What Causes Dimples, Why People Have Them & How To Get Some

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woman with dimples smiling
Self

Even if you don’t have dimples of your own, you’re probably familiar with what they look like, and maybe even know a few people with them. Ariana Grande, Cheryl Cole, Jennifer Garner and Kate Middleton are just a few celebrities who are known for their dimples.

In Chinese culture, dimples are a symbol of good luck, and in Arabian society, a sign of beauty. But have you ever wondered what causes them?

What are dimples?

A dimple is a dent in your skin that is caused by the structure of your underlying flesh and muscle. Dimples are the little dips in cheeks and chins that happen when someone smiles or makes a facial expression, typically found a couple of centimeters away from the corners of your mouth.

The vast majority of people who have cheek dimples will have them in a pair, though it's possible to have a dimple on a single side of your face. In addition to cheek dimples, there are chin dimples, also known as a cleft chin, which appear in an upside down Y shape.

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Though chin and cheek dimples are common, with double facial dimples being the most common and found on both sides of the mouth, the rarest kind of dimple is called the fovea inferior angle oris or bilateral dimples — one dimple on each corner of the mouth.

What causes dimples to form?

Dimples are caused by having differences in the zygomaticus major facial muscle structure. In plain English, dimples are caused by having some facial muscles that are a bit shorter than others.

When you smile, your longer facial muscles get pulled by the shorter ones in your zygomaticus major. To put it more bluntly, plastic surgeon Brent Moelleken says, “Cheek dimples are a genetically transmitted abnormality of a muscle in the cheek."

The uneven pull between uneven muscles ends up giving the very “dimple” effect. Since facial muscles are at their shortest when you’re at rest, most people’s dimples are hidden when they aren’t laughing or smiling.

With chin dimples, part of the reason why they exist deals with your bone structure. Simply put, a bone structure that includes a cleft chin will result in chin dimples. The deeper the cleft, the more pronounced your chin dimple will be.

Another cause of dimples is weight gain. With excess fat in their cheeks and face, dimples tend to show up simply because there’s not much place for the extra fat to go. As you lose weight, those dimples disappear or fade away.

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Why do some people have dimples when others don’t?

It’s due to genetics, for the most part.

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Scientists have noticed that having dimples is an irregular hereditary trait. People who have dimples are way more likely to have kids who have dimples, regardless if it’s a cleft chin or those “Shirley Temple” dimples people get on their cheeks.

Interestingly enough, dimples aren’t always a lifelong thing and can change over time. Some individuals who are born with dimples find that they fade away as they get older due to losing their baby fat. Children who were not born with dimples may develop them later in childhood.

Technically, dimples are a birth defect. Shorter facial muscles are associated with an issue in the way embryos develop in the uterus.

But while dimples are believed to be an inherited dominant trait, there isn’t a lot of research available to confirm this. And though there’s some debate about whether or not dimples should be considered a genetic abnormality or birth defect, dimples are common and there’s nothing harmful about them.

It’s also not an indicator of anything that will hurt you later in life. Just like Elizabeth Taylor’s “defect” of having an extra row of eyelashes and violet eyes, dimples cause no harm aside from make others jealous.

How can you get dimples if you weren’t born with them?

If you want dimples, but don’t want the weight gain or haven’t been born with them, plastic surgery is the only other way. Surgeons came up with a procedure that allows you to get dimples, called a dimpleplasty.

A plastic surgeon creates a small incision where the patient wants a dimple, removes a tiny amount of tissue and fat, and uses a suture (called a sling) to join the cheek muscles and skin together, creating a permanent dimple.

Luckily, this is an outpatient procedure, so patients can return home the same day of their dimpleplasty. Complications are rare, but can include facial nerve damage, scarring, bleeding, or infection, in which case you should see your doctor immediately.

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Ossiana Tepfenhart is a writer based out of Red Bank, New Jersey. She writes primarily about lifestyle, food, finance, and relationships. You can follow her Twitter.