Studying the causes and effects of aging skin, twin by twin.
Twins. The ultimate real-life nature vs. nurture experiment. Identical genetics, different lifestyles. They make it possible to compare the physical impact of certain behaviors, as compared to a built-in control sibling. Few parts of our bodies tell the story of where we’ve been more clearly than our skin.
From the time they part ways as womb-mates with the same DNA, twins begin making their own decisions.
Eventually, as they live their own lives and make their own choices, each twin’s emotional and physical individuality starts to show, in subtle or dramatic ways. To some extent, we are all the product of what we choose to eat and drink, how much we exercise, and, of course, how we care for that all-important organ, our skin.
Although twins’ biological ages usually differ by a matter of minutes, as they get older, their appearance can leave onlookers placing them several years apart. So what factors contribute to prematurely aging skin and which add the most perceived age in the eye of the beholder?
That was the question that inspired a 2009 study published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery by Dr. Guyuron et al. The study surveyed 186 sets of twins and had their photos evaluated by an independent panel that assigned each of the twins an age, based on a range of observations.
The study (which incidentally was published the same year that twin births in the US reached a peak of about one in 30) concluded that certain lifestyle and environmental factors do correlate to the appearance of aging skin, leaving twins looking not quite as identical as they once did.
Researchers asked the participants to describe their personal histories, specifically related to sun exposure, body-mass index (BMI), and the use of alcohol, tobacco, botox, antidepressants, and hormone replacement therapy. Marital status was also one of the criteria surveyed.
Based on facial appearance alone, the panel perceived an age difference most often in twins who had differing amounts of sun exposure over their lifetimes.
The twin on the right was thought to be 11.25 years older than her 61-year-old sister, mostly due to the discoloration and wrinkles on her face. She reported spending approximately 10 hours more in the sun per week. The fact that she weighed 15 pounds less also contributed to the panel’s assessment, which tended to be the case when the siblings were over 40.
Another factor that the study found had a noticeable effect on skin aging was smoking. Cigarette smoke has the double-whammy of doing both internal and external damage, which can have a combined impact on the health of your skin. Between nicotine and the thousands of other chemicals in tobacco, cigarettes chronically rob our skin of oxygen and other nutrients, while also degrading collagen and elasticity. On the outside, the heat and irritants in the smoke itself can contribute to the earlier appearance of age spots and wrinkles. (2)
20 years of smoking added 6.25 years to Twin A’s appearance, according to the panel
We all know that the liver is instrumental in processing alcohol, but it also plays a major role in the quality and quantity of collagen fibers we produce. Combined with alcohol’s ability to damage blood vessels in the dermis, it’s no surprise that the study found it also contributed to premature skin aging.
Participants’ Body Mass Index (BMI) was another factor responsible for some twins’ perceived age difference, although the effect depended on their actual age. A higher BMI made twins below 40 appear older, while making those over 40 seem younger. Why? One reason is that a little extra weight can soften wrinkles in an older person, but can make younger people’s skin appear to sag.
Proactive botox and hormone replacement treatments were shown to ward off premature aging, while use of antidepressants accelerated it due to weakening of the eye muscles over time. When it came to marital status, divorced twins appeared up to 2 years older than their single or married sibling. However, widowed women appeared 2 years younger.
Well, that’s all very interesting, but what if you’re not a twin? Who will ever know what your skin would have looked like if you had taken better care of yourself? No one, of course. But why should that stop you from using the best skin care products you can find, especially those that contain the freshest, purest ingredients. LightWater’s daily moisturizer and replenishing creams offer skin nutrition with a blend of vitamins, antioxidants, and skin-essential ingredients to support skin health.
We all want to age gracefully, to look and feel as healthy and vibrant as we can, no matter what age we are. Rather than comparing yourself to an imaginary sibling, challenge yourself to stick to habits that will protect your skin and keep it looking like the twin you see in the mirror today.
- Factors contributing to the facial aging of identical twins. Plast Reconstr. Surg. 2009 Apr; 123(4):1312-1331