A gaunt face refers to a face that appears thin and bony. The term is usually used to describe the face of someone who looks sick, malnourished, or unhealthy. It generally isn’t used to describe a naturally thin but healthy-looking face.

As you age, your face tends to lose fat. This loss of fat can cause sunken cheeks and a more angular appearance.

Certain lifestyle habits, such as not wearing sunscreen, not eating a balanced diet, and smoking, can age your face more quickly.

Illnesses that cause weight loss can also cause your face to look gaunt if your overall body fat percentage drops.

Let’s look at more reasons your face may look gaunt and what your options are for treating it.

Subcutaneous fat, or the fat beneath your skin, gives your face volume and plumpness. As you get older, you tend to lose some of this fat. This loss makes your face appear thinner and bonier.

Changes to your skin can also make your face to look more aged. As you get older, your skin loses elasticity due to a reduction in the proteins collagen and elastin. Losing these proteins causes more sagging skin and wrinkles.

A gaunt face can be caused by any condition that causes weight loss. The following are just a few of many examples.

Cancer

The majority of people who develop cancer will lose weight. Unexplained weight loss of more than 10 pounds is often an early warning sign of undiagnosed cancer.

Cancer treatments like radiation or chemotherapy can also lead to decreased appetite and weight loss, which may make your face appear gaunt.

Eating disorders

Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa can lead to excessive weight loss, resulting in a thinner-looking face.

People with eating disorders often don’t consume enough protein. More than 75 percent of your skin is made up of the protein called collagen. Eating too little protein can interfere with your body’s ability to build new skin cells.

Digestive conditions

A number of conditions that affect your digestion can cause unintentional weight loss, which may lead to a gaunt face. Some of these conditions include:

Depression

Each person experiences depression differently. Some people may have a reduced appetite that leads to weight loss, making their face thinner.

However, some people with depression might experience food cravings and weight gain.

If you’re eating fewer calories than you’re burning, you’ll experience fat loss in all parts of your body, including your face.

Your face may appear more gaunt on days when you’re more dehydrated.

Research has also linked high sugar diets to premature facial aging due to its negative effects on collagen and elastin.

Having one or more nutrient deficiencies can also negatively impact your skin and face health. People with low iron often develop pale skin that may contribute to gauntness.

If you recently started a new exercise program and have lost weight, you may notice that your face looks thinner. When you burn calories through exercise, your body burns fat from all parts of your body, including your face.

For many people, this may be seen as a positive. However, people who exercise excessively, such as ultra-marathon runners, may develop a gaunt appearance often called “gym face” or “runner’s face” if they develop low levels of body fat.

Along with genetic factors, the following lifestyle factors can contribute to premature facial aging:

Research has found that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays plays a role in how quickly your face loses fat.

Regular exposure to these damaging rays may speed up the aging process and make your face appear thinner more quickly.

Regular exposure to UV rays can also cause wrinkles and saggy skin because of reduced skin elasticity.

There are several medical treatment options available for helping you regain lost facial volume.

Facial fillers

Facial fillers are gels that are injected beneath your skin to restore lost facial volume and smooth wrinkles.

According to the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, more than 1 million people have such a procedure each year.

Dermal fillers can be made of several different materials but are commonly made of hyaluronic acid, calcium hydroxyapatite, or poly-L-lactic acid.

The procedure costs about $540 to $1,680.

Fat transfer

Fat transfer or fat grafting is a procedure that takes fat from one part of your body and injects it into your face to make it appear fuller. The donor fat is usually taken from your abdomen or inner thighs, often using liposuction.

The prices for this surgery vary widely, but you can expect to pay about $5,000 in the United States.

There are thing things you can do at home to avoid developing a gaunt face. The two most basic remedies: eating a balanced diet with enough calories to maintain a healthy body weight and wearing sunscreen when you’re outside.

Taking care of your overall health will have a larger effect than any cream or serum you can apply to your face. Most products target your skin but not the fat underneath.

Moisturizing your face regularly may give your face a fuller appearance by keeping your skin hydrated. Olive oil and coconut oil are two oils you may have in your house already that have moisturizing properties.

Your genetics play a big role in determining how your face will look as you age. However, the following healthy habits may help you slow down the aging process:

A gaunt face may be caused by the natural aging process, or it may be a sign of an underlying medical condition.

Your face naturally loses volume as you age. Regular sun exposure without sunscreen and poor dietary habits can speed up skin aging.

Exercising that leads to weight loss may also give your face a thin appearance.