How the loss of sex hormone oestrogen causes a woman’s face to age faster than a man

Time, they say, seems to speed up as we get older.

And it appears that the same happens to the ageing process, too.

Now scientists have found what most older women already suspected – that the speed with which their faces wrinkle and sag accelerates when they reach the age of 50.

Researchers used computers to measure and map the changes in nearly 600 different parts of the face in men and women aged between 26 and 90. They found similar rates of change between the age of 40 and 50.

Researchers from the University of Vienna studied almost 600 points on volunteers faces using computers to map the effects of aging on men and women aged between 20 and 90. The researchers found women's faces aged 'quicker' than a man of the same age once they hit menopause

Researchers from the University of Vienna studied almost 600 points on volunteers faces using computers to map the effects of aging on men and women aged between 20 and 90. The researchers found women's faces aged 'quicker' than a man of the same age once they hit menopause

Researchers from the University of Vienna studied almost 600 points on volunteers faces using computers to map the effects of aging on men and women aged between 20 and 90. The researchers found women’s faces aged ‘quicker’ than a man of the same age once they hit menopause

When women hit menopause, the loss of oestrogen hits the production of collagen which affects the skin's elasticity. Women also suffer from less defined cheekbones and shrinking of the chin

When women hit menopause, the loss of oestrogen hits the production of collagen which affects the skin's elasticity. Women also suffer from less defined cheekbones and shrinking of the chin

When women hit menopause, the loss of oestrogen hits the production of collagen which affects the skin’s elasticity. Women also suffer from less defined cheekbones and shrinking of the chin

But after 50 – the average age at which the menopause starts – age-related changes suddenly sped up in women. They rapidly experienced noticable differences such as their eyes appearing smaller, the nose and ears lengthening and faces becoming flatter overall due to a loss of fat and thinning of the skin.

The ‘peak’ in the process continued until 60, after which it settled down again. The acceleration is thought to be related to the loss of the sex hormone oestrogen following the menopause. It has widespread effects on the protein collagen, which gives skin its elasticity.

It also causes bone to be re-absorbed, resulting in less defined cheekbones and a shrinking of the chin.

Researchers from the University of Vienna and others analysed the faces of 88 men and women in the study. They then scanned 585 measurement points on the face and compared the differences in the faces between adults of different ages.

In both sexes, they said, the features of ageing were generally similar and included a flatter face, saggier skin, deeper lines between nose and the corner of the mouth, smaller visible areas of the eyes, thinner lips and longer nose and ears. But even before the age of 50, experts found, women’s faces age twice as fast as men. Between 50 and 60 the ‘ageing trajectory’ was up to three times faster.

Sonja Windhager, who led the research, said: ‘Men and women age similarly up to the age of 50. It’s a linear progression. But at the age of 50, for women, it goes really fast. It doesn’t speed up at 50 for men.’

The researcher added: ‘After the age of 50, the best predictor of how old you look is your age from menopause. The onset of menopause varies in women quite a lot.

‘On average, it is around the age of 50, with a variation of around ten years, with on average some women starting at 40 and some as late as 60. This seems to determine facial shape more than actual age.’

Around 30 per cent of skin collagen is lost in the first five menopausal years. In the study, none of the women was taking hormone replacement therapy.

However, it could be one way to prevent some of the age-related acceleration, experts said.

The research, published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, could also help crime scene investigators to more accurately reconstruct faces from human remains. 

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