Cigarette smoking has been associated with significant morbidity affecting all systems of the body, including the skin. Tobacco smoke consists of many harmful substances that damage the skin, and nicotine itself is very harmful. Smoking leads to many unwanted short-term and long-term side effects on the skin.
Nicotine is absorbed through the skin and mucous membranes directly and indirectly via the bloodstream and can cause many dermatological hazards. We all have noticed a typical 'smoker’s face' which has prominent wrinkles, a gauntness of facial features with prominent underlying bony contours, an atrophic, gray appearance of the skin, and a plethoric complexion. Smoker's lines are the vertical wrinkles around the mouth that come from pursing lips to draw on a cigarette over and over again.
Some of the toxins present in cigarette smoke are capable of damaging collagen and elastin in the skin, which make up the fibrous components of skin and keep it firm and supple.
The vascular constriction caused by smoking plays a role as well. Constricted blood vessels inhibit blood flow and oxygen from reaching skin cells, promoting skin ageing. This risk is higher in women compared to men. The appearance of wrinkles can be exaggerated by direct contact of cigarette smoke, which decreases the moisture levels in the skin, making it thin and fragile, tending to sag. It can cause sagging skin in other parts of the body also; particularly breasts and upper arms are often affected by the loss of skin elasticity due to smoking.
Spider Veins & Telangiectasia
Permanent purple blotches or traces of veins (also known as spider veins) can be seen, which are small blood vessels in the body that widen or dilate causing damage to capillary walls.
Smoking also causes the appearance of telangiectasia in the skin. Nicotine in tobacco constricts blood vessels, and this action can cause damage that leads to this condition.
Affects the body's healing response
Smoking also exhausts cellular defense and repair systems in the skin leading to an imbalance between synthesis and destruction of proteins. This destruction of proteins may lead to premature ageing of the skin.
Smoking interferes in wound healing by decreasing the blood flow, which causes delayed wound healing while abstinence from smoking reduces the risk of wound infection. Nicotine patches can cause allergic or irritant contact dermatitis at the site of application, with nicotine being the main allergen. Smoking itself is an independent risk factor for hand eczema. It is well documented that a significant positive association between psoriasis and smoking exists in a dose-dependent manner.
Changes in Skin Colour
The skin tone of smokers appears grey in tone. Lack of oxygen to skin cells along with the negative effects of numerous other chemicals in tobacco is the main cause.
One‐third of smokers have visible oral pigmentation. Black hairy tongue, characterized by hyperplasia of the papillae with black pigmentation on the surface of the tongue can be seen in smokers.
Graying of Hair
Smoking is also associated with premature graying of hair in both men and women, as well as hair loss in men (androgenic alopecia) at an earlier onset by affecting the dermal hair papilla microvasculature which may lead to DNA damage of the hair follicle.
Heavy smokers can typically be identified by characteristic findings including a yellow discolouration of light‐colored moustaches and fingernails that are stained by tobacco byproducts.
While wrinkles that have developed may not disappear entirely, the return of normal blood flow to skin cells will bring oxygen and nutrients where they need to go and your skin will begin to look healthy once again after cessation of smoking.
For the treatment of skin related problems caused by smoking as mentioned above consult a dermatologist.
Keep Healthy! Keep Glowing!