What's In A Face?

Before you decide to make any changes to your appearance, it’s only prudent to gain some knowledge on the basics before you venture into a world of many choices. In the interest of making an educated and more informed decision we’ve compiled some facial structure basics for a better understanding of differences in the human face - as it is seen in the real world from a non-medical perspective.

1. Male vs. Female Faces

As is the case with the rest of the body, male and female faces vary from the extreme characteristics of their gender, to androgynous ambiguity. This section covers the former – the extremes of female and male features displayed in the face.

The very first difference between a male and a female face is how pronounced and square the male jaw is compared to the soft curve of a female jaw. Other lines of the face are equally harder in males: the brow pronounced while it's more rounded in females. The chin is also more pronounced.

Typically, a female cranium is overall smaller than a male’s, also the neck more slender. Eyebrows are thinner and neater while lips are generally fuller with a higher contrast in colour. The male eyebrows are lower over the eyes and thicker and males generally have a tendency of more hair on their body. Men's lips tend to be thinner, but the mouth is wider. The eyelashes of grown women are longer and more visible, even without makeup.

2. The Face Over Time

Facial features and proportions change quite a bit with age.

Younger Faces

Before adolescence, there is little to no difference between male and female faces. Prior to sexual maturity children are quite androgynous in the face, and are only really identified, when we think of it, by the way they are dressed and their hair is cut.

As an adolescent (twelve to seventeen years of age) we are in every way between childhood and adulthood, every feature being close to its adult state but still retaining something childish (to different degrees depending if an individual is closer to twelve or to seventeen).

The most noticeable difference with adult faces at this age is the size of the eyes, which are still large. Our eyebrows however are now fuller, and lower on the eyes which in-turn adds to changes in our expressions. At this age our nose looks longer, even if it's still slightly upturned. Also, there is also a clear difference between male and female traits.

The Adult Face

Young adults (eighteen to thirties) are probably the most celebrated in Western culture. The features are at their peak appearance: chiselled nose, gazed toned down and matured by eyelid folds that are now visible, our facial contours show more bone and muscle structure than soft flesh. At this age a women's lips are at their most fleshy, and men's facial hair is it’s strongest.

Dark-haired men will often have a shadow around the jaw even when they’re shaved.

In late adulthood (our forties and fifties) there is not a dramatic change, but small ones start creep in - Eyelids are heavier, crow's feet begin to show as well as other lines. We may start to show a downward fold at the corners of the mouth, expression lines linking the latter to the wings of the nose, and possibly lines at the root of the nose.

The Older Face

In our sixties and onward, all these lines increase. Worry and frown lines, as well as smile lines, become permanent. Pockets may appear under the eyes. Around this age our skin begins to lose its elasticity and starts to “hang” at the jaws which results in a less firm jawline aesthetically.

From our sixties the female face starts to lose its youthful femininity, and by one's seventies, menopause having levelled the hormonal field, the only real difference between the two sexes is that a female's hairline recedes little while a male may be all lost by this stage. Also at this age veins, blemishes and age spots appear as the skin becomes thinner. The earlobes and tip of the nose give way to gravity and slightly droop. The colour of our iris loses intensity and our lips too lose colour. New lines appear above the lip and in the neck, while the cheeks become more hollowed out for various reason.

3. General Shape of the Face

This diagram shows the difference face shapes we perceive (they are more subtle in reality):

  1. Round: Appears equal in length and width, with rounded jawline and hairline.
  2. Oval: A reversed egg shape, narrowest in the chin and widest in the middle.
  3. Oblong: A long face almost even in width. It can be narrow or broad.
  4. Diamond: Narrow chin and forehead, face widest in the middle.
  5. Triangular and Heart-shaped: They are the same in terms of a face narrowest in the pointed chin and widest on top, but the one is framed by a straight hairline, the other a widow's peak.
  6. Inverted Triangle: Like Rectangular, but with a narrow chin that creates more angles in the shape.
  7. Pear-shaped (or Trapezoidal): Widest at the chin and narrowest at the forehead, very full jawline.
  8. Square: Appears equal in length and width, with squared jawline and straight hairline.
  9. Rectangular (or Long, or Oblong): Like Square, but longer than it is wide.

