How Poor Health Shows on Your Face
Your face is your health status
As a student nurse many years ago, I was intrigued to discover how much you could learn about a patient from their face. The colour and texture of the skin, markings, swellings and discolourations all gave clues as to what might be going on. For example, the patient tells a nurse or doctor that he drinks very little alcohol—however, he has a very red, bulbous nose! A classic sign of long-term, heavy drinking.
However, we don't have to wait until poor health shows up in more pronounced ways; our faces will give subtle hints if we know where to look.
Did You Know? Face Facts
- The human face is capable of making over 5,000 distinct expressions.
- We are designed to be able to recognise a friend or foe in a fraction of a second from at least 150 feet away.
- Facial expressions that are a genuine reflection of how we feel are always symmetrical. For example a true smile will always involved both sides of the face and this gives the observor the most natural and balanced expression. However, if only one side of the face is involved this tends to mean some kind of deception.
- The vast majority of people cover up their true emotions with a false smile. For example if we a feeling angry but it's not socially appropriate to express it at a particular time, most of us will produce a false smile to cover up the true emotion felt.
How poor health shows up in your face
There are a number of signs that you can look for that reveals poor health. We'll start with the most obvious relating to the shape of the face and skin texture or colour.
Thin face, gaunt appearance
Interestingly, this can happen to people who are too fanatical about exercising - exercise is of course healthy but it's the old truth having too much of a good thing can be bad for you. Therefore, too much exercise is actually detrimental to facial skin and muscles.
What tends to happen is that when exercise is taken in moderation, a good supply of blood gets into the face giving it a boost with oxygen and nutrients. Going beyond your exercise limits means that blood has to be diverted to other areas of the body, in order to keep up with the exercising regime. This results in the fatty pads of the face - that keep it healthy - are deprived of oxygen and nutrients from the blood and suffer as a consequence. The person can then develop a thin, gaunt appearance.
Sagging skin and jowls
This tends to be caused by fad and crash dieting - the worst things you can do if you want to keep your looks long term. The reason is that many of these silly diets result in fat being lost from the face - this is okay slowly and when taking a proper reducing diet. However, with crash and fad diets, the fat tends to get burnt off too quickly and put back on rapidly when you have stopped the diet.
Dermatologists warn that this loosens the facial skin resulting in both wrinkles, sagging and jowls. Have a look at some folks who have been dieting on and off for years or always seem to be on one diet or another, you'll see the telltale signs with the majority of them.
Pudgy face with sagging skin
This is caused by either alcohol or lack of exercise. Alcohol is a body stressor resulting in large amounts of a substance called cortisol being released. Not only does cortisol lead to fat building up in the face, it also causes fluid retention - especially around the cheeks giving the pudgy, swollen, bloated unhealthy look.
In addition alcohol stimulates the parotid (salivary glands) that sit just under the jaw line. When these glands grow in size due to too much alcohol this gives the face a puffy jowls appearance. When excessive drinking takes place early in life, by reaching the age of only 35 to 40, the damage is almost irreparable.
With lack of exercise, research carried out at St. Andrews University, Fife, Scotland, has shown what some of the young students would look like in 20 years time if they didn't take regular exercise. Their face showed the most marked signs. People who were regularly inactive would develop sagging and loose skin on the neck. While the forehead and eye area were padded out with excess fat.
When a healthy amount of exercise is taken, this not only increases blood circulation to the face but keeps the collagen production well maintained. Collagen is an essential and strong protein found in many areas of the body. In relation to the skin, it helps to keep it moisturised, firm, supple and the production of new cells that renew the skin.
This does not only signify a possible lack of iron in the diet but also suggests that not enough green vegetables are being eaten. Ross Whitehead who carried out research at St. Andrews University, Fife, Scotland, found remarkable healthy skin was achieved by eating three pieces of fruit and vegetables daily. This is because these foods contain carotenoids that help to give skin a healthy, beautiful glow.
People who are overweight or lacking in essential nutrients obtained from green vegetables in particular, tend to lack the benefit of the carotenoids, so making the skin pale. In addition, people who don't do any physical exercise can also have pale skin. When exercise is carried out to a healthy degree, the blood vessels in the face become dilated allowing a healthy rose/pink to show on the cheeks.
