January 5th, 2011
02:06 PM ET
Beauty is more than skin deep.
The signs of aging – sagging skin and wrinkles - may come from deteriorating facial bones, according to a study released Tuesday in the medical journal, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
CT scans of facial bones in 20 young, 20 middle-aged and 20 older people were compared. Dr. Robert Shaw Jr., a plastic surgeon at the University of Rochester Medical Center and his co-authors found that the facial bones - much as other bones in the body - shrink with age.
“What we (plastic surgeons) focus on is the aging of soft tissue - how skin and fat ages,” he said. “Those aren’t the only structures in your face. Bones provide scaffolding and your muscles, fats and skin drape over bones. If you tighten skin, but the scaffolding has deteriorated it’s not going to bring patients back to a youthful look.”
Researchers observed the following changes:
- Eye sockets became wider and longer with age. This could result in sinking of the eyeball into the sockets, which alters how the soft tissue in your upper brows rolls over the bones.
- The bones in the middle of the face such as the brows, nose and upper jaw shrank too. These changes may lead to drooping brow bones and formation of creases near the eyes and crow’s feet.
- The size of the lower jaw shrank with age. This makes the chin projection appear smaller. The mandible provides the foundation of the lower face.
The biggest physiologic changes in the bone structure occurred between middle age and old age.
“The bones receded,” Shaw said. “When they’re deteriorated, it provides less support. The eyebrow and skin, they droop down a little bit… The overall process is that it loses volume and loses projection, all your soft tissues kind of droop because you don’t have the bones pushing out.”
So what’s the point in taking care of your skin if aging bones contribute to wrinkles?
These wrinkles probably occur from a combination of bones and the skin losing elasticity, Shaw said.
“The skin aging is a big part of it,” he said. “It’s not just using creams; it’s taking care of yourself for bone health and skin health.”
He suggested keeping up on calcium to maintain bone health. People who elect to have surgery might need a two-fold approach of tightening up the skin and adding volume, such as skeletal implants, deep space fillers or even fat to make up for bone loss.
Shaw said the next research was to examine how bone density changes with age.
Read more about the study from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.