What are the Effects of Smoking on the Skin?

wiseGEEK Writer

If you’ve decided to start smoking to look glamorous or older, you might want to rethink that position. The negative effects of smoking on the skin will make you look older, especially if you smoke for an extended period of time. In a few years you’ll probably look older than your non-smoking peers, and the effects will continue to age you, and create skin problems.

Smoking may cause thinner skin and premature wrinkles.
Smoking may cause thinner skin and premature wrinkles.

Smokers who have smoked for longer than ten years may notice what is called the smoker’s face. In smoker’s face, a condition first described in 1985, several characteristics are common. Skin may take on a red, grey or yellowish cast. Wrinkles around the eyes and mouth become prominent, and skin may be dry or flaky. Dry or chapped lips is another effect of smoking on the skin.

Smoking depletes the body's store of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant.
Smoking depletes the body's store of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant.

Aside from the obvious reasons not to smoke (lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease), there are a few reasons why smoking is risky from an appearance standpoint. First, smoking cuts down on the production of collagen, an extremely valuable chemical produced by the body that helps skin look young. As collagen supply decreases, wrinkles form and the skin loses its elasticity.

People who smoke have less collagen, an important chemical produced by the body that helps skin look healthy and refreshed.
People who smoke have less collagen, an important chemical produced by the body that helps skin look healthy and refreshed.

The effects of smoking on the skin are noticeable because smoking decreases the amount of oxygen supplied to the skin. Oxygen is one of the most helpful molecules to promote skin healing. When less oxygen is supplied to the skin, the skin is more likely to become damaged, is easily scarred, and is more vulnerable to other aging factors like sun damage.

A diagram of younger skin and older skin showing how the decrease in collagen can lead to wrinkles. Smoking also decreases collagen production.
A diagram of younger skin and older skin showing how the decrease in collagen can lead to wrinkles. Smoking also decreases collagen production.

Another of the effects of smoking is its depletion of vitamins A and C. Vitamin A is vital for skin self-repair. Vitamin C is an antioxidant, and also helps us better absorb iron. Many smokers show signs of anemia which is often manifested by dry, flaking or cracked lips. Smoking may dehydrate the body too, depriving the skin of needed moisture.

Smoking can cause chapped lips.
Smoking can cause chapped lips.

Smoking may affect the skin's layers, essentially leading to thinner skin. This can greatly increase risk of developing skin cancers, most commonly, squamous cell carcinoma. Though this form of skin cancer usually doesn’t spread to other parts of the body, it can create deep scarring when the cancers are removed, since they often sink deep into the skin's layers, necessitating removal of several under-layers of skin.

If you think you can get rid of the effects of smoking on the skin by using plastic surgery, you may be unlucky in this sense. Many plastic surgeons will not do elective plastic surgery procedures on smokers, because the diminished oxygen supply to the skin can mean more scarring, longer healing time and greater incidence of infection. If you continue to smoke, you may not be able to repair the effects, and if you do have surgery while continuing to smoke your satisfaction with the results can decrease. Further, for any surgery, healing time is usually almost doubled if you are a smoker.

Considering the negative effects of smoking on the skin, you might want to consider before you light that cigarette how glamorous you’ll look in ten or twenty years. Though effect on appearance is secondary to the life-threatening aspects of smoking, there is no doubt that smoking will change your appearance in ways that will not be considered attractive or appreciated. Picking up that smoke today to look older may have you looking older for life.

Smoking light cigarettes does little to reduce the effects or health risks of smoking.
Smoking light cigarettes does little to reduce the effects or health risks of smoking.

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Discussion Comments

anon163256

i started smoking a year and two months, and i smoke 10-20 cigarettes a day. I quit smoking already, but what bothers me is that my parents were chain smokers. I inhaled their secondhand smoke for about six years. Is this bad?

anon94202

Well, anon76493, you are "safe". These effects don't start until about after 10 years of smoking and since smoking causes unique or otherwise rare health effects, they should not stay.

anon76439

I quit smoking after read this article. i start smoking one year and four months ago. My question is that after quitting smoking, do it's effects remain or not?

bigmetal

it is well known the effects of smoking on the skin...i just don't understand why young kids (especially girls) continue to start this unhealthy, smelly and disgusting habit!

anon8584

This article is important for everyone. I learned a lot and I am also writing an editorial about this topic.

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