Details from dignity to decay: facial expression lines in visual arts

Dermatol Surg. 2003 Oct;29(10):1039-43. doi: 10.1046/j.1524-4725.2003.29297.x.


Background: A number of dermatologic procedures are intended to reduce facial wrinkles. This article is about wrinkles as a statement of art.

Objective: This article explores how frown lines and other facial wrinkles are used in visual art to feature personal peculiarities and accentuate specific feelings or moods. Facial lines as an artistic element emerged with advanced painting techniques evolving during the Renaissance and following periods. The skill to paint fine details, the use of light and shadow, and the understanding of space that allowed for a three-dimensional presentation of the human face were essential prerequisites. Painters used facial lines to emphasize respected values such as dignity, determination, diligence, and experience. Facial lines, however, were often accentuated to portrait negative features such as anger, fear, aggression, sadness, exhaustion, and decay. This has reinforced a cultural stigma of facial wrinkles expressing not only age but also misfortune, dismay, or even tragedy.

Conclusion: Removing wrinkles by dermatologic procedures may not only aim to make people look younger but also to liberate them from unwelcome negative connotations. On the other hand, consideration and care must be taken-especially when interfering with facial muscles-to preserve a natural balance of emotional facial expressions.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Emotions
  • Face
  • Facial Expression*
  • Female
  • Human Body*
  • Human Characteristics*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Paintings*
  • Personality
  • Skin Aging*