How Much Control Do You Really Have Over Facial Aging?

A new study of identical twins shows that the experiences we have in our life and environmental factors have a very big effect on how fast or slowly our faces show age. Researchers recruited nearly 200 sets of identical twins who were attending the annual twin festival in Twinsburg, Ohio.

Twin research is especially useful in the study of aging because twins are genetically programmed’’ to grow old the identical way, said study author Dr. Bahman Guyuron, chairman of the department of plastic surgery at the University Hospitals of Cleveland and Case Western Reserve University. As a result, any perceived differences in appearance among twins can give clues as to what environmental and lifestyle factors can strongly influence aging, he said.

We needed to study the factors that may speed up the process of aging,’’ Dr. Guyuron said. What are the things we can control? By changing your behaviors, can you control part of aging that would otherwise be accelerated?’’

Using still photographs of each twin set, the researchers asked an independent panel to mark differences in each twin’s appearance and whether one twin looked older than the other. They found several factors had to do with facial aging, including sun exposure and smoking. Based on the study, 10 years of smoking added about 2.5 extra years of aging to a twin’s face, compared to a twin who didn’t smoke. Sun exposure, particularly among those who spent a lot more time outside playing golf or at the beach, also added years to the appearance of aging.

Stress also appeared to be a factor in looking older. Divorced twins appeared, on average, a minimum of two years older than a twin who was married or widowed.

Notably, antidepressant use was also associated with an older appearance. Researchers said it may be that depression itself increased facial aging, or it’s possible that use of antidepressant drugs relaxed facial muscles in a way that increased the appearance of aging.

The researchers also found a surprising association between facial aging and body weight. A heavier body weight before the age of 40 was associated with an older appearance. However, in the women over 40, a heavier body weight was associated with a younger look, compared to a thinner twin.

Excessive loss of weight can be detrimental to youthfulness and attractiveness,’’ Dr. Guyuron said. It’s a warning if you lose too much weight after the age of 40.’’

The discoveries were published online in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. All sets of twins involved in the study were women. Dr. Guyuron said in the future we will study male sets of twins to determine what factors influence a man’s facial aging.

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