woman with dimples smiling at camera


Dimples — they’re what stars Brad
Pitt, Adam Levine, and Bradley Cooper all have in common. Well, having dimples
and earning the title of People’s Sexiest Man Alive at least once in their
lifetimes. In fact, if you were to peruse all of People’s Sexiest Man Alive
covers — starting all the way back in the mid-1980s — you would notice a major
trend. As it turns out, quite a few of the popular magazine’s past
winners have a set of indentations in their cheeks.
As much as you may love ogling
dimpled dudes, this feature isn’t just a guy thing. Women — including some of
your favorite female celebs — also have the adorable depressions. You may not
have even realized, but pop star Ariana Grande, singer Cheryl Cole,
actress Cameron Diaz, and even the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton,
have them. But what even are dimples anyway? Here’s the truth about these
incredibly unique indentations.
“The gelasin joyous”

closeup of dimples

You don’t have to have dimples
to know what they are. Yet and still, even those with dimples would probably be
confused if someone complimented their “gelasin.” Although the word
sounds remarkably like “gelatin,” it has a vastly different meaning
than the water-soluble protein. As revealed, gelasin is actually
just another term for dimples. It comes from the Greek word “gelaein”
which means “to laugh.” Martial, a first-century Roman poet may
have been one of the first to write about dimples, calling one without
“the gelasin joyous” a “face less gracious” (via Treatise
on Laughter).
By the 21st century, however,
“dimples” had largely won out as the more popular term. Still,
medical journals often use the terms interchangeably. Of course, you can now
impress — or irritate — your friends by labeling everyone’s dimples as gelasin.
You’re welcome for that, by the way. Regardless of what you choose to call
them, a 2016 report in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Science and Research
defines gelasin and dimples as “small folds or indentations in the fleshy
part of the cheek.”
A genetic abnormality

Young boy with dimples

It may be hard to believe, but
dimples are actually a birth defect. In an interview with Smithsonian Magazine,
Brent Moelleken, a plastic surgeon and associate clinical professor of
surgery at the University of California in Los Angeles, explained, “Cheek
dimples are a genetically transmitted abnormality of a muscle in the
cheek.” Unlike many other genetic birth defects — like
sickle cell disease and anemia — cheek dimples are no cause for alarm. 
People with dimples have
what’s called a “bifid zygomaticus major muscle.” Don’t worry,
there won’t be a quiz at the end. Basically, this muscle abnormally divides
into two sections and attaches to the cheek. “This fibrous connection
causes a dimple to become deeper and more visible when a person smiles, flexing
that muscle,” Anthony Youn, a plastic surgeon in Troy, Mich. revealed
to Smithsonian. While there is a muscular difference between those with
dimples and those without, dimples are pretty much a non-factor when it comes
to a person’s health.
They’re not always inherited

woman with dimples with baby without dimples

Despite being a genetic
abnormality, dimples aren’t always passed down from parents to their children.
According to University of Utah’s Genetic Science Learning Center, Learn.Genetics,
dimples are considered “highly heritable.” To understand the concept
of what’s “highly heritable,” you don’t have to look much further
than the Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner clan.
Both Garner and
ex-husband Affleck have dimples. And each and every one of the pair’s three
children — Violet, Seraphina, and Samuel — also have dimples. However, had the
parents went on to have a fourth and fifth child, those children would not
necessarily inherit dimples. “Because their inheritance isn’t completely
predictable, dimples are considered an ‘irregular’ dominant trait,” the
university explained. “Having dimples is probably controlled mainly by one
gene but also influenced by other genes.”
So, if you come from a family
of dimples and don’t have them yourself, the reason is because they are only
mostly heritable. It’s also entirely possible to have dimples yourself while
your parents do not. According to a 2017 study, “a spontaneous
mutation” explains why some children end up with dimples while their
parents remain dimple-less. Science is strange, folks.
Not too many Americans have

Woman with dimples side-smiling

The DNA genetic testing and
analysis site, revealed that their studies have shown “at
least nine different genetic variants contribute to dimpling.” Because of
dimples’ “highly heritable” nature, you might think them to be
incredibly common. While it’s true that dimples are way more prevalent
than many other birth defects that are considered “common,” you’re
more likely not to have dimples. In fact, around 80 percent of the United
States population does not have the facial abnormality. As the Infinity Medical
Group revealed in an article on their site, researchers have estimated that
roughly 20 percent of the American population has dimples.
Nevertheless, dimples are, of
course, not confined to nationality. Smithsonian Magazine highlighted that
people of “all races and ethnicities” can have dimples. Studies have
been conducted on the facial indentations as far as India and Turkey,
but, as of this writing, no worldwide statistics have been released. In fact,
there’s probably a lot more to learn about dimples in general. A 2017 study
revealed that only a “limited” amount of research has been conducted
on “the anatomy of dimples.”
A symbol of good luck

