How We Got those Dents Under Our Noses

Time spent mirror gazing may have led you to ask some relevant (and irrelevant) questions about your body. Dimples? Toe length? Ear holes? Just to satisfy your curiosity, have you ever wondered why we have a philtrum?

What’s that, you say? It’s the little indentation right underneath your nose, also called the medial cleft. If you’ve been thinking about it at all, you probably guessed it was there as some sort of snot irrigation system. Nope. A separator between your upper lip and nose? Um, maybe. Some sort of love charm? Definitely.

First, let’s dig into the science. In humans, the philtrum is formed in the womb during development. BBC’s video below shows how our faces form, and that the philtrum is where the final fusion takes place. Watching the simulation, we learn that formation occurs between 2 to 3 months.

As stated by our guide Michael Mosley, if it doesn’t happen then, it won’t happen at all. Should two sections of the face not fuse together, it’s called cleft lip. Though different from a cleft palate, both conditions are common birth defects that can affect 1 in 700 babies.

Scientific researchers have not found a function for it, but it can be used as an acupressure point to revive someone from fainting or falling asleep at the wheel! Acupuncturists also place needles there to treat various ailments.

You’ll notice with adults that some philtrums are longer, shorter, or have greater depth. Some people like to accentuate theirs with piercings, and women who wear makeup may highlight the area along with their cupid’s bow, which is the top part of the upper lip.

With animals, most mammals have a philtrum that divides the lip into two parts – left and right. Usually the depth is deeper than that of humans. Among the animals you’ll find one in are rabbits, sheep, cats, and dogs. In dogs, it’s thought to help keep their noses moist by drawing saliva upwards from their lips. Dogs rely on moist noses for their sense of smell and to regulate their body temperature.

Now that we’ve got the fun, scientific explanations out of the way, we can dig into the folklore. Taken from the Greek word “philtron”, philtrum means love charm, and is connected to a kiss or love potion. The Greeks thought it to be an erogenous zone.

In Jewish lore, a baby in the womb knows everything about the heavens until an angel comes and places a finger over its lips to keep it from spilling the heavenly beans. The angel’s touch forms the philtrum. In Chinese face reading, the shape of the philtrum is used to make predictions about health or as a part of fortune telling.

So there you have it. The philtrum’s not a sweat collector, mustache catcher, or a finger rest. For us humans, it’s what joined our faces together, but now you’ll probably never look at it the same.

Were you curious about this part of our human anatomy? Have you ever noticed any differences with this facial feature in people? Tell us in the comments!

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