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Facial Anatomy & Proportions

Our face shape is created by the underlying bone and muscle structure. A makeup artist should understand facial anatomy to carry out their work effectively. 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.

A skull is the bony structure that forms the head. It supports the facial structures and provides a protective cavity for the brain. It is composed of two main parts:

  • Cranium – a series of joined bones, which allow for very little movement.
  • Mandible – the moving lower jaw.

In the human skull these two parts are known as:

  • Neurocranium – the protective structure surrounding the brain.
  • Viscerocranium – the bones that create the face structure.
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

Some of the muscles found in the face.

Muscles are either cardiacstriated 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. 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. Likewise, 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. For example, we can add tension, anger or sadness by adding lines and shading to the brow.

The muscles, along with the skin, also contribute to our looking older by sagging and creating lines and wrinkles. This 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 faces out there.

Facial Harmony

For facial harmony to exist, there has to be a balance between all the features. This means that no individual feature of the face exists in isolation. So, if one feature is changed, it can have an effect on 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 – it is simply that their facial harmony has been changed by the surgery.


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. This 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 sides mirrored to create a facial image. 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. This is what makes us recognisable as a male or female human. In essence, facial geometry is a blueprint to how we look.

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

Let’s take a simple example. Our eyes can be used as a system of measurement. Your face is about five eyes wide. There is also one eye’s width between your eyes. Also, eyes are situated in the centre of the head – situated 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 just need to know how features relate to each other generally. By knowing this, we can use makeup to change the perceived size, shape and relationship of our features.

Facial proportions - how the face is "five eyes wide" (Photo courtesy of http://macksnotebook.blogspot.co.uk)

How This is Used in Makeup

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

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

Natural and beauty makeup is about balancing features through contouring like 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 set 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.
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9 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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