• Health

Twins and Aging: How Not to Look Old

4 minute read
John Cloud

It’s a question surely as old as vanity itself: How can you look young forever? A study just published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery offers one surprising idea: as you age, don’t be afraid to put on a few pounds. Fat, it turns out, can significantly smooth out wrinkles and give you a younger-looking face.

The authors of the new study, a team led by Dr. Bahman Guyuron of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, are plastic surgeons who study faces for a living. They analyzed photographs of 186 pairs of identical twins taken at the Twins Days festival, a sort of twin-pride event held every summer in (naturally) Twinsburg, Ohio. Because each pair had identical genetic material, differences in how old they looked could be attributed entirely to their behavioral choices and environment. Guyuron’s team had the twins fill out extensive questionnaires about their lives–everything from how many times they had married to whether they regularly used sunscreen. Then a panel of four judges independently estimated the twins’ ages by looking at photos taken in Twinsburg.

The Guyuron team’s most interesting findings had to do with weight. Differences in how old the twins looked began to appear when one had a body mass index (BMI, a statistical measurement of weight that takes height into account) at least four points higher than that of the sibling. For twins under 40, the face of the heavier one looked significantly older. But surprisingly, after 40, that same four-point difference in BMI–which would translate to roughly 24 lb. for people who are 5 ft. 5 in.–made the heavier twin look significantly younger.

The study’s authors theorize that “volume replacement”–that is, fat filling in wrinkles–accounts for the rejuvenated appearance of the over-40 twins. Of course, Guyuron, chairman of the plastic-surgery department at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Ohio, doesn’t recommend that people gain weight just to look younger. Redistributing existing fat is another matter. There are plenty of plastic surgeons who are keen to help patients with facial fat-grafting, i.e., taking fat from some other part of the body and injecting it into the face to rejuvenate it.

The paper also makes clear that, weight aside, healthy living is crucial for keeping a youthful face. The siblings who smoked and didn’t wear sunscreen looked significantly older than those who avoided cigarettes and tanning. (Dermatologists say not wearing sunscreen is the most efficient method for acquiring a wrinkly face.)

Twins who had divorced also looked older, by about 1.7 years, than twins who had not. And they looked more elderly than those who had stayed single, which reinforces a raft of data showing that you are better off staying single than getting into a bad relationship.

Guyuron believes stress may be a common denominator in the twins who looked older. But efforts to alleviate stress–by self-medicating with alcohol, for instance, or taking antidepressants–also have the effect of making people look more aged. The twins who had avoided alcohol looked significantly younger than those who hadn’t, and those who had taken antidepressants looked appreciably more senior. What a cruel thing: if the misery of your divorce doesn’t age you, your attempt to treat it with Prozac will. Guyuron and his colleagues believe the latter fact has something to do with the drooping relaxation of facial muscles that antidepressants can cause.

If the previous paragraph bummed you out, there’s always the comfort of a Lucullan meal, and if you’re over 40, at least, enjoying food could actually make you look more youthful. There is a God after all. So this summer at the beach, instead of getting a deep tan and a beer buzz, stay inside and have an ice cream. Make it a double scoop.

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