Dame Jenni Murray has reignited the age-old conversation around whether losing weight in later life will land you with so-called “diet face”.
In an interview with The Times, the ‘Women’s Hour’ host recalled advice given to her by novelist Barbara Cartland: “Jenni, you know, when you get older you sacrifice your face or your figure. Don’t sacrifice your face, just sit down a lot.”
Cartland reportedly gave the same advice to British journalist and presenter Libby Purves in 2015, telling her: “After 40, a woman has to choose between her face and her figure”, while the likes of Jane Fonda, Courteney Cox and Madonna have also spoken about the phenomenon of choosing between your face and body.
But is “diet face” – as it is popularly known – really a thing? And, if so, what can you even do about it?
What is ‘diet face’?
"Yes, ‘diet face’ is a thing,” says Dr MJ Rowland-Warmann, founder and lead clinician at Liverpool-based dental and aesthetic clinic Smileworks. “When we are young, our faces contain fat pads distributed throughout cheeks and lower face in order to support the face and give a youthful appearance. This is also what shapes the so-called ‘triangle of youth’, where the area of the cheek is wider than the lower part of the face.”
When we age, this facial support system diminishes. “The fat pads of the face shrink and deflate, resulting in laxity and the gathering of skin around the lower part of the face.” This results in a “hollowness of the cheek”, a “gaunt appearance” and a “jowls” effect.
While this natural ageing process happens to everyone to some degree, it is “sped up by rapid changes in weight and fat loss like we see in exercise.”
Rowland-Warmann adds: “I speak to patients daily who tell me that dieting made them feel healthy in themselves but that they have lost weight in parts of their face that they didn’t want to, leading to an aged appearance.” A similar process occurs in long distance runners, who “exercise away” their fat pads.
So how do you prevent this happening?
Murray suggests in her Times interview she is happy to maintain her current weight to avoid “diet face”.
But Dr Ross Perry, medical director of CosmedicsUK, cautions you should “never be tempted to retain an unhealthy weight in order to avoid diet face”, citing the “many health benefits from being a healthy BMI”. However, you may want to steer clear of crash dieting, which can worsen the effect of weight loss on your skin.
“In an ideal world, maintaining a healthy weight throughout your life is the best prevention,” he advises, while acknowledging this is not always possible. If you do need to lose weight, you should do so through “a combination of healthy diet with plenty of protein and vegetables, plus sensible exercise.”
Finally, good hydration will also help to keep the skin supple, adds Perry, as well as using a good moisturiser and daily sunscreen application.
Can you reverse diet face?
If you are unhappy with the effects of weight loss on your facial structure, there are a number of non-surgical “tweakments” recommended by Perry and MJ Rowland-Warmann.
“Before reaching straight for the scalpel and undergoing plastic surgery, replacing volume by means of dermal filler treatments or improving laxity with thread lift treatments may be a good option,” advises MJ Rowland-Warmann. “This can sympathetically restore lost volume, adding definition and support,” she adds. “Often subtle “tweakments” leave [clients] delighted and complement the effort they have made to change to a healthy lifestyle."
Perry also recommends “high-tech treatments like toning with micro-currents” which, adds Perry, which “can achieve remarkable results in tightening and lifting loose skin”.