A study of identical twins shows that environmental factors play a key role in how a woman’s breasts age.
According to the study, other factors like higher body mass index (BMI) and larger bra and cup sizes also contribute to accelerated breast aging.
Now, women can identify lifestyle behaviours that can slow the aging process to avoid surgical intervention, according to the study, which was funded by a grant from the Aesthetic Surgery Education and Research Foundation.
For the last three years, plastic surgeon Hooman T. Soltanian of University Hospitals Case Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio, studied 161 pairs of twins.
“It’s very rare that both twins have been through the same exact environmental factors throughout life,” ABC News quoted him as saying.
“The idea was that they have the same [breasts] from a genetic standpoint. If we see a difference, it’s more likely to be environmental factors,” he said.
Soltanian collected data from consenting women between the ages of 25 and 74 at the annual Twins Days Festival in Twinsberg, Ohio.
The average of the study participants was 45.5 years old.
“The twins come from all over the country for a weekend to have fun and celebrate,” he said.
“We have been using that opportunity to study their breasts. It’s not a longitudinal study, but a cross-sectional study,” Soltanian said.
The study had two parts.
First, each set of twins was given a questionnaire on lifestyle habits, such as smoking, drinking, number of pregnancies, use of a bra, stress at work, sports, hormone replacement therapy moisturizing and exposure to the sun. Each twin answered independently.
Then, photos of the twins’ breasts were taken “in a secluded area by professionals.” Those photos were “subjectively evaluated by independent reviewers.”
Soltanian acknowledged that there is “no objective measurement” for what makes a breast “beautiful”. But researchers looked for skin tone, droopiness, shape and areola size.
With the data, researchers ran a regression model.
“One by one, we check for different factors and try to weed out what is making a significant difference and what factors don’t,” he said.
Moisturizing seemed an “obvious” advantage on a breast’s appearance, showing fewer wrinkles, according to Soltanian.
“We know from facial analysis that if you take care of the skin, it slows the aging process down,” he said.
Those who received hormone replacement therapy after menopause had more attractive breast shape, size, projection, areolar shape and areolar size.
The study seemed to refute myths about the negative effects of nursing a baby. Even though the size and shape of the areola had suffered, the skin quality was better in women who breast fed.
“All these twins did not breast-feed without being pregnant and pregnancy has a negative effect on breast appearance,” he said.
“My explanation is that women who breast fed have a different hormonal milieu -- sort of like internal hormone replacement. So even though those were disadvantages, they gained some benefit,” he added.
The study has been recently published in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal.