The Effects of Smoking on Skin

It’s no secret that smoking is bad for your health.  But here’s another thing it’s bad for: your looks.  Smoking has an adverse effect on skin, causing wrinkles, discoloration and other skin conditions.  This bad habit takes its toll over time by depleting skin of nutrients and altering blood flow vital for healthy skin function. 

Smoking is incredibly toxic to the entire body – it increases risk of lung cancer and cardiovascular disease, it leads to weight gain, it is damaging to the eyes, teeth, hair and mouth, and it impedes respiratory function.  And smoking is especially harmful to skin.  In fact, everything about cigarettes is bad for skin, from the chemical toxins inhaled, to the physical act of smoking. 

Nicotine is the main chemical ingredient in cigarettes that is both a stimulant and causes cigarettes to be addictive.  Along with UV rays from the sun, nicotine is one of the major contributors to premature aging and wrinkles on the face and all over the body.  In fact, the chemical composition of cigarettes is considered phototoxic because it is worsened when combined with the harmful effects of the sun.  Nicotine and carbon monoxide, another toxic ingredient in cigarettes, constrict blood vessels that sit beneath the surface of skin.  This decreases blood flow to skin cells, prohibiting oxygen and nutrients from energizing and strengthening the function, texture and appearance of skin.  Vital nutrients such as Vitamin A and Vitamin C are restricted from reaching skin cells when blood does not flow freely.  Additionally, tobacco increases the release of vasopressin, a hormone that reduces blood flow. 

When blood flow is restricted, skin suffers greatly.  Oxygen, H2O and nutrients are required for healthy cell function, including skin connectivity.  Without them, skin is left weak, dull and vulnerable to a variety of signs of aging.  Along with nicotine and carbon monoxide, there are around 4,000 chemicals in tobacco.  These chemicals speed up the aging process by reducing the production of collagen and elastin, two elements that maintain skin firmness and elasticity.  Sagging and wrinkling is up to six times more likely in smokers, and up to 11 times more likely in smokers with excessive sun exposure.

When skin lacks nutrients, it has a weakened immune response, cannot defend itself from infection and has trouble healing wounds.  Several skin conditions are common in smokers, including psoriasis, skin lesions and even skin cancer.  Acne and skin scars can leave permanent damage when skin is unable to heal itself.  Cigarette smokers tend to have dryer skin, as smoking depletes the skin cells of moisture.  Dry skin can lead to flakiness, a scaly appearance and irritation.  In severe cases, it can cause eczema.  Smoking causes discoloration, usually resulting in a yellowish skin tone or redness. 

Some skin redness may be caused by the heat from smoking.  Constant exposure to hot cigarettes, ash and smoke can damage skin.  Plus, the act of smoking – pursing lips and squinting eyes – can be an additional cause of wrinkles.  And with the lack of nutrients reaching skin cells, skin loses its natural luster and radiance.  It also doesn’t help that smoking leads to bad sleep and exercise habits, both of which are important for beautiful skin.

Smoking is an active lifestyle choice that affects the health of the entire body and skin.  Along with a healthy skin care routine and wholesome diet, not smoking is one of the best things you can do to keep the aging process at bay. 


Erin Stieglitz
Erin Stieglitz

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