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Aging and anatomy in retouching

Foto von Shiny Diamond von Pexels

Facial aging is a dynamic process involving the aging of soft tissue and bony structures.
In image editing or retouching, we influence this bone structure and the fall of light on the human face through Dodge&Burn (painting with light and shadow) and Liquify.
We must therefore be clear whether we are artificially rejuvenating a model and whether this is intentional or undesirable.
We also have to be careful not to mix different signs of age, i.e., to hide some signs of aging while others are preserved. This can lead to an unusual, inharmonious, and unnatural overall impression.
It is particularly essential to maintain the age of so-called “best agers” and only to make them look “fresher”.

The goal of this article will be to know different signs of aging and to use this knowledge (carefully!) accordingly in image editing.

The major forces responsible for facial aging:

    • Gravity,
    • Soft tissue maturation,
    • Skeletal remodeling,
    • Muscular facial activity,
    • Hormonal imbalance
    • Environmental factors: mental stress, diet, work habits, drug abuse, disease
    • and solar changes.
      (Zimbler MS, Kokoska MS & Thomas JR, 2012, p. 1)

The age-related facial shape change is similar in both sexes until around age 50. Afterward, the effects of aging are more drastic in women (Windhager S, Mitteroecker P, Rupić I, et al., 2019, p.1).

Signs of Youth:

The youthful face is characterized by a diffuse, balanced distribution of superficial and deep fat, which confers a well-rounded 3-D topography that is delineated by a series of arcs and convexities.

In profile, three primary arcs are the most definitive features of youth:

    • The lateral cheek projection (the “ogee” curve), extending as an unbroken convex line from the lower eyelid to the cheek,
    • The arc of the jawline, extending from the lateral lower jaw to the chin
    • and the arc of the forehead.
      (Sydney R. Coleman, MD; Rajiv Grover, 2006, p.5).


Figure 1 – Woman aging from left to right. Arrows illustrating the loss of facial fullness that occurs with age. (Source: Aesthetic Surgery Journal 2006)


Signs of Aging:

The face loses volume as the soft tissue structures age. Epidermal thinning and the decrease in collagen cause skin to lose its elasticity. Loss of fat, coupled with gravity and muscle pull, leads to wrinkling and the formation of dynamic lines. Facial bones are also effected (Windhager S, Mitteroecker P, Rupić I, et al., 2019, p.1).

This is shown, for example, in:

    • Global:
      • Textural skin changes,
      • Skin thickness decrease
      • A flatter face,
      • Reduction in facial height,
      • The defining arcs and convexities of youth are disrupted in higher age.
    • Upper third (forehead and brows):
      • Loss of fullness underneath the skin in the forehead, brow, temple, and upper eyelid areas,
      • The bony outline of the skull and supraorbital rims become more evident, as do the muscles of the brow,
      • The temporal blood vessels assume an increasingly tortuous appearance,
      • Loss of fullness in the upper eyelid,
      • The eyebrow seemingly descending to a position at or below the superior orbital rim,
      • Fixed wrinkles or folds
    • Middle third (midface): 
      • Smaller visible areas of the eyes;
      • Deeper and broader orbit and double convex deformity of the lower eyelid;
      • Darker coloration to the thin infraorbital skin, resulting in a tired eye appearance;
      • Lid-cheek junction lengthening,
      • Deeper nasolabial folds,
      • Tip of the nose dropping
      • Ear lobe lengthening
      • The upper jaw decreases in size,
      • In profile, the primary arc of the cheek is broken.
    • The lower third (chin, jawline, and neck):
      • Lips are straight, thinner, drier and angular,
      • Sagged soft tissue (“broken” jawline)/ bone resorption in the lower jaw, the height and length of the lower jaw decrease, the lower jaw angle increases, so the shape of the chin changes,
      • A relative excess of the skin occurs in the aging lower face, leading to loss of definition of the jawline,
      • Development of the characteristic jowled “turkey neck” deformity,
      • The hyoid bone and larynx gradually descend.

(Windhager S, Mitteroecker P, Rupić I, et al., 2019, p.1)(Sydney R. Coleman, MD; Rajiv Grover, 2006, p. 4 ff.)(Windhager S, Mitteroecker P, Rupić I, et al., 2019, p.678)


Figure 2: Aging of the female face, as represented by models representing an individual at ~20 years of age (left), ~50 years (center), and ~75 years (right). The first event of aging is the loss of facial volume. All the aspects mentioned above can be recognized (Source: Aesthetic Surgery Journal 2006)



Figure 3: Aging of the female face based on facial scans in different stages of age. (Source: American Journal of Physical Anthropology 2019)

Have a closer look at those images and compare them. Use those references at the beginning, when retouching middle age or older models, to do a proper natural style of retouching.
50-year-old women don’t have to look like 20-year-old ones!
A little tip for better image editing at the end of this article: If the intention to reduce wrinkles, you should only reduce the small ones; the large ones are very important for facial expressions and anatomy.

Now we have dealt a lot with the topic of aging to be able to edit model images better. If you want: Here you will find books on how you can do something good for yourself:

Do you have any suggestions, additions, is this post out of date, or have you found any mistakes? Then we look forward to your comment.
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Mareike Keicher

Mareike Keicher, founder of MK Retouching and senior retoucher with several years of experience in postproduction. From an early age, she always has had an eye for details and a talent for drawing. Later, she studied Informationdesign at the Media University of Stuttgart, focusing on digital painting, photography, and design. After her advertising agencies' experience, she really enjoyed the exchange with numerous retouchers & photographers.

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