Welcome to TikTok Debunked, a new series where Yahoo Canada digs into the truth behind popular TikTok health, beauty and food trends.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.
From whitening your teeth with magic erasers to drinking chia seed water to lose weight, we've had experts support or debunk a variety of claims so you know what's actually helpful — and what's to be avoided.
This week, we're investigating "runners face." After a plastic surgeon recently went viral for saying running causes aging, TikTokers were fired up and wanted to know if it was true.
Read on for everything you need to know about the claim, and what a dermatologist has to say about it.
The claim — and how it started
The video, which has been liked more than 176,000 times and viewed 3.3 million times, claimed that running gives you a "gaunt, old face."
While Imber thinks it's fine to run a couple miles a week, he urged people to instead partake in low impact aerobic exercise to prevent early aging.
The idea is that long-distance or frequent running can give you a gaunt appearance and/or saggy cheeks due to skin losing elasticity and facial volume.
The TikTok search term "runners face wrinkles" has been viewed over 49 million times, with videos from avid runners and health specialists discussing the trend.
What TikTok users are saying
In the comments section of Imber's video, many TikTokers were divided.
Runners or fitness lovers disagreed with Imber, saying they haven't experienced this phenomenon.
"I'm tired of hearing about anti-aging. Can you just let me live?" asked a user.
"I know several long-distance runners who look very young, so I'm wary of this," wrote a TikToker.
"I run many miles every week and honestly I think it's kept me fit and looking great. And I'm almost 60!" shared someone else.
On the other hand, some users rejoiced about the reason to not lace up their sneakers.
"You don't have to tell me twice Doc!" penned a fan.
"I've definitely heard this. My trainer said walking is better than running, but swimming is best," added another.
"This is why I don't run! I've avoided wrinkles and messed up knees!" said a TikToker.
An expert weighs in
When asked about "runners face," the specialist was quick to refute the claim.
"Physiologically, I don’t think it’s the running itself that makes faces look gaunt. I believe it’s the rapid weight loss (which shows up easily on the face) and the excessive sun exposure that is often associated with long distance running and other endurance sports," Yadav said.
While Yadav has seen "runners face" in her practice, she said it's not specific to runners alone.
The dermatologist explained that it can happen to anyone who rapidly loses weight or doesn't take care of their skin.
"Beyond sun exposure, running is a cardio intensive activity, and cardio helps burn fat...Facial fat not only supports our skin's structure but makes us look youthful. Losing too much facial fat can enhance the hollows of the face and create a gaunt appearance," Yadav said.
"Reports of "runner's face" tends to be anecdotal and there isn’t much evidence to suggest impact sports increases the breakdown of elastic tissue."Dr. Geeta Yadav
Additionally, Yadav added that that there's little scientific evidence that supports Imber's claim, and warns people not to take everything you see online seriously.
"Reports of 'runner's face' tends to be anecdotal and there isn’t much evidence to suggest impact sports increase the breakdown of elastic tissue," she said.
Overall, Yadav disagreed that running causes premature aging, given her knowledge and experience in the field.
"I find the claim hard to believe knowing the physiology of the skin and seeing how other endurance athletes also develop a similar facial structure as they age," she said.
Is it debunked?
While runners do experience changes to their face, Yadav wants people to know that it's likely caused by the sun or from weight loss, and doesn't always coincide with running.
For this reason, Yahoo Canada has debunked this claim.
Luckily, there are ways to protect your skin when working out outdoors that can help fight aging, so you don't have to quit your favourite activities.
"Sunscreen is absolutely essential, as is using an antioxidant serum, which will further help to prevent oxidative damage caused by exposure to the sun as well as environmental pollution," Yadav said.
The dermatologist also recommended considering the time of day you are doing your activity.
"Early morning is a favourite time for runners and cyclists. I think that is a safe time to exercise and also one that is likely more tolerable when it comes to hot summer days," she added.