There's an old saying that, as you get older, you need to choose between your face and your rear end. In other words, if you're skinny you'll look good from behind, but your face will suffer.
Depressing as it may seem, there is some truth to the saying. A couple of studies have found that women with a low body mass index (BMI) have increased skin aging -- including one study of identical twins. When the twins were under age 40, the heavier twin looked older. But after age 40, it was the thinner twin who looked older [source: Guyuron].
Do skinny women just look older, or do they actually have more wrinkles? Actually, both are true. "In general what happens is, as your BMI goes lower you lose some volume of soft tissue, particularly over the age of 40," explains Robert Weiss, MD, Dermatologist at the Maryland Laser Skin and Vein Institute, Associate Professor of Dermatology at Johns Hopkins University, and Fellow with the American Academy of Dermatology. "When you lose that volume of soft tissue, the wrinkles do either become deeper or more noticeable."
It doesn't help that skinny women may be more likely than those who are heavier to indulge in the behaviors most notorious for spawning wrinkles. For example, thinner women might be more likely to slip on a bikini and go sunbathing. Or to keep their slim physique, they might smoke cigarettes or yo-yo diet.
So if thinner women have more wrinkles, is the opposite also true? Yes, heavier women may look less lined as they age because they have more fat padding just beneath the skin (subcutaneous fat). They also might have a little extra collagen (the protein that gives skin its elasticity), says Dr. Weiss. However, don't think that wrinkle prevention is any justification for gorging yourself on Whoppers and pints of Ben & Jerry's. Being overweight can lead to a number of health problems that aren't worth the reduction in wrinkles.
You don't have to be zaftig to avoid wrinkles. You just need to take good care of your skin. Read on to learn the best ways of avoiding prematurely aged skin.
How to Avoid Wrinkles
Wrinkling is an inevitable part of aging, and it's impossible to avoid getting some lines and creases. But no matter what you weigh, there are ways to protect your skin from excess wrinkles.
Practice good sun protection. Protecting yourself when you're outside in the sun is the No. 1 way to prevent wrinkles. Exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays damages the skin, leading to about 90 percent of all wrinkles [sources: WebMD, Merck Source]. Wear a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher with UVA/UVB protection. Cover up or go in the shade during the peak sun hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Steer clear of tanning parlors, too.
Quit smoking. Some people may smoke because they're afraid of gaining weight. It's true that smokers weigh, on average, 4 to 10 pounds (1.8 to 4.5 kilograms) less than non-smokers who eat and exercise the same amount, and that they tend to put on those 4 to 10 pounds when they kick the habit. But smoking is also one of the biggest causes of wrinkles (not to mention heart disease, lung cancer, emphysema and a wide assortment of other deadly diseases) [source: Forever Free: A Guide to Remaining Smoke Free]. Smoking leads to wrinkles by constricting tiny blood vessels, which reduces the supply of oxygen and other nutrients to the face. Smokers also get lines around their mouths from continually puckering their lips to puff on cigarettes.
Lose weight in a healthy way. The yo-yo dieting that some women use to lose extra inches can really wreak havoc on the face. Repeatedly losing and gaining weight stretches the skin, making it less elastic, while depleting the face's padding. "You can get away with it in your 20s, you may be able to get away with it in your 30s, but once you get into your 40s, yo-yo dieting may cause greater loss from the fat pads in your face," Dr. Weiss says.
Don't squint. When your mother warned you not to make faces "because your face will stay like that," she was half right. Frowning, squinting or scowling repeatedly can leave permanent lines. Wear sunglasses outside so you don't have to squint. And cheer up!
If your skin is starting to show some signs of age, there are ways to smooth out wrinkles, but stick to the science and skip the hype. There are no "miracle cures" for wrinkles. No cream, gel or pill is going to make a 60-year-old look 20 again. However, there is some evidence that creams and other topical preparations containing antioxidants like vitamins C and E, selenium or retinoic acid (a form of vitamin A) can minimize the look of wrinkles [sources: Burke KE, Weiss].
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Burke KE. Photodamage of the skin: protection and reversal with topical antioxidants. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2004;3:149-155.
- Cosmetic Procedures: Sun Exposure and Skin Cancer. WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/skin-beauty/guide/sun-exposure-skin-cancer
- Forever Free: A Guide to Remaining Smoke-Free. http://www.smokefree.gov/pubs/FFree3.pdf
- Guyuron B, Rowe DJ, Weinfeld AB, Eshraghi Y, Fathi A, Iamphongsai S. Factors contributing to the facial aging of identical twins. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2009;123:1321-1331.
- Merck Source. "What's the Skinny On Your Skin?" http://www.mercksource.com/pp/us/cns/cns_health_a_to_z.jspzQzpgzEzzSzppdocszSzuszSzcnszSzcontentzSzatozzSzwomskinzPzhtml
- Weiss, Robert, MD, Dermatologist at the Maryland Laser Skin and Vein Institute, Associate Professor of Dermatology at Johns Hopkins University, and Fellow with the American Academy of Dermatology. Personal correspondence. September 2009 http://www.mdlsv.com/