Smoking… a dirty habit that gets right under your skin

Smoking doesn’t just induce changes that only have cosmetic implications and there can be other, more serious, dermatological consequences for those who regularly light up.

Smoking doesn’t just induce changes that only have cosmetic implications and there can be other, more serious, dermatological consequences for those who regularly light up.

In 1985, Dr. Douglas Model published an article in the British Medical Journal in which he coined the term ‘smoker’s face.’ The piece detailed the profound effects that tobacco use can have on a person’s visage, with perhaps the most obvious outward appearance being the development of wrinkles. Although a loss of elasticity and an increase in lines in the skin are a natural part of the ageing process, the inhalation of tobacco smoke has been found to effectively accelerate these changes, meaning that premature wrinkles, and dry, greyish skin drawn across sunken cheeks may all be part of the gaunt visage of the chronic smoker, making them appear years older than they actually are.
Smoker’s face occurs because toxins involved in the process of inhaling tobacco fumes constrict the blood vessels and tiny capillaries located near the surface of the skin. The increased carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen being circulated to areas of the skin, causing a series of changes. These include prominent lines and wrinkles emanating from the corners of the eyes, which are colloquially known as ‘crow’s feet.’ These may even extend to the cheek, with the cheeks themselves appearing sunken. Other wrinkles become etched perpendicular to the lips, with shallow lines forming on the cheeks and lower jaw. Male smokers may also develop a distinctive feature referred to as ‘cobblestone wrinkles,’ which are lines that run down the back of the neck. The skin may take on a dry, tough and leathery appearance with a mottled effect or grey, unnatural pallor because it is more atrophied (withered) than a non-smoker’s skin.

Smoking doesn’t just induce changes that only have cosmetic implications and there can be other, more serious, dermatological consequences for those who regularly light up. These include an increased risk of their skin thinning and the development of some types of cancer. Tobacco smoke contains a dense population of free radicals, so it increases the number of these damaging compounds within the body. Inhalation of tobacco smoke can also reduce the body’s store of Vitamin A, which is used in its repair process. Tobacco toxins impede the regenerative properties of the skin and this is one of the reasons why smokers are advised to refrain from their habit prior to undergoing surgery. There is evidence that smoking can damage DNA, which in turn has a deleterious effect on the skin. It has been discovered that people who smoke around 11 to 20 cigarettes a day were over three times more likely to develop a certain form of skin cancer, known as squamous cell carcinoma.
The bottom line is that smoking clearly damages the skin and that this damage is noticeable.  Many of the harmful effects of tobacco consumption are hidden from view, with damage to the lungs, for example, requiring X-rays or invasive scope observations to assess the extent of injury. The effects of smoking on the skin, however, are easily visible and this is something that can have psychological as well as physical implications.

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