What Makes a Face

Let’s face it, there’s a lot involved in the human face.

It’s a complicated mix of physiology and psychology. The information a human face can relay is almost unending. The human face is debateably the most useful, and possibly the most underestimated, means of communication that people have.

So let’s learn a little more about the face.

The structure of the human face is made up of 14 bones. But don’t count the ears and nose in that total; they are made of cartilage.

The face reveals our emotions through expressions. The human face can create about 5,000 expressions, and all of those are created and controlled by muscles. However, it is difficult to say just how many muscles are in the human face because many of them are extremely small and overlap. The best estimates range from 40 to 90 muscles.

Perhaps the most easily recognized expression is a smile. And remember when your mom told you about it being easier to smile than to frown? It’s true. The face uses 17 muscles to smile, while it takes 43 muscles to frown. The smile is also recognized in every human culture. In fact, some studies say a smile can be identified from almost 300 feet away.

The lips form the smile, of course. But have you ever wondered why lips are red? It’s due to the large number of tiny capillaries that are just below the skin’s surface.

Sometimes smiles and laughs go together. The average person laughs about 15 times per day.

The human face is indeed complex, but we wouldn't be able to read its many expressions or process the different faces we see each day if it weren't for a particular part of our face: the eyes. And then there are the eyelids that protect them. The average human blinks about 25 times per minute. But those blinks vary. The number of eye blinks jumps to 29 if you are talking with someone but drops to about four blinks per minute if you are reading.

Finally, it turns out that the indent in the space between the nose and the upper lip, has a name. It’s called the philtrum.

These details behind the human face are just the beginning of what makes up our complex, key means of expression. And remember, if you want to relax some of those hardworking facial muscles, just turn that frown upsidedown.

— Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog! 

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