Hearing that smoking has a negative impact on your health is nothing new, but what many people don’t realize is how detrimental smoking and tobacco use can be to their skin. In this blog, we talk through some of the skin health complications related to smoking and tobacco use.
#1 – Poor Wound Healing
Toxins in cigarette smoke cause vascular constriction that slows blood flow and impedes the body’s ability to heal. This may be most noticeable directly after major surgery. For patients who require skin cancer surgery or repair for injured skin, the number of complications is much higher in smokers. The risk of surgical site infection and opening of the wound are greater. Additionally, nonsmokers who undergo facial reconstructive surgery that require complex repair (such as a skin graft) are more likely to have a successful healing process than smokers. While slowed surgical healing and increased risk for infection is the most obvious instance of poor wound healing, smoking can slow down and impede the healing process for all types of wounds on the skin. If you’re a smoker, you should take special care to monitor any cuts or abrasions to ensure you don’t notice any signs of inflammation or infection.
#2 – Accelerated Signs of Aging
Over the years, damage from the sun, changes in hormone levels, and the way our bodies replicate cells all lead to wrinkles, fine lines, uneven skin tone, and other natural signs of aging. Smoking can accelerate this process. Smoking is an independent risk factor for aging and wrinkling of the face. Although the mechanism isn’t well understood, there are theories that smoking causes the formation of oxidants, breaks down collagen and elastin fibers, and potentiates the adverse effects of sunlight. Although ‘smoker’s lines,’ also called puppet lines, can be seen around the mouth in anyone as they age, they are more commonly associated with heavy smokers.
#3 – Inflammatory Skin Conditions
Inflammatory skin conditions are much more common among smokers, and they are much more likely to have severe forms of these conditions. Smokers are at increased risk of developing certain inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis, lupus, and hidradenitis suppurativa. While smoking does not cause these conditions, there is significant data that suggests a real correlation between smoking and the severity of inflammatory skin conditions.
#4 – Increased Risk of Skin Cancer
This is a hot-button topic for researchers, but an increasing number of studies indicate a correlation between smoking and skin cancer. Whether or not smoking increases the risk of skin cancer is controversial. A few studies have suggested that smokers are at an increased risk for squamous cell carcinoma, a common type of skin cancer. There are also studies that have disputed this, so more research needs to be done before we can make a clear connection. However, it’s important to remember there is a clear, causal link between smoking and other forms of cancer, including lung and throat cancers.
#5 – Nicotine-Induced Vascular Disease
Nicotine, the addictive key ingredient in most tobacco products, has been linked to vascular disease. The nicotine in cigarettes is shown to constrict the veins and increase blood’s coagulability (how much and how quickly blood clots). This leads to a significantly increased risk of blood clots. Specifically, it increases the risk for patients to develop thromboangiitis obliterans commonly called Buerger’s disease. This condition leads to blood clots in the small blood vessels. Those who take oral contraceptives and smoke are at an even greater risk for developing this condition.
#6 – Skin Discoloration
The most obvious form of discoloration associated with smoking is the telltale “tar” stains on the fingers of longtime smokers. Years of holding cigarettes leave hands with yellow stains from the toxins in cigarettes that cannot be removed through cleaning. In addition to this common form of smoking-related skin discoloration, the smoke from cigarettes is also associated with creating a generally yellow or grey complexion. Others notice that their skin tone becomes uneven or they develop discolored spots after years of smoking.
#7 – Greater Risk for Oral Diseases
We don’t think of dermatologists as dealing with the inside of the mouth, but technically the mucosa (soft tissue) inside the mouth is still part of a dermatologist’s domain. Smokers have an increased risk for diseases that affect this tissue, including oral candidiasis (thrush), hairy tongue, nicotine stomatitis, gingival disease and gingivitis, and oral lichen planus.
How Quitting Smoking Can Improve Skin Health
When you stop smoking, your circulation improves. While this improved blood flow may not completely reverse past damage, most people notice a significant improvement in the appearance of their skin, including a reduction in fine lines and wrinkles and a healthier, more even skin tone. Toxins in tobacco products hinder the body’s production of collagen and elastin, which gives the skin a plump, smooth, youthful appearance. When you stop using tobacco products, your body will return to producing more collagen and elastin, leading to a healthier and more youthful overall appearance. Skin staining and discoloration will also fade over time, but this can take years. Most importantly, the sooner you forego tobacco use, the less likely you are to suffer from any negative long-term effects on your skin health and whole-body wellbeing.
When to Contact U.S. Dermatology Partners
At U.S. Dermatology Partners, our skin health specialists offer a range of dermatology services to help you look and feel your very best. If you’re looking for ways to improve your skin’s appearance after damage caused by smoking or tobacco use, one of our dermatologists would be happy to help. We would be happy to schedule an appointment for you to visit one of their convenient practice locations. Getting started with the U.S. Dermatology Partners is easy. Simply complete our short online appointment request. One of our team members will be in touch soon to answer your questions or schedule a visit.
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