woman with dimples smiling

In the United States, those
without dimples may refer to those with a gelasin grin as lucky. We all want
what we can’t have, right? As it happens, though, dimples are literally
considered a symbol of good luck in other parts of the world. In China, for
example, dimples have long been associated with everything from good will to
attractiveness. “And it has come to be accepted that a dimpled wife is one
who brings happiness and good luck to the family,” a 1962 Plastic and
Reconstructive Surgery article read.
Since the midcentury, other
Asian countries have also started associating dimples with “a beautiful
smiling face,” the Department of Plastic Surgery Hospital at the
Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College in Beijing,
China revealed. In the 2007 study, researchers revealed that “the dimple
can make [Asian women] more confident.” Naturally, this poses a challenge
for women who do not possess the genetic abnormality.
Chin dimples differ from cheek

man with cleft chin

Not everyone who has facial
dimples has them on their cheeks. Some people have what’s called cleft chins.
Unlike your garden variety chin, cleft chins have a small gap or dimple through
the middle. Like cheek dimples, whether or not you have a a cleft chin depends
on your genetics. If one of your parents has a cleft chin, you have a greater
chance of having one too. Although there are definitely similarities between
chin and cheek dimples, there are also some pretty big differences.
Dimpled cheeks are the result
of a muscular abnormality whereas a chin dimple is actually the result of the
malformation of the lower jaw. During typical fetal development, the lower jaw
fuses together. A cleft chin results when the jaw does not fully fuse. It may
sound a little scary, but — just like cheek dimples — there are no adverse
effects. Chin and cheek dimples can exist together as well as separately, and
both types of dimples become more apparent when smiling.
The rarest dimple of them all

woman with one dimple

Dimples, it would seem, play
by their own rules. A report by professors at the Department of Anatomy at
Abant Izzet Baysal University in Turkey revealed that “dimples frequently
take place on both” sides of a person’s face. The keyword
being frequently. In what researchers called “a rare
phenomenon,” it’s possible that a person can possess a unilateral dimple:
just one lone dimple on either the left or right side of his or her face.
Even rarer than this sort of
dimple, though, is the “fovea inferior angle oris” — aka one dimple
on each side of the mouth corners. If you happen to have this unicorn dimple,
you should know you’re very unique. In fact, you’re so unique that science
hasn’t even caught up with you yet. In their 2017 case report, the researchers
in Turkey noted that there haven’t been any studies demonstrating “the
frequency of this different kind [of] dimple.” But, from the one case the
researchers were able to evaluate, these mouth corner dimples do appear to be
genetic. The 20-year-old volunteer who participated in the study also had a
grandmother with dimples in the same location.
All about those body dimples

Dimples of Venus

Even with all of the different
kinds of facial dimples a person can have, dimples are not just confined to the
cheeks or chin or even mouth corners. They can actually occur in numerous areas
of the body. Some people have two indentations on their lower backs. These
bilateral back dimples — dubbed “dimples of Venus” — are caused by
“a short ligament stretching between the posterior superior iliac spine
and the skin,” according to a 2014 article in the International Journal of
Dermatology. Just like chin, cheek, and mouth corner dimples, lower back
dimples are assumed to be genetic. 
Although all dimples are
technically abnormal, the above varieties are all benign. That is, they’re not
going to cause you any harm. Dimpling of the skin in other areas of the body,
however, can be cause for concern. According to the dermatological report,
unusual dimples in the skin “may be the first sign of a significant
development defect or abnormality.” Sometimes, these dimples can be a sign
of infection or other serious medical conditions. If you happen to develop
dimples out of nowhere, it’s best to consult your doctor.
The “V-spot”

Dr. Wong-Powell explaining v-spot treatment

Those without the genetic
disposition for dimples of Venus have actually been able to go under the knife
and have them added. Harper’s Bazaar theorized that these back
indentations — and the effort some have taken to get them — have become more
and more popular in recent years because, thanks to social media, we now know
which celebrities — ahem, Kendall Jenner — have back dimples.
In 2017, plastic surgeon
Amanda Wong-Powell, the founder and medical director of W1 Wellness Clinic in
London, England, came up with her very own procedure known as “the
V-Spot” treatment. In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, she
revealed, “Throughout the decades, it has been known that ‘Venus dimples’
are sexy. Enhancing that spot and sculpting it further enhances this. It is a
symbol of wellness, youthfulness and sexiness.”
The plastic surgeon’s
technique first involves liposuction. After removing fat from two spots on the
lower back — where the bilateral dimples would naturally occur — the area is
then sculpted to realistically mimic dimples of Venus. However, these faux
dimples don’t come cheap. In early 2017, the procedure began retailing
at £4,900 (about $6,400). Yikes.
Cheek dimples are “an
appealing feature”

