How Poor Health Shows on Your Face

Updated on March 5, 2019
Seeker7 profile image

Helen is from Fife, Scotland. She was a registered nurse for many years before becoming a care manager and trainer for health workers.

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.

Your face can reveal many things including how healthy you are.
Your face can reveal many things including how healthy you are. | Source

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.

Pale 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.

Flushed skin

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 eyes can tell us a lot about human health in general.
The eyes can tell us a lot about human health in general. | Source

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.

Liver Spots

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.

The eyes

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.


Submit a Comment
  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    5 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Thank you, glad you enjoyed the hub.

  • profile image


    5 years ago

    Very good read, thank you.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Great comment - thank you!!

  • ShyeAnne profile image


    6 years ago from Deep Bay, British Columbia, Canada

    Great info, and lots of it. Voted add to the sagging skin and jowls, I have remained basically in the same weight range all my life, on the smaller side. I have come to believe a lot of how our skin ages is genetic. My sisters have similar wrinkle patterns to mine.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Rosemay, awww what a lovely comment to leave - thank you!!! Glad you enjoyed the hub, but don't do what I did when writing it - looking in the mirror to see if I could spot anything!!!

  • Rosemay50 profile image

    Rosemary Sadler 

    6 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

    Excellent hub Helen. Some very useful information and a great list of signs we should be looking out for.

    You are brilliant for keeping us all in the picture to protect our health. Thank you for the detailed work you put into these health hubs. Much appreciated

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi gags3480, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub - many thanks also for the vote and share, greatly appreciated!

  • gags3480 profile image


    6 years ago from Kanpur, India

    A lot of healthy info. over here. Loved reading it.

    Voted up & shared.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    HI vibesites, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub. Yes, the face tends to be almost a written book about what's happening inside.

  • vibesites profile image


    6 years ago from United States

    Great hub! There are so much more signs of poor health than just dark circles around the eyes and sagging skin on the face. This is so detailed. Thanks for posting! :)

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Rasma, as always, lovely to hear from you and glad that you enjoyed the hub - yes, the face does tend to give away so many things and not just emotions!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi ChitrangadaSharan, lovely to hear from you as always.

    Yes, I agree, I think today's doctors have lost many of the observation skills that doctors from the past had to have in order to diagnose medical conditions. Things obviously have moved on in medicine, but we can still learn a lot from people in the past.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi AlexK2009, many thanks for stopping by and glad you found the hub valuable.

    Yes, it definitely does only scratch the surface. I guess the problem is trying not to make an article too long or too complicated. A balancing act is always needed especially for articles on line.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Sharkye11, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub.

    I agree, the time in nursing school being taught the outward signs of medical conditions inside was always fascinating to me as well! It's also great to hear someone like yourself who has highlighted the serious problems that can arise from alcohol and P and OTC medicines - its not so much a hidden epidemic, but one that is ignored I think!! Hopefully people who read your comment will also take stock of what is in their medicine cabinet as youi've rightly pointed out. Thank you for an interesting comment!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi ladydeonne, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Tom, lovely to hear from you as always and glad that you enjoyed the hub - many thanks too for the vote up, greatly appreciated!!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    LOL!!! Hi Frank - you remind me of when I was a student nurse and getting to know all of these weird and wonderful conditions, I thought I had everything from botulism to meningitis!!! So I know what it feels like to 'look for the signs'!! LOL!!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Marla Neogra, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub!

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi peachpurple, many thanks for stopping by and glad that you enjoyed the hub. When I had lack of vitamin B some years ago along with anaemia I had cracks at the corners of my mouth and the dark circles! It took ages to get rid of the circles but the mouth cracks cleared up in a day or so.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi Vickiw, lovely to hear from you and glad you enjoyed the hub.

    Yes, it's always interesting to watch people's faces and try to figure out what might be going on and we always do seem to know someone who has one or more of the signs.

  • Seeker7 profile imageAUTHOR

    Helen Murphy Howell 

    6 years ago from Fife, Scotland

    Hi MysticMoonlight, many thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed the hub. Many thanks for the share as well - greatly appreciated!

  • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

    Gypsy Rose Lee 

    6 years ago from Daytona Beach, Florida

    Thanks for sharing this very informative and useful hub. Didn't know you could tell so much from the face. Passing this on.

  • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

    Chitrangada Sharan 

    6 years ago from New Delhi, India

    Very nice and informative! Face is the mirror of a person's health. In olden days, when there were no blood examinations available, the doctors or health specialists could diagnose a person's illness, merely by looking at the face.

    Very well done hub as usual, thanks for sharing!

  • AlexK2009 profile image


    6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

    Interesting what you can tell from the face. I think this only scratches the surface but is pretty valuable

  • Sharkye11 profile image

    Jayme Kinsey 

    6 years ago from Oklahoma

    People can learn so much by paying attention to their bodies. This was a fascinating presentation. This was my favorite part of nursing school, learning possible illnesses just from observation. Most of the worst health effects I saw were caused by alcohol and too many prescription and OTC drugs. People worry a lot about the quality of their food and air, and the dangers of chemical cleaners...but they really do need to pay attention to what is in their medicine cabinet too.

    Voting up!

  • ladydeonne profile image

    Deonne Anderson 

    6 years ago from Florence, SC

    Very good and useful information. Voted up and shared.

  • kashmir56 profile image

    Thomas Silvia 

    6 years ago from Massachusetts

    Hi Helen great article on how poor health shows up in one's face, very useful information within this well written article .

    Vote up and more !!!

  • Frank Atanacio profile image

    Frank Atanacio 

    6 years ago from Shelton

    wow now you got me scouring my body and face looking for these signs.. LOL nonetheless a great share seeker7

  • Marla Neogra profile image

    Marla J Neogra 

    6 years ago from Parkersburg, West Virginia

    Thank you, I voted interesting and up. Lots of unique information in one place.

  • peachpurple profile image


    6 years ago from Home Sweet Home

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful hub. I have cracked lips, panda eyes and lots of blemishes on my cheeks. Think got to do with the sun since i always hang the laundry in the morning sun and keep the laundry in the afternoon. lack of water is one of the problem too. Voted useful

  • profile image


    6 years ago

    Very interesting Hub. I found myself mentally evaluating my own face, and decided I am not doing too badly! I could think of someone for each of the symptoms you describe, however, so that made it really worthwhile to make those connections!

  • profile image


    6 years ago

    This is a great informative Hub! Some of these I knew about but some I did not. This Hub really makes me think about some of these issues I've seen on/with loved ones so I will pass on this information, thanks for sharing!


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