Whether we are discussing Angela Bassett’s flawless face after the Oscars, or trying to figure out how it’s possible the pretty sister at work still looks 25 when we know she’s pushing 40, the African American community turns to this trusty, old school adage: Black don’t crack.
Now thanks to a Rutgers New Jersey Medical School study, grandma’s quip is truer than ever. And the reasons are far deeper than the melanin that shelters darker skin from the ultraviolet rays that lead to wrinkles. It goes right on down to the bone.
Black people are not only born with denser bones in our faces, those bones also don’t break down as quickly — especially the bone between the eyes and the cheekbones — as our Caucasian counterparts. The result: Black faces maintain structural support for a longer period of time so we have younger-looking skin for longer.
“This is why black people look like themselves longer,” said Boris Paskhover, a facial plastic surgeon at Rutgers who spearheaded the study as a way to better understand the aging process as it relates to the bones in the face. As we get older, Paskhover said, black faces, like all faces, change, but the bone structure in black people doesn’t change at the same rate as in Caucasian faces, he said. “If we can understand what causes the face to look older, then we can perhaps one day understand how to prevent the aging process without surgery.”
The study, “Long-term Patterns of Age-Related Facial Bone Loss in Black Individuals,” published in JAMA Facial Plastics in April, looked at the faces of 20 people — six men and 14 women — between the ages of 40 and 55. It’s a small study, but authors believe it’s the first to assess changes in bone structure among black subjects, though it’s been done among whites, so the authors have work to compare it to. The study includes black folks from all over the world, not just African Americans.
Black don’t crack is a term I’ve actually cautioned against using. Sure, it’s nice that black women look younger for longer. But the phrase can be detrimental. People who look as good as we do for as long as we do disproportionately suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and depression.
But pardon me while I take the time to giggle.
Part of what led Paskhover to the study is that he knew that black people have denser bones. Black men, he said, are the gold standard of bone health. And he was also familiar with studies that proved black women had lower rates of osteoporosis because, generally speaking, black women’s bones don’t wear down as fast.