Active contours are an attractive choice to extract the head boundary, for deployment within a face recognition or model-based coding scenario. However, conventional snake approaches can suffer difficulty in initialisation and parameterisation. A dual active contour configuration using dynamic programming has been developed to resolve these difficulties by using a global energy minimisation technique and a simplified parameterisation, to enable a global solution to be obtained. The merits of conventional gradient descent based snake (local) approaches, and search-based (global) approaches are discussed. In application to fi nd head and face boundaries in front-view face images, the new technique employing dynamic programming is deployed to extract the inner face boundary, along with a conventional normal-driven contour to extract the outer (head) boundary. The extracted contours appear to offer sufficient discriminatory capability for inclusion within an automatic face recognition system.