In many image processing and computer vision problems, including face detection, local structure patterns such as local binary patterns (LBP) and modified census transform (MCT) have been adopted in widespread applications due to their robustness against illumination changes. However, being reliant on the local differences between neighboring pixels, they are inevitably sensitive to noise. To overcome the problem of noise-vulnerability of the conventional local structure patterns, we propose semi-local structure patterns (SLSP), a novel feature extraction method based on local region-based differences. The SLSP is robust to illumination variations, distortion, and sparse noise because it encodes the relative sizes of the central region with locally neighboring regions into a binary code. The principle of SLSP leads noise-robust expansions of LBP and MCT feature extraction frameworks. In a statistical analysis, we find that the proposed methods transform a substantial amount of random noise patterns in face images into more meaningful uniform patterns. The empirical results on the MIT + CMU dataset and FDDB (face detection dataset and benchmark) show that the proposed semi-local patterns applied to LBP and MCT feature extraction frameworks outperform the conventional LBP and MCT features in AdaBoost-based face detectors, with much higher detection rates.