Do you know what’s a major cause of skin damage besides the UV rays of the sun? It’s the smoke from cigarettes! Yes, the extremely addictive nicotine present in them can not just cause life-threatening diseases, they can also ruin your skin.  
When you smoke, your entire body gets affected - from premature aging and sagging skin to Squamous Cell Carcinoma and more. So, if you’re a smoker who is particular about your skin, you should read this article to find out what skin damages are caused by smoking and how to reverse its effects.
How Does Smoking Affect Your Skin?
Smoking leads to production of free radicals , caused by the toxins in cigarette smoke. They lead to oxidative stress , which means lack of oxygen for the skin. This can cause temporary and permanent damage to your skin. Free radicals can also increase the smokers’ chances of oral cancer, hair loss and gum disease.
Here are some of the most common ailments and damaging effects of smoking:
1. Uneven Skin Tone
Due to the constricted blood flow, the skin tone of a regular smoker becomes uneven. The skin appears pale, almost yellow or due to the lack of blood, even grey. When the blood vessels are more prominent, the capillaries show up as spidery lines on the epidermis.
2. Premature Aging
One of the most visible effects of smoking are the wrinkles and lines that start to show up on the face. Smokers crinkle their eyes to protect them from the smoke, which causes crow’s feet. While most people get crow’s feet after a certain age, they appear earlier for smokers.
The pouting action while sucking on the cigarette can also cause lines around the mouth which eventually become permanent wrinkles. These are usually visible as tiny, vertical lines around the upper and lower lips.
Nicotine in tobacco has a dehydrating effect on the body as it is a diuretic . Smoking also reduces the absorption of Vitamin A and C into the skin, causing premature aging. These vitamins are required for healthy skin as they contain antioxidants.
3. Sagging Skin
When you smoke, the nicotine in the tobacco constricts the amount of blood that is flowing to your skin. The toxins also affect collagen  and elastin  production, which affects the skin’s elasticity. This makes the skin sag and droop, giving you the appearance of someone older.
Sagging of the skin is not limited to the face alone. It can affect your upper arms and make the skin loose; and in the case of women, their breasts as well. This is due to the elastosis  that occurs.
Smokers double their chances of getting a form of psoriasis  known as palmoplantar pustulosis . They are also known to have severe or more frequent outbreaks of psoriasis than nonsmokers. Using cigarettes to cope with stress makes them more vulnerable.
Though psoriasis is an autoimmune disease where stress may be a trigger, nicotine is known to weaken the immune system and cause inflammation in the skin, besides negatively affecting the growth of cells. All these factors combined can increase the risk of psoriasis.
5. Skin Cancer
When you smoke, you are twice as much at risk of getting the second most common form of skin cancer known as Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SSC)  compared to non-smokers. It is caused primarily by the smoke from the cigarette and is seen on the lips of smokers.
Smokers are also more likely to develop oral cancer  and oral leukoplakia  (a precancerous stage). If you have lip cancer and you stop smoking, the risk of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body goes down by two to three times.
6. Healing of Wounds
Due to constricted blood vessels, any wound on the body of a smoker takes longer to heal. There is also an increased risk of infection to the wound, gangrene, flap failure , slower transfer of keratinocytes  and the production of new blood vessels in the wound also takes longer.
In fact, when a smoker has to undergo a surgery, he or she is likely to be asked to stop smoking due to the effect the toxins will have on the healing process. Smoking can also cause and increase the duration of arterial ulcers in the legs, foot ulcers in diabetics and calciphylaxis .
Even the scars post surgery or after the wound has healed will be more prominent in the case of smokers. Evidence suggests that smoking may also cause stretch marks, a result of excess weight gain in a short period of time.
7. Acne Inversa
A skin disease known as acne inversa  or Hidradenitis suppurativa, is found to be more prevalent among smokers, and obese women. It is an inflammatory condition where there are pus-filled boils or abscesses. It can be a painful condition that lasts for a long time.
The blood flow constricted due to the nicotine in tobacco can cause Buerger’s disease, also known as Thromboangiitis obliterans . It restricts the flow of blood to hands and feet. It is a form of vasculitis where blood clots can occur anywhere in the body.
