Do Asians age differently, or is it just one of those baseless stereotypes? If there is something to it, is the secret their diet, genetics, or is there some other cultural explanation? We asked an expert to give us a scientific answer to explain the differences in ageing with different ethnicities.
Is this comic reinforcing stereotypes?
Perhaps, but, in terms of facial anatomy, there is some truth to it. Asian facial anatomy is different from Caucasian facial anatomy in several important ways. Many people feel that Asians age at a different rate.
Does skin color play a role in skin aging?
Skin color is very relevant when it comes to aging skin. Melanin which is the pigment responsible for color (e.g., skin, hair, eyes), provides some protection from harmful UV light. Asians have more melanin compared to their Caucasian counterparts, but less than African Americans.
So the added sun protection from skin color is the difference to slowing down the signs of aging?
Skin color matters, but so does culture. Tanning became a beauty trend in North America and Europe in the mid 20th Century. Pale skin tones, once a sign of social status in the West, became less popular as tanned skin began to be viewed as both healthy and trendy. Today, Asians are much more conscious of sun damage and its effects on aging. Umbrellas and hats are used routinely as sun protection in Asia.
Are there any other factors related to skin aging?
The most important factor is genetics. One of the important markers of youth is facial volume – how much fat a person has on their face. For example, babies have very chubby cheeks. Babies are as youthful as it gets. Asians tend to have more fat volume in the cheek and eyelid area compared to Caucasians.
I’ve never noticed that. Do Asians really have chubby cheeks?
Individually, everyone is different. Like any other group of people, Asians come in various shapes and sizes, so it’s hard to notice. It’s not that Asians all have chubby cheeks like babies, but they tend to retain the facial fat, a marker of youth that we all identify with (consciously or not) for longer. This is the secret to their seemingly timeless appearance.
That’s true; I do notice that a hollowed-out look is common in older people.
Caucasians will begin to lose fat from their faces at a much earlier age and will start looking more hollow faster as they have less fat to start with.
Comedians have made careers out of the skit – Asians look 18 until they’re 45, then boom, you look like you’re 60 the next day?
Aging is a continuous and gradual process for everyone. Comparatively, though, the aging process for the Caucasian face may appear more gradual because of the more noticeable changes in volume loss that come at an earlier age.
Still, is there anything else?
Aging isn’t just what you can see, the skin. It’s not even just the fat pads that change with age. Aging is a whole-body process including the bones and ligaments, which are the support structure that keeps the fat pads in place. When these structures start to recede and lose attenuation, major changes occur both for Asians and Caucasians. So both Asians and Caucasians have a critical time around the early to late 40s when major structural changes begin to occur.
Why does this seem to affect Asians disproportionately?
It’s not that Asians are disproportionately affected. These changes that were happening beneath the skin were less visible for Asians in their 30s due to their extra fat pads. In truth, everyone ages gradually, regardless of ethnicity, but when Asians lose key supporting structures in their 40s or early 50s, the changes may seem more exaggerated and sudden.