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Losing facial fat a key driver of ageing, study suggests

Alexandra Thompson
·3-min read
A reduction in fat volume from the face may cause 'drooping'. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)
A reduction in fat volume from the face may cause 'drooping'. (Posed by a model, Getty Images)

Losing weight is a common New Year’s resolution, however, research suggests a thinner face can add years to someone’s appearance.

Ageing is thought to be a complex interplay between changes to a person’s facial bones, muscles, fat and skin.

While ageing is often associated with excessive sun exposure or just the wear and tear of everyday life, research has also pointed the finger at “volume loss”, with the cheeks becoming “deflated” over time.

Feeling there was a “paucity of evidence” to support this theory, scientists from the Medical College of Wisconsin analysed the facial fat volumes of 19 people aged 30 to 65.

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Results reveal the participants’ total facial fat volume dropped by up to 18.4% over an average of 11 years.

The scientists concluded their findings “provide further evidence for the volume-loss theory of facial ageing”, with a reduction in fat potentially leading to a drooping appearance.

The 19 participants underwent facial computed tomography at the start of the study and again at least 10 years later.

This involves an X-ray being taken of the head, allowing the scientists to gauge the individual’s fat make-up.

3D illustration of a bathroom scale, close up on the dial with copyspace on the left and depth of field. Horizontal image can be used as a banner for a website header.
Weight loss is a New Year's resolution for many, but could be ageing, research suggests. (Stock, Getty Images)

The results – published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery – reveal the participants’ overall facial fat volume decreased from 46.47 cubic centimetres (cc) to 40.81 cc; a statistically significant reduction.

This is despite their body mass indexes being largely stable.

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On average, 11.3% of the participants’ superficial fat volume, that which lingers just beneath the skin, was lost.

Their deep fat volume, which lies further beneath the surface, was down by almost a fifth (18.4%).

Buccal fat, which makes cheeks rounded, did not significantly change over the years.

“The authors feel these results provide further evidence for the volume-loss theory of facial ageing,” wrote the scientists.

“With volume loss from the deep mid-face fat compartment, we lose foundational support for the mid-face and develop a ‘ptosis’ [drooping] of the overlying superficial fat which, in turn, deepens the nasolabial fold [the indentation that extends from the nose to the outer corners of the mouth].

“In addition, our results demonstrate a significant loss of volume from the superficial fat compartments with ageing, which we believe contributes greatly to the deflated appearance of the skin envelope.”

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The scientists acknowledged, however, their study was relatively small and short.

“Perhaps a larger sample size would better characterise trends in volume loss, such as changes in facial fat composition or differences in the rate of volume loss within different age groups,” they wrote.

“[In addition] had we been able to compare imaging between patients at 20 or 30-year intervals, we might have been able to demonstrate more meaningful or significant changes in facial fat composition.”

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