Too much caffeine and lack of sunlight are both causes of having flushed skin. Caffeine can dehydrate the skin leaving it dried out and red. Lack of sunlight causes low levels of vitamin D in the body. This vitamin is essential to help replenish new skin cells and a deficiency leaves the skin flaky and red.
These are just a few of the more obvious signs that something is either lacking in our diet or lifestyle or there is an excess. However, if you look more closely there are also numerous other pointers - not quite so obvious - that can tell you about your health.
The hidden signs of poor health
There are a number of signs that we can look for that may point to our health not being good. These range in type from discolourations to markings and each could point to a specific medical condition that could be developing.
Dark patches on the neck/face
These can vary in colour from browns to greys and maybe circular in shape. This could be an indicator of Type 2 diabetes. In medical terms these discolourations are called acanthosis nigricans, and they indicate that there is high levels of the hormone insulin in the blood stream. This usually means that the insulin itself is not working well. These dark discolourations, although normally found in the neck/face region, can also be seen in the armpits. People who tend to develop these patches of colour are often obese and may have developed type 2 diabetes.
Painful cracks at the corners of the mouth
These small cracks can be anything from annoying to sore and can also feel dry. The medical term for this is angular stomatitis or angular cheilitis. Angular meaning the area and stomatitis refers to the mouth area. Chelitis refers to the lips. The medical suffix 'itis' means inflammation. The main cause for angular stomatitis is lack of vitamin B in the diet and lack of vitamin C causes cheilitis. This is because vitamin B when adequate in the diet has anti-inflammatory properties and vitamin C helps general healing and repair in the body. A deficit in either tends to produce sores and inflammation as described.
Dark circles under the eyes
Most people know that dark circles are caused by lack of sleep or sitting in front of your computer for too long. In addition, dark circles could simply be genetic or due to ageing.
However, there are more serious health issues that could be causing dark circles. Such as a deficiency in vitamins A, C, K, E, as well as general nutritional deficiency. They can also be an indicator of anaemia, too much sun, dehydration and it could also be a sign of liver disease such as hepatitis.
Dark circles form under the eyes due to the leaking of tiny blood vessels under the skin. When this happens the body releases special enzymes when repairing the leaks. The leaking blood cells are broken down and this leads to a dark discolouration. This is more noticeable under the eyes because our skin is thinnest in this area. With certain health conditions as described, the leaking of the blood vessels tends to happen more frequently.
These can be found on many areas of the body but they are more frequent on the hands, shoulders and face. The name 'liver spot' is very misleading since they have nothing to do with how well your liver is working. Theses brown discolourations develop due to many years of your skin being exposed to ultraviolet light from the sun. Ultraviolet light causes the skin pigment melatonin to clump together, so the familiar circular, brown spots are formed. Liver spots can be a sign that your skin has had too much ultraviolet exposure and will often be accompanied by dry skin and wrinkles.
Our eyes can give a number of warning signs of poor health if we know what to look for:
- Blood shot eyes are not just caused by all night partying. They could be due to a bacterial infection. Old eye make-up is one of the main causes of this, so make sure you renew your make-up every few months. Blood shot eyes can also be the result of a condition called 'iritis'. This is an inflammation of the coloured part of the eye called the iris. Other conditions that can also cause the eyes to become blood shot include viral infections such as gastroenteritis and more rarely it can be a sign of arthritis.
- Pale eyelids can be caused by iron deficiency anaemia. The inside of the eyelid should be a healthy pink colour. If you notice that this area is pale then this could be a sign that you are anaemic.
- A white ring around the coloured part of the eye - the iris - can be a sign of excess fatty deposits in the body caused by a high cholesterol level. In addition, high cholesterol can also cause small, white lumps to develop on the skin around the eye. They tend to have a waxy, white appearance. The eyes and surrounding skin has a very rich blood supply and for this reason when the body is trying to deposit high levels of cholesterol, it dumps it in areas rich in blood.
I hope this article has been of interest to you. However, as always, if you are concerned about your health in anyway, speak to your doctor as soon as possible. This article is for information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.