The intent of the research started as a way to understand the aging process as it relates to the face. When Dr. Boris Pashkover, a facial plastic surgeon at Rutgers Medical School, conducted a study to document patterns of facial skeletal change among individuals, the point was not to uncover why Black people’s faces seem to age slower than others. Initially, when he conducted the study during his residency at Yale it included a mostly white population. But as Rutgers Medical School is in Newark, New Jersey, the population was starkly different. So when volunteers began to show up, there was a consistency that one of the researchers on the team, Dr. David Buziashvili, couldn’t overlook.
“I was like ‘Hey, did you try it for the population here?’” he recalled. Dr. Pashkover, who was the lead on the research, thought that it was a great idea to conduct the study with non-White participants.
But Buziashvili wanted to take it a step further. As him and partner Neil Sangal ran more CT scans, and saw more participants, he began to realize that making the study about only Black facial structure was highly beneficial. He couldn’t have imagined that he would unearth the type of insights that beauty brands and services pay big bucks to gather—anything that gets them closer to the discovery of the fountain of youth.
“Luckily I did my training in Newark, where the Black population is prevalent. We’d see an Asian patient, a Caucasian, a Hispanic participant here and there, but mostly it was Black. I thought it was just the perfect opportunity to take advantage of and make a good study on the [concept] of Black aging,” he said.
The study, titled “Long-term Patterns of Age-Related Facial Bone Loss in Black Individuals,” was published on JAMA Network this spring. It was the first of its kind and included 20 Black individuals—14 men and six women, aged mid-forties and older. It found that over a ten-year period there was minimal change in bone structure of the participants, compared to previous studies done on White participants observed over the same period of time.
In other words, Black faces change, but just not as quickly as White faces. It’s why we continue to awe at folks like Iman, Sanaa Lathan, Angela Bassett, and Nicole Murphy, who seem to be aging at a Benjamin Button rate.
Dr. Wendy E. Roberts, dermatologist and dermatopathologist, says that the research is in line with what she comes across in her work. But, she also says that it’s not as simple as bone absorption—that’s just one part of the facial aging process, photo damage is the other. So we weren’t completely wrong in what we believed to be the reason behind why Black skin stayed intact as it aged.
“Aging of the face is multifactorial. The high concentration of melanin is a protection for photo damage. Bone density alone does not contribute to aging,” she said. “[But] this study is very compelling because it does demonstrate the deeper structural changes that are an important part of aging, but it’s just half of the story.”
But the question still remained as to what it all means for beauty brands creating products and gadgets that reverse signs of aging, and what it means for the average person who wants to know how to better care for their face.
So ESSENCE asked Dr. Buziashvili to break down all the science-rich language in the study, and most importantly, to confirm whether Black people (and let’s be honest, the rest of the population) could continue to stress the mantra “Black don’t crack,” with accuracy.
ESSENCE: For all of us non-science aficionados, in a nutshell, is the data saying that our bones don’t break down at the same rate and that’s why Black people’s faces tend to appear younger?
Dr. Buziashvili: That’s correct, they don’t degrade as fast. It’s medically known that axial bone, which is bone found in the rest of your body like the long bones or your legs, your arms, that’s always been denser in Black people on average. So we wanted to see if that was the same case for the face, even though it’s a different type of bone. It turned out to be pretty damn similar. Also your bones are much stronger and denser, and your bones peak higher. So you have much further to go down. The difference between races is on a very physiological level.