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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 composed of two main parts:

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

The human skull can also be divided into two main parts:

  • Neurocranium – the protective structure surrounding the brain.
  • Viscerocranium – is formed by the bones supporting the face.
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, 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. For example, by adding lines and shading to the brow, we 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 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. No individual component of the face exists in isolation, and changing any one part of the face has an effect on the face as a whole.

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


A line can be drawn right down the middle of your face, going down through the forehead, nose, lips and chin. 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.

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. Then, the left image shows the left sides mirrored. Likewise, 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 formula for its proportions.

Eyes, for example, 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.

There is a whole science behind facial proportions, but we’re not going to get that deep. Of course, there are lots of books on the subject, should you want to know more. All we need to know is how features relate to each other generally. By knowing this, we can use makeup to change the perceived size and shape 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

As a makeup artist, you should understand basic 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. You can use this knowledge to empower your makeup.

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

If we are creating characters, we can use the same principles. Sometimes we 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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