Many people have small indentations on their cheeks when they smile. These indentations are dimples. Though you may think dimples only appear on the cheeks, they can develop in multiple places on the body. The cheeks, chin, and back all have notable dimple locations, but the arms and legs can possess this feature as well. Each type of dimple has a different cause, as well as unique medical and societal outlooks.

Cheek Dimples

By far, the most well-known dimples are cheek dimples. Generally, if present, cheek dimples appear and disappear as facial expressions change. Additionally, they may disappear completely for a time due to changes in body weight or other factors that affect the face. Physicians believe that cheek dimples may be the result of variations in the structure of a facial muscle. Some people have dimples in a single cheek, while others have them in both cheeks.

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Cheek Dimples Anatomy

The zygomaticus major is the muscle that determines whether or not a person has dimples. This muscle lifts the side of the mouth and allows people to smile. The presence of a double zygomaticus major is a possible cause for the existence of dimples. Other variations that cause dimples include shorter than average zygomaticus majors, in relation to other muscles in the face. In some people, dimples are the result of a bifid zygomaticus muscle. Bifid muscles possess a cleft or split into two parts.

dimple anatomy PeopleImages / Getty Images


Cheek Dimples in Infants

Many infants are born with cheek dimples because they generally have high levels of baby fat in their cheeks. As an infant grows, he begins to lose baby fat and the dimples may vanish. Some children maintain their dimples well into adolescence. Others may have dimples into young adulthood, but lose them as they mature. This is largely the result of constant changes in the facial muscles and fat throughout a person’s development.

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Cheek Dimple Genetic Controversy

There is some controversy on the topic of inheritable dimples. Originally, genetic experts believed dimples were the result of a single gene with two alleles and that the allele for dimples was dominant. This would mean that children could easily inherit dimples from their parents. However, there is very little evidence supporting this. In reality, it is likely that dimples are the result of a gene influenced by many other genes. John McDonald, a professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Delaware, believes there is no evidence of a genetic basis for dimples.

cheek dimples Steve Debenport / Getty Images


Chin Dimples

Another common place for dimples is the chin. Many people use the term cleft chin to differentiate between those with a more prominent indent, but cleft chins are actually dimples. Chin dimples may be vertical lines, Y-shaped lines, or round dimples. In many cases, the dimples are subtle enough that it is hard to distinguish between a smooth chin and a chin with a dimple. In addition, chin dimples seem to vary wildly between populations.


Cleft Chin Genetics

As with cheek dimples, many geneticists suggest that chin dimples are inheritable. However, multiple claims contradict each other as to whether this is a recessive or dominant trait. The available research is fairly narrow in scope and doesn’t provide enough evidence to support chin dimples being a dominant trait. If the trait were dominant, two parents with smooth chins would not be able to have a child with a chin dimple. However, family studies show that this is possible, so chin dimples being the result of a dominant allele is likely a myth.

chin dimples RapidEye / Getty Images


Dimples of Venus

Recently, there has been a surge of interest in the dimples of Venus. These dimples appear on the lower back above the buttocks. Generally, they are symmetrical because they are the result of a short ligament that stretches between the spine and the skin. Their name is a reference to Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty, because many cultures believe the dimples are a mark of beauty. Despite referring to a female goddess, the dimples can appear in both men and women. However, the dimples of Venus appear more often and tend to be more prominent in women, due to musculature.

dimples of venus uchar / Getty Images


Sacral Dimple

Another back dimple appears closer to the crease of the buttocks, on the skin covering the sacrum. The sacral dimple is congenital, meaning that it is present when an infant is born. Sacral dimples are rare and appear in only around four percent of the population. In some instances, a sacral dimple is a sign of an underlying spinal issue. In most cases, these issues are minor, but they can be more serious.

dimple Jan-Otto / Getty Images


Possible Sacral Dimple Issues

Sacral dimples may indicate conditions such as spina bifida. This condition occurs when the spine doesn’t form properly in a fetus. Generally, the spine fails to enclose the spinal cord fully. Another condition at which sacral dimples may hint is tethered cord syndrome. Normally, the spinal cord hangs freely within the spinal canal. However, in tethered cord syndrome, the spinal cord attaches to tissue, inhibiting its movement. This can cause numbness, bladder issues, or weakness.

dimples katleho Seisa / Getty Images


Cosmetic Changes and Risks

Because many cultures and people consider dimples attractive, cosmetic surgeries developed to create them. The most common surgeries create cheek or chin dimples. In most procedures, complications are rare. However, these surgeries do carry risks. For example, the procedures can damage the underlying muscles and tissue, affecting mouth movement. Additionally, there are several cases of patients developing abscesses at the surgical site. It’s important to be aware of all complications and discuss them with a physician prior to any surgery, especially cosmetic.

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