By Dennis Thompson
31, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Every face tells a story, and that story
apparently includes hints of how quickly a person is aging, a new study
Facial features have proven even more reliable than
blood tests in spotting those for whom time is taking a heavier toll, a
Chinese research team reports in the March 31 issue of the journal Cell Research.
computerized 3-D facial imaging process uncovered a number of "tells"
that show if a person is aging more rapidly, including a widening mouth,
bulging nose, sagging upper lip, shrinking gums and drooping eye
corners, the researchers said.
"This suggests not only that youth
is 'skin deep,' but also that health is 'written' on the face," the
study authors concluded, suggesting that facial scanning could more
accurately assess a person's general health than a routine physical
This sort of facial imaging is part of a cutting-edge
technology aimed at estimating life expectancy and assessing health risk
factors simply by taking a scan of your face, said Jay Olshansky, a
professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago's School of Public
Health and a board member of the American Federation for Aging Research.
lot of your risk factor for disease shows up in your face," Olshansky
said. "You can identify the precise places on the face where these risk
factors show up."
In fact, Olshansky predicts that insurance
companies eventually could turn to such technology to improve
underwriting of life insurance, predicting a person's future health with
a simple face scan rather than a complex panel of blood tests.
of that blood chemistry, all of the money spent on it, is mostly a
waste of money and time," he said. "You can get at these risks a much
simpler way through a combination of facial analytics and asking the
In the new study, researchers at the Chinese
Academy of Sciences collected 3-D facial images of 332 people of Chinese
descent between the ages of 17 and 77.
Based on this data, the
researchers constructed a model for predicting age, generating a map of
the aging human face that recognized certain patterns of aging based on
specific facial features.
They found that up to age 40, people of
the same chronological age could differ by up to six years in facial
age. Those older than 40 showed even wider variation in facial age.
aging science, we know people who look young for their age are aging
more slowly," Olshansky said. "They look younger because they probably
are younger. One year of clock time is matched by something less than
one year of biological time. It's real. We can see it."
researchers compared the results of their facial scans to routine blood
tests they took from the participants, and found that age estimates
based on facial features were more accurate than blood screenings for
cholesterol, uric acid or the blood protein albumin.
track with what doctors already know about how age can affect a person's
face, said Dr. Anne Taylor, chairwoman of the American Society of
Plastic Surgeons' Public Education Committee.
"Our lips are
shrinking, and the distance between the nose and the mouth increases as
we age," Taylor said. "And there's a reason for the saying, 'Long in the
tooth.' Your gums are shrinking as you age, so more of your teeth are
Olshansky added that facial features also reveal evidence of behaviors that can affect your health.
tend to develop wrinkles around the mouth, caused by constant pursing
of the lips to suck on a cigarette, he said. Drinkers develop a "W.C.
Fields" nose, red and bulbous at the tip.
are exploring the ways in which diabetes, obesity, drug use and other
detrimental personal behaviors affect the aging of the face, Olshansky
Even though the Chinese findings jibe with what is known
about facial aging, they need to be verified through follow-up research,
said Dr. Stephen Park, president of the American Academy of Facial,
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
Park argued that the new study
could not show whether some people are physically aging faster than
their years, because the researchers did not include a control group for
"It's not fair to say some are physiologically aging
faster or more slowly than their chronological age suggests, because
they use the data from these participants to define what the age group
should look like," he said.
Visit the U.S. National Institutes of Health for more on aging.