Facial Muscles

Facial muscles work together to control the parts of your face. They are essential to chewing and making facial expressions. If you experience weakness or paralysis in your face muscles, seek medical attention. Although facial palsy can be a sign of a temporary, curable condition, it may also indicate a serious medical problem.


Medical illustration of facial muscles
Facial Muscles: Anatomy, Function, Common Conditions & Disorders

What are the facial muscles?

Your face has almost 20 flat skeletal muscles that attach to different places on your skull. The craniofacial muscles are essential to chewing and making facial expressions. They originate from bone or fascia and insert into your skin. Craniofacial muscles work together to control movements in your:

  • Cheeks.
  • Chin.
  • Ears (only in some people).
  • Eyebrows.
  • Eyelids.
  • Forehead.
  • Lips (upper and lower).
  • Nose and nostrils.


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What is the purpose of the muscles of your face?

Your facial muscles are responsible for two major tasks:

  • Chewing (also called masticating).
  • Making facial expressions, such as smiling, pouting or raising your eyebrows in surprise.

The facial muscles involved in chewing are:

  • Buccinator, a thin muscle in your cheek that holds each cheek toward your teeth.
  • Lateral pterygoid, a fan-shaped muscle that helps your jaw open.
  • Masseter, a muscle that runs from each cheek to each side of your jaw and helps your jaw close.
  • Medial pterygoid, a thick muscle that helps your jaw close.
  • Temporalis, a fan-shaped muscle that helps your jaw close.

The muscles of facial expressions are:

  • Auriculars, which allow some people to move their ears.
  • Corrugator supercilii, which is near the eyebrow and enables frowning.
  • Depressor anguli oris, which is on each side of your chin and works with other muscles to produce a frown.
  • Depressor labii inferioris, a muscle in your chin that helps control movement in your lower lip.
  • Levator labii superioris alaeque nasi, which can open your nostrils and lift your upper lip.
  • Mentalis, a pair of muscles toward the center of your chin that helps control your lower lip.
  • Nasalis, which allows you to flare your nostrils.
  • Occipitofrontalis, a muscle that extends from your eyebrows to the top of your skull that can raise your eyebrows and wrinkle your forehead.
  • Orbicularis oculi, which closes your eyelids.
  • Orbicularis oris, a circle of muscle around your mouth that closes or purses your lips.
  • Procerus, a muscle between your eyebrows that can pull your brows downward and help flare your nostrils.
  • Risorius, which is located on each side of your mouth and aids in smiling.
  • Zygomaticus major and minor, which allow you to smile.

Other functions of the muscles of your face include:

  • Determining what a person looks like.
  • Protecting your eyes.
  • Keeping food and drink in your mouth (preventing drooling).
  • Talking.
  • Singing.
  • Whistling.


Where are the face muscles located?

Facial muscles are located throughout your face. They can be categorized by general location:

  • Buccolabial muscles in and around your mouth.
  • Nasal muscles around your nose.
  • Epicranial muscles of your forehead, skull and neck.
  • Auricular muscles around your ears.
  • Orbital muscles surrounding your eyes.


Conditions and Disorders

What conditions and disorders can affect the facial muscles?

To function, the facial muscles get signals from the brain via the facial nerve. But sometimes, they can’t receive those signals properly.

When the facial muscles cannot receive brain signals properly, that can cause:

  • Droopy or sagging appearance in the face.
  • Facial palsy (weakness).
  • Facial paralysis (inability to move parts of the face).
  • Trouble chewing, speaking or making facial expressions.
  • Drooling.

Symptoms can occur:

  • All over your face.
  • In one specific area.
  • On the left or right side.
  • On the top or bottom half.

Damage to the facial nerve and problems with the facial muscles can be caused by:

  • Autoimmune disease: Diseases such as Guillain-Barré syndrome or multiple sclerosis can cause facial palsy over time.
  • Bell’s palsy: When swelling puts pressure on the facial nerve, Bell’s palsy can cause facial weakness or paralysis on one or both sides of your face. It almost always leads to a complete inability to wrinkle your forehead. Bell’s palsy happens suddenly but is usually temporary.
  • Head and neck cancer: In head and neck cancer, a growing tumor can interfere with facial muscle function over time.
  • Infection: A bacterial or viral infection can cause inflammation of the facial nerve and problems in the muscles of the face. Examples include ear infections, Lyme disease or Ramsay-Hunt syndrome.
  • Injury to the head or face: Facial trauma, such as a blow to the head or car accident, can damage the facial nerve and facial muscles.
  • Stroke: A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked or bursts. It can cause sudden facial weakness or paralysis. Other signs may include paralysis on one side of the body, confusion, memory loss and trouble communicating. A person who has had a stroke can usually still wrinkle the forehead, unlike with Bell’s palsy.

Additional Common Questions

Should I seek medical attention for facial weakness or facial paralysis?

You should seek medical attention right away if you have any facial weakness or facial paralysis.

It might just be a temporary case of Bell’s palsy or a treatable infection. But a healthcare provider should examine you in case you have something more serious, such as a tumor or stroke.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Your facial muscles work together to control the parts of your face. They are essential to chewing, facial expressions and other functions. Weakness or paralysis of your face muscles can be a temporary condition or a serious medical problem. See a healthcare provider right away if you have facial palsy or any trouble smiling, talking or eating.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 08/04/2021.

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