How to Read Lip Expressions and Facial Expressions

Learning how to read lip expressions and facial expressions will increase your ability to understand people’s feelings and also help you upgrade your emotional intelligence. Learning to read micro expressions and facial gestures, also includes reading lips. And no, we are not talking about reading the words off people’s lips from a distance. We are talking about the emotion and thoughts behind micro movements of the lips. Lip expressions will show you more than words tell.

Lip expressions are one great exhibitor of the seven universal micro expressions.  They can show you if a person is truly happy, angry, sad, disgusted, surprised, scared, or contemptuous. Those emotions, in turn, can help you determine if a person is being open and honest with you, regardless of what their words or controlled facial expressions may be expressing.

Your Lips Don’t Lie

Lip expressions and micro movements are controlled by the limbic brain, which is the part of the brain involved in our behavioural and emotional responses. Micro expressions convey reflexive emotional responses that reveal a person’s natural reaction, as opposed to the controlled reaction that quickly follows. 

Because micro expressions occur in a flash, you must practice training your eye to see key movements. I will explain in the article and in my video How to Read Lip Expressions, what are the keys to look for when you read lip expressions, the micro-lip-movements. What exactly to identify when trying to figure out if a person is being honest with you:

Disappearing Lips

When you observe that the lips “disappear” as the person compresses their lips together or sucks them back into their mouth. The lips or chin may quiver, and the edges of the mouth are often turned down.

This lip expression or micro expression can be translated as doubt (they don’t believe what they are saying), exaggeration (of the truth, perhaps), or holding something back (like the whole truth). It can also represent the person is experiencing stress, nervousness, and tension. By compressing their lips, a person is literally keeping themselves from speaking.

Elvis Lips

One side of the upper lip is pulled upward toward the nose.

According to research as far back as Darwin, this is a universal sign of disgust. When a person exhibits this emotion, it usually means they disagree or dislike whatever stimulus caused the reaction.

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Lip Biting

The lip expression of lip biting, centrally or to the side but typically, they bit the bottom lip. Tongue biting is sometimes exhibited instead, where a person sticks their tongue between their teeth, usually to the side. Tongue biting is harder to see but means the same as lip biting.

This lip expression or micro expression shows stress and uncertainty. By biting their lip or tongue, the person is physically stopping themselves from saying something or holding back feelings. This movement is also used as a comforting action, where the physical pressure of their teeth on their lip or tongue serves as a distraction from their thoughts or emotions.

Pursed Lips

So how to read lips? The pursed Lips are pulled inward from all directions. Similar to kissing lips, but the lips pulled in more tightly. This reaction can be seen in babies as early as four weeks old.

The lip purse body language movement reveals tension, frustration, disapproval, and anger. It is effectively holding the mouth shut to keep the person from saying what they want to say. Often tied to dishonesty, this lip expression or micro expression is often used by people who are evaluating their options and deciding which option to go with. Often, those options are: should I lie, or should I tell the truth?

No Micro Expression for Lying

There is no micro expression that is directly linked to deception. But as you can see from the above examples, we can observe many emotions through micro-expressions that are often linked to lying. When a person’s micro expressions reveal their physical reflex to “seal their lips” or “bite their tongue”, you can assert they are holding something back. Whether they are holding back, the truth is left up to context but can be further supported by other, simultaneous facial micro expressions and body language.

Be sure to visit our blog often. Subsequent articles will cover more micro expressions and body language that can give you a glimpse of a person’s true thoughts and feelings.

If you want to learn how to uncover a person’s true thoughts and feelings, John English offers a Reading Others Workshop: Discover Truth About Lies. There is limited space for this powerful two-day workshop on reading others and learning to make sense of truth and lies.

Learn to read people like a book!
Check-out Our On-Demand Body Language Training Course

You will learn:

  • How to communicate more powerfully
  • How to communicate more effectively
  • How to read others more accurately
  • How to command a stronger presence in a group setting
  • To become a more effective leader
  • The value of listening and paying attention
  • Knowing how to read others is important, when you are speaking in public, leading a seminar or conference.


Key Takeaways

Learning to read lip expressions and facial expressions enhances emotional intelligence and understanding of people’s feelings.

These micro movements, controlled by the limbic brain, reveal genuine emotional responses, often conflicting with spoken words.

Disappearing lips indicate doubt, exaggeration, or stress, while “Elvis lips” signify universal disgust. Lip biting reflects stress and holding back emotions, while pursed lips indicate frustration, disapproval, and possible dishonesty.

Although there’s no direct micro expression for lying, observing these cues, along with simultaneous facial expressions and body language, can unveil hidden emotions and thoughts.

Mastering these skills can empower communication, leadership, and public speaking, enabling individuals to decode unspoken messages effectively.

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