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Why do we have a philtrum, the little groove between the nose and lips?

Credits: Wikimedia Commons / Dr. Johannes Sobotta

Certain areas in the body have a tendency to go completely unnoticed, until suddenly we take a look, and ask ourselves why they are there, and what purpose they serve. This is particularly the case with the philtrum, the little groove found between the nose and the lips. So where does this mark come from?

Our noses and upper lips seem to be linked by this little hollow, a groove that is pronounced to varying degrees between individuals, but which is nonetheless present in the vast majority of people. This groove, known as the philtrum in scientific literature, is associated with a myth in which an angel explains all the secrets of life to the foetus, before putting their finger to the feotus’s face in this exact area, just before birth, so that the foetus forgets it all. Not the most convincing argument we’ve ever heard….

Scientifically speaking, the philtrum is linked to the way in which the shape of the foetus’s face forms while it is developing. It marks the fusion of different parts of the face in one area. Dr. Michael Mosley, on the BBC programme Inside the Human Body, explains that is where the jigsaw pieces of the human face fit together. He explains that the three large pieces of the puzzle meet just above the lips, creating this groove, called the philtrum.

This development occurs during during the second or third month of pregnancy. If there are any problems during this time, it can lead to malformations such as cleft lip or cleft palate. If the face is not formed during this time for genetic or even environmental reasons, the philtrum may never form.