When blood vessels to the hands and feet are blocked, they lead to tissue damage and pain due to lack of blood. Severe cases may also have ulcers on the hands and feet, leading to gangrene and possibly, an amputation of the gangrenous finger or toe.
When the capillaries in the body get dilated because of the constricted arteries and veins, it can damage their walls. This condition is known as Telangiectasia . Though it can happen anywhere in the body, the most visible areas are those closer to the epidermis.
Also known as spider veins, they appear like purple patches on the skin. The primary cause for this condition is the nicotine in cigarettes, which is known to narrow the blood vessels.
10. Tar Stains
Those who have been smoking for a long time, have stains on part of the fingers where they hold the cigarette. The stains are yellowish, due to the nicotine and other toxins in the cigarettes. These toxins are also known as tar. Reversing of this condition, i.e. removing the stains only occurs when you stop smoking.
How To Reverse The Effects Of Smoking On Skin?
The first way to reverse the damaging effects of cigarettes on the skin is to stop smoking. For good. Once you stop, or gradually reduce the number of cigarettes, it is possible to reverse the effects of smoking in the following ways.
- To destroy the free radicals, a diet rich in antioxidants is vital. Consume foods like carrots, mackerel, tomatoes, broccoli, sweet potatoes, spinach, citrus fruits, kiwis and mangoes which are good sources of Vitamins A, B, B5, K, C and folic acid.
- Research shows that a diet that includes tomatoes and fruits, especially apples, can reverse the damage caused to the lungs by smoking.
- Drinking carrot juice can also help in flushing the traces of nicotine from the body.
- Eating berries helps in removing tobacco toxins from the body.
- Pomegranate improves blood circulation, aiding in the production of collagen and elastin.
- Drink a lot of water to stay hydrated and reverse the dehydrating effects of nicotine.
- Having a glass of milk before smoking helps you quit as research has found that smokers didn’t like the taste of the cigarettes if they had milk before lighting up.
- For cosmetic help, choose skincare products that have glycolic acid or alpha-hydroxy acid.
Smoker’s Skin Vs Non-Smoker’s Skin
The skin appears younger
The skin appears younger
More wrinkles around the lips
Slight ageing due to the sun
Facial wrinkles were more
Fewer wrinkles in general
More prominent skin sagging
Minimal sagging of the skin due to age
There was uneven skin tone in many areas of the face
Uneven skin tone in fewer parts of the face
More age spots
Fewer age spots
Bags on the lower lids of the eyes
Lesser damage in the eye area
Deeper wrinkles and lines around the nose and forehead
Finer lines around the nose and forehead
What Happens To Your Skin After You Quit Smoking?
The amount you smoke is directly proportional to the harmful effects visible on the skin. When you stop smoking, the flow of blood to the face is no longer restricted by the nicotine in tobacco. The improved blood flow nourishes the skin with the vital nutrients it needs.
Since the toxins inhaled via the smoke no longer impact your body, the production of elastin and collagen will resume and help in improving the texture and appearance of the skin. Both these factors will help the skin look healthy once more.
The skin will also regroup in other ways. The pale, dry appearance will recede and the stains caused by the tar in cigarettes on your fingers will reduce and eventually disappear permanently. Your overall health will also improve, impacting the skin positively in turn.
How Long Does It Take For The Effects Of Smoking To Show On Your Skin?
Expert opinion on the damage caused to the skin due to smoking varies. While some contend that skin damage starts from the moment you smoke for the first time, others believe that the damage is visible only after a few years of smoking. The amount you smoke is also a factor.
It is an indisputable fact that smoking causes the skin to wrinkle, sag and become pale and drier over time due to the toxic elements in cigarettes. The damage caused by smoking to your body and skin is irreversible. You can only prevent further damage by completely quitting.
Did You Know?
- Each cigarette (and consequently the smoke from it) contains at least 250 poisonous chemicals, over 7000 chemicals in total and 70 that are carcinogenic.
- People who smoke may die even a decade earlier than nonsmokers.
- Smoking is also a cause of impotence in men.
- Women smokers are at a risk of heart attacks, strokes and blood clots if they use oral contraceptives.
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