that person and note there is a difference. We don’t necessarily know what has been done – just that, somehow, their facial harmony is changed.


To understand symmetry, imagine drawing a line straight down the middle of your face. Go down your forehead, nose, lips, and chin. The features on either side of this line roughly mirror 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.

No one’s face is perfectly symmetrical. (L to R): Left side mirrored, Unaltered face; Right side mirrored.

For example, look at the picture of Uma and George. It shows 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 side of their face mirrored. Likewise, the right image shows the right side of their face mirrored.

When we do this, it is easier to see that each half of the face has subtle differences. In conclusion, no one’s face is perfectly symmetrical. However, nature does a pretty good job of making each side look reasonably identical.

Facial Geometry & Proportions

Faces have a pattern of geometry, and our faces work to a mathematical pattern. It is what makes us recognisable as male or female. In essence, facial geometry is a blueprint for how we look.

It gives us a guide to how a face is proportioned and laid out – and the whole body follows a formula for its proportions.

Let’s take a simple example using our eyes as a measurement – your face is about five eyes wide. There is also one eye’s width between your eyes. Eyes are also situated in the centre of the head – equally from the top of the skull and chin.

Ultimately, there is a whole science behind facial proportions, but we’re not going to get that deep. Of course, there are many books on the subject, should you want to know more.

Face recognition technology uses facial geometry by measuring the known relationships between our features. Similarly, artists and forensic modellers use the same geometric principles.

As for makeup artists, we simply need to know how features relate to each other generally. With this knowledge, we can use makeup to change the perceived size, shape and relationship of someone’s features.

facial anatomy
Facial proportions – how the face is “five eyes wide” (Photo courtesy of

How This is Used in Makeup

A makeup artist should understand basic facial anatomy. So, look at how the muscles lie, how they move and how they contribute to expression and ageing.

Furthermore, know where the bones start, end and how they are shaped. You can use this knowledge to empower your makeup.

Natural and beauty makeup is about balancing features through contouring, 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 a highlighter in the inner corners of the eyes to create the illusion that they are further apart. Likewise, we use a highlighter on cheeks to push someone’s face out wider, balancing a long face. Shading can make a feature look less prominent. And so on.

When creating characters, we use the same principles. We can also use these principles in reverse to go against the norm, creating quirks or oddness in a face.

Find Out More


Erian A., Shiffman M. A. eds. (2011). Advanced Surgical Facial Rejuvenation: Art and Clinical Practice.  London: Springer Heidelburg Dordrecht.

Papel D. I. ed. (2009). Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.  New York: Thieme.

10 thoughts on “Facial Anatomy & Proportions”

  1. Wow! I’m a freelance makeup artist, though i know most of things shared, my understanding has been deepen. Thank you and God bless you big

  2. I agree, I found the article very helpful, too. I was seeking a map of the muscles of the face and related information. Thank you very much for posting this!

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