Mankind has always been obsessed with eternal youth. In modern times, where we have social media, an ever increasing number of interventions to preserve youthful looks and people living longer than ever, the question as to whether looking younger reflects better health is more pertinent than ever.
But does looking younger actually equate to living longer and with less disease?
There have been some single organ studies which have found that a younger perceived age (PA) was a stronger predictor of mortality than the actual age, lower carotid artery thickness (higher thicknesses are associated with a higher risk of stroke), less heart attacks in men and less bone mineral loss in women.
[Kido M, Kohara K, Miyawaki S et al. Perceived age of facial features is a significant diagnosis criterion for age-related carotid atherosclerosis in Japanese subjects: J-SHIPP study. Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2012;12:733-40.]
[Schnohr P, Lange P, Nyboe J et al. Grey hair, baldness, and wrinkles in relation to myocardial infarction: the Copenhagen City Heart Study. Am Heart J 1995;130:1003-10.]
[Nielsen BR, Linneberg A, Christensen K et al. Perceived age is associated with bone statues in women aged 25-93 years. Age (Dordr) 2015;37:106.]
It was interesting therefore to read of a study published in the March edition of the British Journal of Dermatology that looked at perceived age and multiple organ systems.
[Mekic’ S, Pardo LM, Gunn DA et all. Younger facial looks are associate with a lower likelihood of several age-related morbidities in the middle-aged to elderly. Br J Dermatol 2023;188:390-395.]
How did they do the study?
Around 2,500 men and women were recruited from a large population-based study in the Netherlands between 2010 and 2014.
Facial images of the participants were assessed by around 27 assessors and they had to select a 5-year age range they thought the person looked.
Then data such as the chronological age, sex of the individual, smoking status, BMI, history of UV exposure were collected. They also collected any information on heart, lung, and kidney diseases, joint, eye, hearing and neurological problems.
What did they find?
They found that a younger perceived age was associated with a lower risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) even after smoking was taken into account. There was also a lower risk of osteoporosis, cataracts, age-related hearing loss and higher cognitive function.
Did they suggest why this was so?
Yes and no. COPD in the absence of smoking can be due to passive smoking, air pollution, occupational exposure eg farming and poor nutrition, all of which have been linked to skin ageing.
In osteoporosis where the bones become brittle, it was suggested that skin cells (fibroblasts) are similar to bone cells (osteoblasts) with all genes that are expressed in fibroblasts being also expressed in osteoblasts. Therefore, it was thought that fibroblast growth factors which play a role in skin ageing and bone mass, offer a link between wrinkling and osteoporosis.
As for age-related hearing loss, the study didn’t factor in noise exposure, an important cause of hearing loss. It may be that those that spend more time indoors are exposed to less loud noise and also to less UV light.
It appears that facial appearance or perceived age can predict one’s general health to a certain degree. What the study hasn’t addressed is if surgically enhanced youthful looks are a predictor of general health.
Dr Sandy Flann, Consultant Dermatologist