Smoking Can Make You Look Prematurely Older

Unless you have extraordinary genes and a super-immune system, smoking tobacco will eventually have a negative impact on your health. But it’s not just the inside of you that will be affected by every stick you puff on. The outside of your body will also sooner or later reveal the harmful influence of smoking.

The skin of smokers can look prematurely older than that of non-smokers. This is not just anti-smoking propaganda but scientific observation based on several research studies.

For example, a 2002 South Korean study found that smokers between the ages of 20 and 69 had more facial wrinkles than non-smokers and ex-smokers of the same age.

A 1991 study found that heavy smokers (one to two packs a day) had five times more premature wrinkling than non-smokers. Smokers who sunned themselves one hour a day for many years had twelve times more wrinkled skin.

Smoker’s face
Dr. Douglas Model who observed that people who had smoked for more ten years shared common facial characteristics coined the term “smoker’s face” in 1985. The picture is not a pretty one (Source: Stop Smoking Today)

• Prominent lines and wrinkles are usually noticeable emanating from the corners of the eyes (“crow’s feet”), even extending on to the cheek. The cheeks themselves may appear sunken.
• Other wrinkle lines become etched perpendicular to the lips, with shallow lines forming on the cheeks and lower jaw.
• Some male smokers may also develop a distinctive feature referred to as "cobblestone wrinkles", which are wrinkles that run down the back of the neck.
• The underlying bone structure of the face becomes more visible under drawn, taunt skin that has lost its elasticity.
• The skin may take on a dry, tough and leathery appearance.
• A mottled, slightly reddened, orange and purple complexion may occur. The smoker's complexion may develop a grey, unnatural pallor because it is more atrophied than a non-smoker's skin.

If you are in your twenties or thirties and think that your skin still looks good compared to your non-smoking friends, you are not quite in the clear. Research has found that the difference between the skin wrinkling of smokers and non-smokers becomes most apparent after the age of 40.

Skin damage
Smoking is believed to damage the skin in several ways. The heat of the tobacco smoke that surrounds a smoker’s face has a dehydrating effect. Long-term facial movements like squinting and puckering of the mouth may form premature wrinkles.

Anything that restricts circulation will affect the health of your skin. Nicotine constricts blood vessels by reducing their inner diameter so blood flow is restricted. Oxygen and other nutrients cannot be delivered as fast as they should be. The carbon monoxide produced by smoking binds to 12 percent of hemoglobin, meaning there is 12 percent less oxygen that can be carried in the blood.

Smoking destroys vitamins A and C, antioxidants that protect the skin against damage from pollution and free radicals. In women, smoking interferes with estrogen production, leaving skin drier than it should be.

Research also indicates that smoking damages collagen and elastin, two substances that give your skin firmness and elasticity. Interestingly, another study found that emphysema was more severe in smokers with wrinkles. The connection is still not clear though it may be because smoking hastens the breakdown of elastin, a protein responsible for elasticity of the skin as well as lung cells.

Hair and teeth
Adding insult to injury, smoking may also affect your crowning glory. There is some evidence that nicotine and cotinine can alter the DNA of hair follicle cells. Also, small blood vessels supplying hair follicles are constricted.

The American Academy of Dentistry reports that male smokers can lose 2.9 teeth for every ten years of smoking while the female smokers can lose 1.5 teeth. This is probably due to plaque buildup, which leads to periodontal disease. Another reason could be poor circulation in the gums and facial bones.

Other unpleasant side effects of smoking are yellowish, stained teeth, darkened gums, and breath like an ashtray.

Thicker waistline.
Male and female smokers usually have a higher waist-to-hip ratio than non-smokers even if they are of the same age and weight and even if they have normal body fat percentages. One possible explanation for this is that smoking increases cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone that seems to direct fat to be stored in the abdominal area.

Vanity can be a powerful motivator to quit smoking and it can literally save your face. I know someone who quit in her mid-thirties. Now in her early fifties, she has much younger looking skin than her friends and sisters who continued puffing away.

Go to archive...