Is "Runner's Face" real?

Discussions on how to maintain or perhaps even regain healthy skin.
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Tom Hagerty
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Is "Runner's Face" real?

Post by Tom Hagerty »

A few days ago a woman sent me an email in which she described some factors which might cause premature aging of the skin. Some of this premature skin aging I see in women who engage in marathon running and in the training that they do to get ready for these contests. There is a question as to whether "runner's face" is a reality or if it's just an urban legend.

Here are some of the signs of runner's face: sagging cheeks, too little fat beneath the facial skin, a drawn face with sometimes a haunted look. Perhaps this skeletal look comes from too much pavement-pounding under the unforgiving rays of the sun. This extreme form of exercise in the summer's heat might break down the collagen and elastin in the face. The small, mostly vertical lines caused by this are the signs of premature aging of the skin.
Runner's face, reality or myth
Runner's face, reality or myth
Runner's Face.png (95.23 KiB) Viewed 23691 times
Another problem that women marathoners face is hurting bones. Perhaps these beginning indications of osteoporosis are the result of too little body fat in obsessive runners. When a woman's body fat is 17 percent or less, menstruation often ceases - a hormonal problem. This could lead to lack of bone density.

I'd like to hear from anyone who has thoughts about runner's face - reality or myth.
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Joined: Sat Oct 11, 2014 8:46 am

Re: Is "Runner's Face" real?

Post by sagafemina »

I hadn't heard this term before, and it does sound like an attention grabbing headline. If you search for it, you will find quite a few articles, though none in the scientific literature. Apparently the term was coined by a plastic surgeon, who might have observed in his marathoner patients a trend towards an appearance such as the one pictured, or (cynically speaking) might have sensed a new market.

I don't think we know whether the constant pounding of pavement increases gravitational pull on facial muscles, though one would guess both from physics and from sensations in other parts of a female's body that it is likely...we do know, pretty definitively, that characteristic facial features of aging reflect what would be expected from the everyday pull of gravity coupled with habitual expressions, facial tics, and even sleep positions.

We also know that loss of facial fat from any cause (genetic, weight loss, HIV) causes loss of one of the main structural supports in the face (think what makes a face appear is the similarity to the chubby cheeks of a baby!). Another key structure that actually shrinks with age is the facial bone structure (that's why we all tend to look more like skeletons as we age). Teeth, too, provide major support and when there is loss, there is change in the overlying facial features.

And we CERTAINLY know that sun exposure is a major source of all skin problems, both as mentioned, because of breakdown of collagen caused by UV radiation exposure (resulting in laxity---sagging and wrinkles) and because of the induction of protective pigmentation by skin that senses it is being damaged by the sun's rays. There's no doubt about this, as any dermatologist (not pushing any products) will tell.

OTOH, running is one of the most healthful activities in which one can engage, as long as it's done sensibly and carefully, with attention to footwear, stride, surface, and bodily signs (such as pain) that something is not working well for us. And that we're not doing it obsessively, to the exclusion of other healthy physical activities or with inadequate nutrition and hydration.

But any runner who values his or her appearance would, IMHO, be foolhardy not to run with adequate sunscreen on the face and a hat, and also sunscreen or protective clothing on other sun exposed areas. Speaking not only as a physician, but also an exercise runner, an anti-aging specialist, and someone who has had a near-miss with melanoma.
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