Our eyes, nose, mouth and face shapes vary dramatically, and besides identical twins (who are the best matches we have), no two people look the same. Ethnic origin plays a huge part in the way our faces appear, but not as much as we tend to believe – for example, skin colour is far less of an identifying factor than you might think.
Ethnicity in the absence of colour differences is very discernable if we take an uncoloured pencil drawing with no shading as an example. You can still observe ethnic differences because of our facial features because the shapes our features make override our skin tones.
Diversity of features means it can be hard to pinpoint a specific ethnicity when we look at just one feature on its own, however, there are general trends that can be mixed and matched to create our unique faces. There is quite a range of face shapes, for example, the heart-shaped face, round face, oval face, square face, rectangular face, that appear in almost every ethnicity.
The skull gives many clues into ethnic background, however, and is what creates the obvious differences in say an Asian face and a Caucasian face. Asian bone structure of the skull includes prominent cheekbones, while Caucasian cheekbones are less dramatic. The shape of the back of the skull can provide clues, but this difference in skull shape is not necessarily ethnically based.
Some eye shapes are immediately recognisable as belonging to a specific ethnic group – Asians, being the most obvious – but eye shape is otherwise not ethnicity-dependent. We can have heavily hooded eyes, deep-set eyes, almond eyes, round eyes, downturned eyes, in any ethnic group, and these shapes tend to change as we age.
Asian eyes are the most unique eyes due to the inner corner being covered (the epicanthic fold), a double or single eyelid (which is adjusted with blepharoplasty for those who aren’t a fan), downward-facing eyelashes, and sometimes the fold at the corner of the eye. European eyes, by contrast, tend to have the inner corner always exposed and an external fold at the outer edge.
Only true blue or brown eyes actually exist, with all other variations mixes of colours produced by the washes that occur across the iris, including whitewash that makes a blue eye look icy.
- A green eye upon close examination is actually a blue eye with a yellow wash over it.
- Grey is a variation of the blue pigment, with violet eyes (very rare) being the result of red blood vessels showing through the blue eye, causing it to look violet.
- A true brown eye looks structurally different to blue-based eyes, being velvety. Eye colour cannot be altered, but our eyes will change as a whole as we age.
There are some basic nose shapes that tend to match different ethnic groups, but again, almost all noses can be found in most ethnic groups. There are some exceptions to this, for example, what’s known as the ‘funnel’ nose found in many Africans is never found in Caucasians, but in turn, it is also not always found in Africans either; and Asian noses are usually small with a low bridge.
Human noses range from the hooked, droopy, aquiline, Roman, Grecian, upturned, snub, button and funnel nose shapes. Nose shape can be altered either surgically or nonsurgically with a rhinoplasty.
Lip shapes tend to vary incredibly once you start looking. It is unusual for the lower lip to be smaller than the upper lip, and women’s lips tend to be more contrasted against the skin and more noticeable than men’s. Children’s lips are closer to skin colour than an adult’s and are thinner and less textured. Anyone may get lip enhancements to change fill out their natural shape or accentuate the lip contours.
Ears are largely unchangeable, and are not subject to fashions besides earrings, due to their immovable nature being made of cartilage. Ears can be hidden or displayed, but are generally ignored unless they somehow become a feature of their own by being unbalanced compared to other facial features. Ear shape, however, is very individual if you look a bit closer.
Ear shapes tend to be variable and not ethnic-based. Ears can be ‘pinned’ back if they protrude.
Eyebrow shape varies by shape and arch height. Women’s eyebrows tend to be thinner (especially after being plucked), with men’s eyebrows being full and bushy, and undefined compared to women’s.
Eyebrows can have a brow lift applied to bring the edge of the brow up higher, and some tattooing procedures can assist those who have thin eyebrows, or for whom the eyebrow hairs fail to grow.
Chins vary and have a lot to do with genealogy and age, not just ethnic origin. Fat pads can grow under the chin with time or they could just be part of a person’s genetic makeup.
Chins can also be victims of saggy and loose skin which usually accumulate over time, but are based on individual features and the impacts of ageing. Fat pads can be removed with liposuction and chin liposuction is a very popular, safe and fairly quick procedure. Read more about chin liposuction here.
There are variations in skin type across ethnic groups, with broad differences in skin thickness, sensitivity and moisture levels.
There are some main ethnic trends in skin types:
- Caucasian skin will show signs of ageing faster than other racial groups due to a lack of protective melanin and the subsequent sun damage (wrinkling, sagging, age and sun spots, freckles, moles)
- Darker skin tends to look younger for longer
- Skin barrier function seems to be stronger in darker skin
- Asian skin has similarities with Caucasian skin with moisture loss and barrier function
- Asian skin has lower natural moisturising levels compared with Caucasian and African skin
- Skin ashing occurs in African skin due to increased shedding of the outer layer of skin cells
- African skin can have a larger pore size, increased oil production and greater skin surface bacteria
- African skin has increased mast cell granule size, meaning the chance of greater sensitivity
- Despite the mast cell granule size, skin sensitivity occurs at similar rates across all ethnic groups
- Asian skin may be more sensitive to chemicals in the environment
Last but not least, skin colour is defined by four factors: haemoglobin, oxyhaemoglobin, carotenes and melanin. Caucasian skin is pink because of the impacts of haemoglobin and oxyhaemoglobin which reflect visually as a red colour. ‘White’ people could very easily in many areas be referred to as ‘pink’ or ‘red’ people.
Melanin causes tan, brown and black skin tones, while carotenes are responsible for yellow or orange pigmentation. Humans are made up of all of these components, some more than others, creating all the variations you see around you in skin tone, even within the same genetic/ethnic group.
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