Do women age faster than men? Apparently, they do. However, to complicate this drawback, their brains we are told are quicker. For the comedian Joan Rivers, defeating the sign of facial ageing was a constant battle. Just as one operation had dealt with her crow’s feet or wrinkled forehead, she complained she would see “what’s going on under my chin” and realise she needed another.
“After all,” she said, “I don’t want to be the one the president has to pardon on Thanksgiving.”
Now a study has revealed the magnitude of the task nobly undertaken by her plastic surgeon after finding that women’s faces age at least twice as rapidly as men’s. The research which involved almost 600 measurements from the faces of 88 people aged 26 to 90 also showed that immediately after the menopause the gap widened. Scientists looked at everything from the upper lip, which thins with age, and bone structure, which softens as we get older, to the jawline, which, as Rivers complained, has a habit of succumbing to gravity. Although the sample size was relatively small, all the people were taken from the same part of Croatia, enabling the scientists to compare people with similar genetics and environment.
Sonja Windhager, of the University of Vienna, said that the march of time could be seen clearly in both sexes. “The visible part of the eyes got relatively smaller, due to bone reabsorption”, she said; “The tip of the nose dropped, they lost soft tissue elasticity, ear lobes got longer and jowls developed. This was the same for men and women.”
What was not the same was the rate at which this happened. The analysis excluded wrinkles because they are so strongly affected by lifestyle, but found that in everything else younger women’s faces on average aged twice as fast as men’s. This tallied with previous research showing women’s skin also aged faster.
One possible reason for this is that male hormones can be protective and help maintain firmer tone. The effect of hormones may also explain what happened to women in their early 50s, when they experienced a spike in ageing so sudden that it took the researchers by surprise. “We didn’t expect such a sharp turn in the trajectory in women” then said Dr Windhager, whose study is published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, “but it relates nicely to menopause, when there are drastic hormonal changes. This changes the collagen content of the skin, and bone absorption.”
This is also why women who have had no hormone replacement therapy also have a higher risk of osteoporosis, because their bones thin.
One potential use for the research is in improving computer reconstructions of facial ageing, for instance in police work. A question the study cannot answer is if the quantitative ageing rates identified in the study also correlate to genuine perceptions of ageing in observers – given that men and women also have different facial structures to start with. So, what can be done about the problem? One area of hope is that if men can see past the face, they may discover something rather more attractive.
Recent research has shown that while women’s beauty may fade sooner, their brains age less rapidly.
Dr Windhager, however, said she did not hold out much hope when it came to men’s shallowness. “Of course we should not judge a book by its cover, and not everything is about facial appearance, but we do know it influences a lot. Women should probably just make up for it with a friendly personality… and cosmetics,” she said.
Well how very true, I say. And I’ll stop at that if you permit me.