Healthy Aging

Age Really Is Just a Number, New Research Shows


Some people say you’re only as old as you feel. Well, it turns out you’re only as old as you look.

A new study recently published in Cell Research shows that medical professionals might be able to judge your biological age better by using their eyes than by taking your blood.

The Research

Using 3D facial imaging techniques, a team of Chinese scientists has been able to pinpoint older people’s biological age – in other words, how much their bodies have aged and how long they will live – regardless of the number of years they’ve been alive.

3D imaging is one of several cutting-edge technologies that’s being used to estimate life expectancy and identify health risk factors, according to University of Chicago professor Jay Olshansky, the noted aging expert (see our interview with Olshansky here). “In aging science,” Olshansky says, “we know people who look young for their age are aging more slowly. 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.”

The team analyzed more than 300 3D faces to create a map of facial aging that, the researchers were surprised to find, correlated closely with general health biomarkers. Many experts say the new map pinpoints biological age and can alert doictors to health issues better than blood tests and physical exams. For example, women with older-looking faces tend to have higher levels of “bad” cholesterol. Men with older faces are more likely to have lower levels of albumin, a protein found in blood plasma. People with less fullness in the cheeks and the area below the eyes (signs of facial aging) tend to have higher levels of “good” cholesterol and albumin.

According to, “People younger than 40 can look up to six years younger or six years older than their actual ages, based on their facial features…. Variation increased in people older than age 40, meaning that some people looked much younger, whereas others looked much older, making it harder to determine their true ages.”

The Signs of Biological Age

  • Widening mouth
  • Bulging nose
  • Sagging upper lip
  • Shrinking gums
  • Drooping eye corners

What’s Next?

The Chinese researchers say they didn’t expect to find such a strong correlation between facial features and biological age, but now that they’ve created the new map, they say more research – in particular, whether the results hold across ethnicities – can determine whether studying the face can help doctors customize treatments for “fast agers” and “slow agers.” For example, fast agers might be given treatments that are now recommended for people older than they are.

Lead researcher Jing-Dong Han says she’s found potential U.S. collaborators to collect American samples. Meanwhile, you can try the website Face My Age, which purports to read your biological age based on a photo that you upload. (Read more about that in our article “Can How Old You Look Tell You How Long You’ll Live?”



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