4. The Eyes and Typical Eye Shapes

Here are some well-known eye shapes independent of ethnicity:

The Almond eye is characterised by the upswept lift at the outer corner. In Hooded eyes, which can be present from birth or develop with age, a fold of skin hides the natural crease in the eyelid. In deep-set eyes, the eyelid crease is set back so that upper eyelid is hidden in shadow. Round eyes appear more open than usual, due to more curve in the lower part. Sleepy eyes have droopy eyelids. In downturned eyes, the eyelid curves down at the outer corner.

One other eye shape that needs study is distinctly ethnic: the Asian eye.

The best-known identifier of Asian ethno-types is the epicanthic fold (or epicanthal fold, or epicanthus). This is a skin fold of the upper eyelid, from the nose to the inner side of the eyebrow, that covers the inner corner of the eye. As a result the inner corner looks lower, making the eye look slanted (aka almond-shaped). How much the inner corner is covered, and how pronounced the fold is on the outer corner, both vary. When the eyes are closed, the inner corners point down noticeably.

There are two variations on the Asian eye. One is known as double-eyelid: the eyelid is creased like in Western eyes, but closer to the eyelashes. In the other, known as single-eyelid, there is no crease at all (therefore no "eyelid line" to draw), only smooth “padded” skin over the eye.

Typically speaking, Western eyes look bigger than Asian eyes, but that’s simply due to the absence of the epicanthic fold and the constant exposure of the inner corner. In the West we can broadly say that the further North you go, the smaller the eyes are, while around the Mediterranean they are large enough to look feminine.

5. The Nose

Basic nose shapes are as follows but this may very well be governed by ethnicity. Indeed the nose is the most distinctive Caucasian feature as it projects well forward of the eyes, has a high root and bridge, and wings usually pressed-in. In contrast, the Asian noses are typically small, with a low nasal bridge, and minimal projection; the characteristic African nose is broad and flat, with flaring wings that are merged with the ball of the nose. While Asian and African noses show the nostrils from the front, Caucasian noses more frequently show them from the sides if at all.

  • Hooked: Has a broken profile
  • Droopy: The tip droops very low, an effect of ageing.
  • Aquiline: Means "eagle-like”, in reference to the shape of an eagle's beak. In fact it has more or less pronounced convex curve.
  • Roman: A very slightly aquiline shape.
  • Grecian: Drops straight down from the forehead.
  • Button: Rounded and small, with the tip turned up, but so slightly the nostril openings don't show. The child version is worth noting as it's common to all babies and children before their nose takes it adult shape.
  • Upturned: The contrary of aquiline, a concave curve.
  • Snub or Blunt or Pug: A short and upturned nose. Often found in Asian types.
  • Funnel: Specific to African types, but not all African types have it!

6. The Lips

Here are the better-known lip shapes. They can be accentuated or even created with make-up, but females have more contrasting lips to begin with. Males lips display these in a more attenuated fashion (and their lips are relatively less fleshy) so they're usually not so noticeable.

  • Natural and Pointy Natural are two variants of the basic default shape (from a Eurocentric standpoint, that is).
  • Thin lips: It’s common for the upper lip alone to be thin, but the reverse is very rare.
  • Cupid's Bow: An exaggerated feminine shape.
  • Uni-lip: The peaks are joined in a single line.
  • Beestung: a narrow and very full mouth shape, fashionable in the early 20's and usually achieved with makeup.
  • Smear: Wide lips with spaced peaks, popular in the 40's.
  • Glamour: The upper lip is fuller than the lower.

7. The Eyebrows

The shape of the eyebrows is determined by two factors: their overall basic shape, and the height of their arch. Female eyebrows are thinner, particularly as they tend to be plucked (and a natural shape can be altered completely by this), while male eyebrows are fuller and bushier, their shape not necessarily "clean" as they're left in their natural state. Below are the basic shapes for females and males, and how they look with low and high arch.