Woman with dimples smiling

People from all
backgrounds love dimples, but the science isn’t exactly crystal clear on
why this is. Plastic surgeon Amanda Wong-Powell speculates that lower back
dimples are attractive because they signify fitness and youth. But is that the
case with cheek dimples, too? Brent Moelleken, plastic surgeon and
associate clinical professor of surgery at the University of California in Los
Angeles, told Smithsonian Magazine: “People debate why this is an
appealing feature.” It could be, he theorized, that dimples are a sort of
“feature of youth.” Because babies have “so much fat in their
cheeks,” they often have dimples, albeit temporary ones, the plastic
surgeon explained.
Could it really be that
simple? Do we all just view people with cheek dimples as baby-faced and
youthful? Well, as youthful faces are often considered to be more
attractive, it really wouldn’t be that far-fetched to think dimples are
attractive solely because they add to that sprightly look. 
Hence, the dimple multitool

woman pressing dimples

Whatever the reason, dimples
have been attractive for a very long time. And, perhaps nearly as long, people
without dimples have been looking for ways to get the attractive indentations.
“Any woman who has been overlooked by nature in the distribution of
dimples can have the deficiency supplied by machinery,” read a 1896
edition of the New York Herald (via International Journal of Dermatology). Um,
what’s that now? “Of course, the machinery must be in the hands of a
skilled manipulator, or the result would be an unsightly scar, or possibly an
open sore or complications of blood-poisoning.” Well, of course. But, you
know, you could have dimples!
As if the side effects weren’t
horrifying enough, the truly bizarre 19th century procedure involved a
“specially-designed knife” complete with a “dainty, but very
sharp, blade, a tiny, keen-edged scoop, and a very fine needle.” The
all-in-one-tool would first be used to cut the skin on a woman’s cheeks, scoop
out “the fat” in the shape of dimples, and then stitch the cheeks
closed with the needle. Hard pass.
Don’t forget the dimple

woman pointing to cheeks

By the 1900s, dimples were
obviously still in demand. “Dimples are now made to order!” a
newspaper published in 1936 (via The Atlantic) revealed. We do have to give
props to Isabella Gilbert of Rochester, N.Y., the inventor of the contraption,
for coming up with a non-surgical “dimple machine,” but, um, it
was still pretty horrifying. 
“The device consists of a
face-fitting spring carrying two tiny knobs which press into the cheeks.”
The advertisement promised “a fine set of dimples.” One can only
imagine the discomfort of pressing things into their cheeks all hours of the
day or night. You also have to imagine how this would’ve actually worked. As
the wire that holds the knobs also fits tightly around the sides of the face
and chin, it had to cause some unintended impressions, right? The ad may have
labeled the machines “aids to beauty,” but we’ll just say we have our
Dimpleplasty: it’s a thing

woman pointing to cheek

As terrifying as some of the
older dimple inventions may have been, procedures to create facial dimples
still exist. According to Healthline, people who weren’t born with dimples can
opt to have an outpatient procedure fittingly called a dimpleplasty. 
After applying an anesthetic,
a plastic surgeon uses “a small biopsy instrument” to remove muscle
and fat where the “dimples” will be. A suture is then positioned
to “set” the dimple in its place. It is not generally considered a
risky procedure, but it is one that is challenging to reverse. Additionally,
time may not be kind to cosmetically-enhanced dimples.
“As the skin ages and
loses elasticity, there is no telling how the scars will look as the face
begins to droop — designer dimples could become designer disasters within a
matter of years,” a spokesperson for SurgiCare plastic surgeons told
Fox News. These so-called “designer dimples” also do not look
nearly as realistic as, well, natural dimples. When a person with natural
dimples is not smiling, you don’t really see the impressions in their cheeks.
However, the surgically-added dimples can be seen no matter the person’s facial
Dimples are (mostly) forever

older woman with dimples
Although the longevity of
“designer dimples” is yet to be seen, natural dimples are pretty much
forever. And, unfortunately for those who are less than pleased to have
dimples, surgical removal is not a viable option. “I’ve had a number of
patients ask me over the years if I could remove a dimple for them,”
Anthony Youn, a plastic surgeon in Troy, Mich., revealed to Smithsonian Magazine. “I
tell them it’s virtually impossible.” As he noted to the magazine,
“Even with a facelift, cheek dimples will not disappear.”
However, dimples can appear to
fade over time due to fat loss. And, as earlier mentioned, babies can
experience dimpling of the skin from excess fat. Once the little one grows and
loses fat, the dimples will cease to exist. Babies who were born with real deal
dimples though — that is, cheek dimples caused by the genetic abnormality of
the cheek muscles, a cleft chin from a jaw malformation, or dimples of Venus
that result from a short ligament — will grow up into dimpled, and might we add
attractive, adults.

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.