6 Facial Expressions That Mean Someone Is Lying, Therapists Say
Keep an eye out for these to determine if someone is trying to evade the truth.
Dealing with someone who isn't being truthful is complicated. First, you have to figure out if someone is actually lying to you, and second, you have to grapple with why they're being dishonest. Friends and partners might withhold the truth for any number of reasons, which makes the question of "why" a tricky one to solve. But even if someone won't admit they're lying, certain facial expressions might give them away—if you know what to look for.
"The facial signs of a person lying can be very subtle and, at times, hard to detect," Colleen Wenner, LMHC, MCAP, LPC, founder & clinical director of New Heights Counseling & Consulting, LLC, tells Best Life. "Be careful not to draw a conclusion based on one sign, but look for several signals of deceit."
Wenner adds that you should identify three signs or more in total, but that shouldn't take too long, as most liars give you a sign within minutes or even seconds. Read on to find out the six facial expressions therapists say can indicate someone is lying to you.
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If you notice that someone is avoiding eye contact with you, it's a clear sign that they aren't telling you the truth, a New York-based therapist and neuropsychologist shares with us.
"If someone is lying, [they] might steal their eyes from you at a crucial moment," she says. "Moving eyes around could be a symbol as they ponder over what things to say next."
Similarly, Wenner says that their eyes may "dart around" when lying. "The rolling of the eyes, or darting around, are also indicators that a person is lying," she offers. "It may happen subconsciously, but it's still noticeable."
Tightened jaw and forehead
Liars also tend to tense up when they're not being truthful, and this can include tightening the jaw and forehead. Both are connected to the "mental effort and stress" associated with telling a lie, according to Wenner.
"They concentrate harder on what they're saying than simply telling the truth," she explains. "They have to think about what they're going to say, how it will sound, and whether their story makes sense. The forehead muscles, therefore, tense up."
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Pursed or dry lips
The mouth can also give away a lie, but different people will display different signs. According to the neuropsychologist we spoke to, this has to do with the fact that lying "triggers your body's automatic nervous system."
This can lead to dryness in the mouth, she says, which may cause a liar to lick or bite their lips to control for the lack of moisture. If their mouth is both dry and tight, you can be even more certain that you're dealing with someone sketchy.
"Liars' mouths get tight when they try to control what they're about to say with lips pursed together and slightly curled downwards," Wenner says. "The automatic reaction is to keep the mouth closed and suppress the truth."
Sameera Sullivan, relationship expert and matchmaker, adds that pursed lips can indicate they want to avoid the topic of discussion altogether. "It's a reflexive instinct, indicating they don't want to speak," she notes, adding that a liar may even "roll their lips back" until you can't see them as a way to "lie by omission."
Just as lying can lead to dryness in the mouth, it can also lead to dryness in the eyes, experts say. The neuropsychologist points out that this might result in liars squinting or blinking "excessively" to control for dryness, but Wenner suggests that they may blink to appear more at ease with the conversation.
"Blinking is usually involuntary and unconscious," Wenner tells Best Life. "However, liars tend to blink more often than ordinary people because they want to appear calm and relaxed."
On the flip side, if someone isn't blinking at all, it should send up red flags, according to Joseph Puglisi, CEO of Dating Iconic. "If they can tell their story without batting an eyelid or talking without emotions, then they may be lying," he says.
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A complete shift in expression
Be on alert if someone's facial expression changes entirely during a conversation, Wenner says, particularly if their face "shifts from neutral to negative" and look for signs of anger, fear, sadness, or disgust.
"A person's facial expressions change depending on what they are thinking," she explains. "The mind and body tend to communicate through the face. If you see a person's face shift from neutral to negative emotion when questioning them in search of the truth, then you know something has changed and they may be about to lie."
In addition, their face may become paler if they feel like they've been caught. "Have you ever seen someone's skin turn white as a ghost when they speak? Given that this indicates blood flowing out of the face, that might mean they are lying," Sullivan suggests.
Of course, sometimes the sign of lying is less an expression and more something happening to their face. Many of us know that lying is associated with sweating, but it can be discreet with a well-seasoned liar. You'll want to pay attention to specific areas on their face that may become damp when evading the truth. Similar to dryness, this is related to fluctuations in the nervous system, according to Sullivan.
Sweat may accumulate in the T-zone—which includes the forehead, nose, upper lip, and chin. As with all these signs, there can always be another explanation (like a hot day), so it's important to check for multiple suspicious facial expressions before accusing anyone of dishonesty.