The Detrimental Effects of Smoking: Skincare Edition

black and white image of a smoke

The negative effects of smoking on your overall health are endless, but did you know that smoking can affect your skin as well? Well, the obvious answer is YES! The effect of smoking on your skin varies from psoriasis to acne and even skin cancer. So, if you are still attached to that habit, make sure to terminate it once and for all the soonest.

Cigarettes are not just plain tobacco leaves; they are an explosive cocktail of 7,000 obnoxious chemicals[1]. Among them, you will find up to 70 well-known carcinogens[1]. If we had to single out one key ingredient of cigarettes, that would be nicotine.

This highly addictive and psychologically relaxing substance represents a real threat to the health and radiance of your skin due to its vasoconstrictive effect[1]. This means that the blood vessels narrow, hence blood flow will be restricted[1]. When this happens, the skin will be deprived of proper levels of oxygen and nutrients to stay nourished, firm, and supple[1].

It goes without saying that smoking generates a fair share of free radicals that oxidize vitamins A, C, E naturally present in the skin[1]. The oxidation also extends to crucial structures such as collagen and elastin which undergo degradation[1]. It has been reported that nicotine binds with melanin (the skin's natural pigment) and irreversibly accumulates in tissues that contain it, thus producing hyperpigmentations[2]. As you can imagine, the tobacco smoke that comes into contact with your skin promotes dehydration[2]. All this damage translates into dryness, coarseness, deep wrinkles, sagging, thread veins, baggy eyes, gaunt/greyish complexion, yellow fingers/nails inflammation, and poor wound healing that is not limited to the face because it has also been observed on the breasts and arms[1]. Those unsightly smokers´ lines are related to the constant pouting of the mouth[1].

Smoking makes the skin much more vulnerable to UV radiation, which explains the higher prevalence of photoaging in smokers[3]. To make things worse, smokers respond poorly to topical antibiotics, cortisone, and other dermatological treatments[3]. According to experts, smokers can look up to 4.7 years older than their non-smoking counterparts[3]. This phenomenon can be clearly perceived when comparing pictures of identical twins. Although we do agree that the rate at which smokers age is greater, we think that they actually appear to be 20-30 years older.

If this data wasn't enough to deter you from smoking, read this: hair loss and greying have been linked to the “puffy habit” too[1]. Unfortunately, the damage caused by smoking can't be fully reversed[1]. One of the most recommended treatments for smoking-related aging is plastic surgery[1]. Nevertheless, most doctors will refuse to operate on patients who are active smokers due to poor blood circulation, slow healing as well as higher risk of clotting, infection, and necrosis (tissue death)[1].

Among many other skin conditions that are highly correlated with smoking, the below are the major effects:

  • Smoking and psoriasis: a clear relationship has been established between smoking and inflammatory disease[4]. The mechanics are the following: cigarettes contain chemicals that contribute to oxidative stress, the secretion of pro-inflammatory agents and also alter the function of keratinocytes in genetically predisposed individuals[4]. Here’s an interesting fact: 67.6% of psoriasis patients are smokers and their disease is much more severe compared to that of non-smokers[5]. Psoriasis severity is directly proportional to the number of cigarettes smoked on a daily basis[6]
  • Smoking and acne: We bet that most of you never thought that “the puffy habit” and acne breakouts could go hand in hand. The reality is that there is a strong correlation between them, with smokers being 4 times more prone to developing acne than non-smokers[7]. Smoking causes vitamin E and squalene present in skin sebum to oxidize via the generation of reactive oxygen species[7]. In fact, the levels of these lipids are reduced by 50%[8]. The by-products of the sebum oxidation process have a completely different composition[8]. They are highly comedogenic and promote the accumulation of keratin in the epidermis, thus allowing bacteria to thrive[8].
  • Smoking and skin cancer: The carcinogenic chemicals of cigarette smoke double the risk of suffering a form of skin cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma[9]. Of all lip and oral cancer, 75% occur in smokers[9]
  • Other skin conditions: smoking also worsens and encourages the development of other inflammatory ailments such as hidradenitis suppurativa and cutaneous lupus erythematosus[9].

What about vaping? Even though vaping contains fewer chemicals, it is not a good alternative to smoking either. It is estimated that 60 toxins including nicotine, diacetyl, heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and flavorings are delivered via aerosol[1]. Instead of helping you kick the habit, it just prolongs your “agony”. Plus, experts claim that the concentration of nicotine in e-cigarettes is higher if the voltage is increased and if the cartridges are extra-strength[10]. So, your precious skin will still be experiencing detrimental effects when you vape. Not to mention that vaping can cause burns, oral lesions, and even contact dermatitis on the exposed areas[11].

If you are a passive smoker, you will also become a victim of the extremely destructive effects of cigarette toxins. The only way out of this smoking catastrophe is to kick the habit once and for all. It is definitely not an easy goal to attain, but absolutely worth it for the sake of your skin and overall health.

To conclude, smoking can have detrimental side effects on your health and especially your skin.  Therefore, if we can give you one piece of advice, stop it immediately!  To learn more about your skin’s health, make sure to follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin, and Pinterest.



[7] Capitanio B, Sinagra JL, Ottaviani M, Bordignon V, Amantea A, Picardo M. Acne and smokingDermatoendocrinol. 2009;1(3):129-35. doi:10.4161/derm.1.3.9638. 

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