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It’s often said that our skin bears the first evidence of aging. Sagging, wrinkles, and discoloration are all common signs of age, and people have been trying to reduce the appearance of these indicators for years. But new research suggests that the changes that affect how old we look may be taking place far beneath our skin.

A study published in the Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery compared 120 facial CT scans taken of men and women in various age groups, including 20 men and 20 women ages 20 to 36; 20 men and 20 women between the ages of 41 and 64; and 20 men and 20 women over the age of 65.

The length, width, and angle of the jawbones were measured in each scan and the results were compared by age group. Researchers discovered that the jaws of people in the youngest group were shorter in length, while the jaws of people in the oldest group were shortest in height. This indicates that as a person ages, the angle of their jaw line changes significantly and there is less overall volume of the jawbone to support the surrounding skin. These changes could contribute to the appearance of sagging skin and less definition along the jaw line.

Could this research change cosmetic surgery?

If further research confirms that the shape of the jaw actually changes with age, future anti-aging treatments may include structural enhancements specifically designed to counterbalance these changes. Implants, for example, may be used to help recreate the jaw volume that a patient experienced at a younger age. The more information plastic surgeons have about how the body changes with age, the more fine-tuned techniques can be to create more natural-looking results.