Most women want to be lean. Having a low body fat percentage is considered ideal in terms of athleticism and beauty in our culture. But having a low body fat percentage can work against you as your skin starts to age. Have you ever noticed how many thin, athletic women in their mid-30s and 40s have faces that look older than their age? If they spent time lying in the sun, the effects are even more pronounced.
Why is this so? As you age, your face loses fat and volume. If you look at the face of a teenager or person in their early 20s, their face has a youthful fullness. But with age, you lose some of this fullness, which is more pronounced if you have a low body fat percentage. As facial fat decreases, you begin to see hollows around the eyes and cheeks. Even worse, over time as skin loses its elasticity, those areas start to drop, creating visible bags around the eyes, which create a tired look.
Low Body Fat and Facial Aging
According to Dr. Rod Rohrich, M.D, professor of plastic surgery at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, women need a body fat percentage of 15% or higher to maintain enough fullness to prevent these problems once they enter their late 30s and early 40s. Women with naturally angular faces may need a body fat percentage as high as 25% to have enough facial fat to maintain youthful looking skin.
So are you destined to look old if you work and maintain a low body fat percentage as you age? Not necessarily. A lot of how your skin ages depends on your lifestyle habits. If you’ve always worn sunscreen, your skin is going to age at a much slower rate than someone who spent time in the sun and never wore sunscreen. Diet plays a role too. Skin ages when collagen and elastin fibers that give skin its support are damaged and broken down causing skin to sag. This comes from exposure to free radicals from the sunlight, pollutants in the environment, cigarette smoke and eating a bad diet. So, eating an antioxidant-rich diet helps to protect collagen and elastin against damage.
Women who are yo-yo dieters and are constantly losing weight and regaining it are at higher risk for premature skin aging since the constant stretching damages collagen and elastin fibers. So having a very low body fat percentage and repeatedly gaining and losing weight damage skin over time.
Outdoor runners are at high risk for having prematurely aged skin due to their constant exposure to sunlight and their low body fat, so much so that there’s a name for it – runner’s face. But exercise has positive benefits on the aging process as well. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that people who worked out regularly had longer chromosomal end caps called telomeres. This bodes well for longevity.
Restoring Youthful-Looking Skin
The best way to keep your skin looking youthful as you age is to stop smoking, wear sunscreen, eat a whole food diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, reduce stress in your life and don’t yo-yo diet. As you get older, don’t subject your skin and body to extremely low-calorie diets. One of the first places the fat loss will show is on your face.
Women’s Health. October 2010. “It’s Another Sunny Day”
Cosmetic Dermatology. Principles and Practice. Leslie Baumann, M.D. 2002.