Why smoking is bad for your skin (and yes, that includes vaping)
There’s no way to sugar-coat this: smoking is toxic for every organ in your body. Yet despite the warnings and images of chargrilled lungs on the front of cigarette packets, 6.9 million people in the UK aged 18 and above still light up. Not to mention 47,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer each year. Suffice to say, there are many reasons to quit to safeguard your overall health. But did you know your naughty habit is also poisoning your skin?
“Smoking can cause premature skin ageing by changing the elastic fibres of the skin, narrowing the blood vessels, and reducing hydration, collagen and elastin,” says GP and aesthetician Dr Ahmed El Muntasar. All of which seriously impacts have plump, juicy and firm your skin is. “Additionally, smoking delays wound healing and increases the chances of skin infections and certain inflammatory conditions such as psoriasis,” Dr Muntasar says.
These concerns are echoed by Dr Jason Thomson, head of medical at Skin+Me, who paints an equally bleak picture. “Around 7,000 toxic chemicals have been identified in cigarettes, which can reach the skin directly from the smoke or via the bloodstream,” explains Dr Thomson. In terms of skin texture, “smoking can lead to the formation of deep, coarse wrinkles, baggy eyelids and a slack jawline over time,” he says, adding that the top layer of skin also becomes thicker, “resulting in skin that looks dull and lifeless.”
What happens to your skin when you smoke
One of the main reasons ‘smoker’s skin’ persistently suffers is that puffing on a cigarette starves your skin of oxygen and prevents your blood from flowing properly. Nicotine, in particular, notes Dr Muntasar, causes vasoconstriction, where the blood vessels narrow. “Smoking causes oxidative stress as it reduces the amount of oxygen that’s meant to be reaching the skin’s tissue,” he says. “The result is tissue ischemia and a narrowing of the blood vessels, which, in turn, triggers an immune response and increases the chances of certain inflammatory conditions like eczema and psoriasis.”
A short-term impact of reduced blood flow is impaired wound healing. So that acne scar that’s become a cause of frustration may take longer to fade. In the long-term, inhibiting circulation also ensures “enzymes that break down the skin’s collagen are set into overdrive,” Dr Thomson warns. For the same reasons, “there can be a greyish or yellow discolouration to the skin and the appearance of broken blood vessels on the cheeks,” he adds.
Aesthetic practitioner, Natali Kelly, echoes these concerns. “The restriction of oxygen and nutrients getting to your skin will eventually cause your skin to dry out and have a saggy appearance,” she says. “In addition, new blood vessels can’t grow or renew themselves as quickly, leading to your face becoming hollower and duller.”
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Smoking causes dynamic wrinkles to form from muscle contraction under the skin’s surface; think deep-set Shar Pei-like creases, which become static over time. That’s because every time you suck smoke in, you purse your lips. This repetitive movement of the muscles around your mouth, leads to ‘barcode’ lines around the lips. Then when you puff it out, you furrow your brow and squint as smoke tends to waft back into the face – hello crow’s feet. “One of the most noticeable effects of smoking on your skin is the lack of elasticity,” says Natali. “This is because smoking breaks down the production of collagen, the telltale signs of which are premature wrinkles around the mouth and fine lines around the eyes.”
The nightmare happens when you exhale
When you exhale it’s not unlike sticking your face into a hot gust of exhaust fumes. “Cigarettes contain many of the same chemicals as pollution,” says Natali. Similarly, that peach-scented cloud from vaping is teaming with chemicals such as formaldehyde, nicotine and traces of lead, to name but a few. “In fact, studies have shown that smoking cigarettes is generally worse than the effects of pollution for your health as pollution levels often vary,” adds Natali. Whereas with smoking, your skin is under constant assault from chemicals at close range.