smoking and the skin

It’s obvious that smoking is very harmful to the heart and lungs, but did you know that smoking can also be very detrimental to the skin? Every time you smoke, you are exposing your skin to over 4,000 harsh chemicals that result in long-term skin disorders and early onset aging symptoms like lines and wrinkles. While the damage smoking does the skin is startling, even more remarkable is the skin’s ability to repair itself after a person quits smoking. Waiting too long to quit, however, can limit the skin’s ability to recover and make the damage irreversible.

Learn how smoking affects your skin, and why quitting returns a healthier, younger-looking complexion, and how fast the skin can bounce back.

The Negative Impact Of Smoking On Skin Health

When you smoke, you expose your body to a range of toxins, including formaldehyde, cyanide, and carbon monoxide. Not only are these toxins inhaled, but particles hang in the air in close proximity to your face. These toxins prevent oxygen, vitamins, and nutrients from being properly absorbed by the body.

When toxic chemicals reach your lungs, they impact every organ in your body, including your skin. The internal damage that’s taking place is largely invisible. Changes to your skin are among the first, visible signs that smoking is causing you harm. The list of skin issues caused by smoking is long and includes a number of undesirable effects on both skin health and appearance including loss of healthy color, dryness, sagging of the skin, development of lines and wrinkles, warts, age spots, and even skin cancer development. In some instances, being a chronic smoker can disqualify individuals from being a candidate for plastic surgery.

How Skin Repairs Itself After You Quit Smoking

Keep smoking, and the negative consequences become increasingly irreversible. If you quit smoking, the following changes take place, which can return your skin to its youthful glow in just a matter of months.

Skin Cell Turnover Increases

Nicotine reduces blood flow to the deeper layers of your skin, which prevents oxygen from reaching the dermis. Without ample oxygen, the production of new skin cells decreases. This makes your skin appear dry and flakey, and also prevents your skin from repairing itself.

Once you quit, blood flow increases and carbon monoxide levels drop. Your skin will visibly improve in a matter of weeks as oxygen, antioxidants, and new skin cell production returns to normal. Healthier skin is more resistant to environmental damage, and keeps you looking younger for much longer.

The Aging Process Slows Down

Smoking starves the body of nutrients, including Vitamin C, which is needed for the production of collagen. Collagen is an important structural element which prevents skin from wrinkling and sagging. Without it, the aging process seems to speed up, as seen by an increase in wrinkles.

When you stop smoking, vitamin C and collagen production returns to normal within months. Shallow, dynamic wrinkles may repair themselves. Skin coloration and a healthy glow returns, as improved circulation delivers oxygen and nutrients.

Smoking seems to fast-track the aging process. Once you quit, it will seem as though you’ve turned back the wheels of time.

Healthy Color Returns

A grayish complexion is among the earliest signs of skin damage from smoking. When you smoke, the smallest blood vessels in your skin shut down in an effort to divert oxygen to where it is needed. This robs the skin of its healthy coloration, leaving a pale, grey complexion.

Fortunately, while this pallid skin is quick to appear, it’s also among the quickest to repair. If you quit smoking early enough, color can return to the face within 24 hours as circulation improves and oxygen becomes more readily available throughout the body and each layer of your skin.

Further Damage is Prevented

Most of the damage caused by smoking is due to the impact of toxins on the body, but some of it is physical as well. When you smoke, you purse your lips, hollow your cheeks, and often squint your eyes. This repetitive action distorts the face and leads to the formation of wrinkles.

Smoker’s lines, the vertical lines that surround the lips, result from a combination of repeated puckering, as well as a deficiency of nutrients and oxygen. Your skin needs these critical elements to build collagen, repair cells, and prevent future damage.

The earlier you quit, the more repairable and treatable these wrinkles are. Wait too long, and wrinkles become static and more difficult to treat.

How Quickly Can The Skin Recover?

While how quickly positive effects of quitting smoking can differ from person to person, many people will see their skin quickly improve once they kick the habit. Even better, many will realize dramatic improvements in tone and texture along with a reduction in lines, wrinkles, and unwanted sagging of the skin.

Here’s a typically timeline on how quickly the skin can bounce back after one quits smoking:

2-3 Days After Quitting: The skin color begins to return and improvement in overall tone is noticeable

1 Week After Quitting: Increases in oxygen and antioxidant levels in the skin make the completion appear more vibrant.

1 Month After Quitting: Circulation tends to recover restoring nutrients and oxygen into the skin. Often this helps boost skin cell turnover and provides a healthy glow to the skin.

6 Months After Quitting: Maybe people can begin to see a reduction in fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots/pigmentation. Especially if the former smoker lives a health lifestyle and follows a sound skincare regimen. For more on way to improve your skin after you quit smoking, please see this blog post.

1 Year After Quitting: Most of the skin’s recovery to its pre-smoking state is complete. Many former smokers swear they look years younger!


Donna Hart, MD

Donna Hart, MD, a medical, surgical and cosmetic dermatologist, completed her dermatology residency at the John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County in Chicago, where she served as chief resident. Dr. Hart is Board Certified by the American Board of Dermatology, and is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, and Women’s Dermatologic Society.


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Source: WESTLAKEDERMATOLOGY.COM

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