Setting the features

Setting the features

Setting the features is a mortuary term that refers to the closing of the eyes and the mouth of a deceased person (and in the case of males, the shaving of any stubble) such that the cadaver is presentable as being in a state of rest and repose, and thus suitable for viewing. (While it is one of the first stages of embalming, it also is done as a token of respect even when the deceased is not viewed or is directly cremated.) Only when the deceased (or their family) have specifically requested the body be untouched are the features left unset. Some embalmers, particularly older practitioners and those trained in the United Kingdom, will set features after the arterial injection phase of embalming is complete.


"Setting the features" is usually performed only when the family has selected embalming or wishes the view and/or identify unembalmed remains. Aside from these specific instances, it is not recommended that an embalmer perform any invasive procedure without express family permission, though as mentioned it is customary to set the features if anyone other than funeral service personnel will view the remains.

Setting the features involves several steps including 1) closing the eyes 2) securing the mandible 3) posing the lips. While this sounds simple, the subtle nuances in facial expressions can affect the appearance of the 'final product'. An embalmer must understand the natural and acquired features of the face, linear relations between facial features (i.e. the canon of beauty), the effects of disease and dehydration (ante- and postmortem changes) on the lips, and use this knowledge to RESTORE the deceased with a natural, pleasant facial posture. Merely preserving the corpse is not sufficient. Missing teeth, dentures, or manidbular atrophy can add complications to feature setting.

'Closing the eyes' is achieved using either cotton or an eyecap beneath the lid, with the lids connected by glue. A typical human eye has twice as much upper lid than lower, and the eyelashes point downward at about a 45 degree angle.

An embalmer may set the mandible with a needle injector or various techniques using ligature and a 3/8" curved cutting-edge needle (though any postmortem needle may be used depending on preference.). There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods.

Setting the features is also a continuing task before, during, and after embalming. Most embalmers will set the mandible at the proper angle and manipulate the lips throughout the embalming process as required. Cotton or mortuary mastics are used behind the lips to give them proper elevation and support as the body firms.

Subtle changes can be made following embalming by injecting 'feature builder' into the lips, waxing the line of closure, or adding/subtracting the underlying cotton or mastic. Super glue is used to close the lips and to prevent sepraration as the body dehydrates.


* Abrams, J.L. Embalming. 2008.
* Frederick, L.G. & Strub, Clarence. The Principles and Practice of Embalming (Fifth Edition) Professional Training Schools Inc & Robertine Frederick. 1989
* Mayer, Robert G. Embalming: History, Theory and Practice. Appleton & Lange. 1990

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