A Resolution That Helps Your Skin

How stopping smoking improves your skin

By Richard Thomas, MD, FRCPC

We all know that aging is a natural biological process that affects all of us. The aging of your skin is also greatly affected by external factors that accelerate this process; particularly smoking. Exposing our skin over many years to sunshine will give the skin an old wrinkled, blotchy look. Drinking too much alcohol over many years may also give you an older appearance. A study showed that the appearance of precancerous sunspots may be even influenced by your diet. A low fat diet (also certain vegetables, legumes and olive oil) has been shown effective in reducing the number of sunspots (Actinic Keratosis), while a diet high in meat and dairy, might increase their number. (For more information on A.K, visit Skin Cancer Guide)

Cigarette smoking, known to cause lung cancer and encourages heart disease, also has significant aging effects on your skin and hair.

Effects of cigarette smoking on your skin and hair:

  • Increases wrinkles, especially if you are a woman
  • Can make your complexion red or orange
  • Can produce pale or yellowish skin in places
  • Causes puffiness
  • Don’t forget the stains that create those “yellow fingers”
  • Brings about premature aging of your skin
  • Causes gray hair
  • Results in thinning hair, more pronounced in men but also seen in women
  • Slows wound healing
  • Increases your risk of squamous cell cancer

Whose skin is most affected?

  • Affects women more than men
  • Especially increases wrinkles around the mouth
  • Has a greater affect on white versus dark skin
  • Increases if you have smoked for more than 15 years
  • Increases if you smoke more than ½ a pack a day

What does smoking actually do to the skin?

  • Smoking causes drying of the surface of the skin as nicotine is a diuretic
  • It reduces the vitamin A levels in the skin
  • Smoking affects matrix metalloprotienases (MMPs) causing collagen to degrade and elastin to fragment
  • While aging from the sun happens in the higher levels of the skin (dermis), smoking predominantly affects the lower, deeper part
  • Smoking lowers the blood supply to the skin and reduces collagen production. Both of which slow healing in the skin
  • This slow healing has an influence after surgery including after cosmetic surgery or laser resurfacing. It prolongs the healing process and increases the risk of complications
  • Nicotine, carbon monoxide and hydrogencyanide have toxic effects on healing tissue
  • Some suggest that nicotine may suppress the immune system to increase susceptibility of viral infections of the skin such as warts

Health wise, smoking is not a good idea, but if you add in the effects it has on your skin, hair and aging, better make quitting your New Year’s resolution.


About the author:
Richard Thomas, MD, FRCPC is Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology, Department of Dermatology and Skin Science, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.


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