Are Dimples Genetic? Why Do People Have Dimples?

What do Jennifer Garner, Matthew McConaughey, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Bradley Cooper, Cameron Diaz, Carey Mulligan, Miranda Kerr, and Cheryl Cole have in common? They all have dimples or, as they were originally called, gelasin—a visible indentation anywhere on the skin.

To add to that, what do Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Ben Affleck, Sandra Bullock, Matt Damon, and Peter Griffin from Family Guy have in common? They have dimples on their chin. And whether you are a fan of dimples or not, you do have to admit to having thought about what causes dimples and why some individuals have them and others do not.

Dimples, commonly known as the widow’s peak, and everything about them, from the actual word to the very appearance and to the person who has them is entirely adorable. Some cultures believe that it is a sign of good fortune and prosperity. But it is also interesting that a small indentation on each side of the face that appears as soon as a person smiles is reason to find that as well as the individual endearing. Also, at a time when everyone strives to be perfect, dimples are such a refreshingly imperfect perfection.

There are two kinds of facial dimples: those on the chin and those on the cheek and each is the result of very different causes.

Here’s a question you have probably not thought about often or perhaps even at all—are the traits of having facial dimples genetic? In other words, are there genes that code for the indentation in the face? Are they a dominant trait?

It turns out that there is indeed a genetic component to dimples or Fovea buccalis. The adorable trait is the result of a dysfunctional facial muscle—the zygomaticus major muscle—that results in an indentation on one or both sides of the face when a person smiles. More specifically, the smile causes the shorter muscle on the face to pull on the facial skin which results in a depression in the skin: the dimple. In other words, the shorter facial muscles result in the dimple when a person smiles. So, are dimples still considered endearing? Furthermore, babies have dimples because of their chubby cheeks. There is also a non-genetic aspect to dimples, meaning that additional fat in the face may lead to the indentations as well.

The etiology of the facial dimple occurrence

The etiology of the facial dimple occurrence remains largely unknown. Its inheritance is thought to take place via an autosomal dominant fashion, meaning that if a child inherits just one copy of the gene, she will have dimples. Furthermore, it is largely dependent on hereditary factors, and while the chin dimple is associated with genes located on chromosome 5, the facial dimple is associated with genes located on chromosome 16. So, the dimple creating gene is, indeed, passed on through generations. Studies have shown that families with dimples all have them, indicating that there is a hereditary component to them by virtue of that gene. On the other hand, dimples can also be the result of a spontaneous mutation that result in the dent in the chin that eventually leads to dimples.

So, why people have dimples, is a question that most likely also has a genetic component. What evolutionary benefit, if any, do these facial imperfections have?

Only an estimated 20% of the population has dimples. Let’s remember that there is a certain facial appeal to those who have dimples. Given that babies have them, it is speculated that the additional cuteness serves to push parents to nurture their loved ones with even more affection than they normally would. So, there is a reason babies are cute. It is not easy losing sleep and remaining in love without at least something nice to look at.

This visual enhancement also has an advantage as an attractive feature. Those who have dimples are viewed as endearing and attractive, which is what increases the chances of the individual for potential mating.

So, how come the dimple facial deformation is deemed as enjoyable and attractive, while certain other facial deformities are not? It is interesting to think about these things and what makes one better than the other.

Another interesting fact is that there is plastic surgery that will insert dimples into the face. Dimple surgery, or dimpleplasty, is performed by skilled maxillofacial surgeons and is very straightforward.

Some additional benefits of dimples include that it makes those who have them seem much younger than they actually are. Dimples can also be pierced, they make a person’s smile seem flawless and they are inviting—people like to play with them.

I guess the most interesting part about these little indentations in the face are that it is one plastic surgery that is not done to get rid of an imperfection as a result of a mutation but to actually put it in. All other human imperfection seems to be going the other way, namely removal surgery, while this one is all about inserting little indentations into people’s faces. Furthermore, by virtue of dimples having a genetic background, it is also interesting to think about the future of plastic surgery versus gene editing. What would be the future of dimples? Certainly, a simple genetic editing would be a lot easier and a lot less painful than plastic surgery in order to have this facial enhancement. I suppose that we will find out as the fields of genetics and bioengineering evolve in that direction.

Laura Day