Puff, puff, pass – it’s time to put the cigarettes away for good. You probably already know the many harmful effects smoking has on your health – but do you know all the harmful effects nicotine and tobacco have on your skin? These toxic substances aren’t just killing you from the inside out – they are also killing you from the outside in. Smoking restricts the amounts of oxygen and blood reaching your skin cells, which can lead to tissue ischemia, blood vessel occlusion, and increased risk of blood clots. Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor: it causes blood vessels to narrow, which in turn makes it harder for the heart to pump blood through the constricted arteries. A steady, adequate blood flow is the life force for your skin – it brings with it the oxygen and nutrients your skin cells need to stay healthy.
If the thought of smoking strangling your blood vessels isn’t enough to scare you, keep reading to learn more about the havoc smoking can wreck on your skin:
- Smoking exposes your skin to the toxins and harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke and nicotine. These toxic substances cause oxidative stress, wherein free radicals attack skin cells and overwhelm the body’s antioxidant system, which is responsible for neutralizing the effects of oxidative stress. Oxidative damage harms skin at the cellular level and causes unpleasant physical marks: wrinkles, furrows, fine lines, crow’s feet, smoker lines around the mouth, and baggy eyelids. The inadequate supplies of blood and oxygen reaching your skin can turn your coloring gray, yellow, and uneven, and give your skin a rough, dry appearance. One of the most harmful effects of oxidative stress is that it impedes the production of collagen and elastin, the two proteins responsible for giving skin its structure and firmness. Collagen lives in the connective tissues of cells and is an essential building block to promote new skin growth. Without an abundant supply of these proteins, skin will begin to sag, bag, slump, and wrinkle.
- Smoking is so dangerous for your health that even just holding a cigarette causes skin damage: the tar and nicotine in cigarettes stain your nails and surrounding nail beds, resulting in yellowing fingers and fingernails. The gray or yellowish tinge on your fingers and nails also stems from the lack of oxygen reaching your skin.
- If you have existing skin wounds, smoking delays healing and causes an increased risk of developing bacterial wound infections. Skin cells need an adequate supply of fresh blood, oxygen, and nutrients to stimulate the production of collagen, the protein that helps stimulate new tissue growth and blood vessel formation in a wound bed. Smoking impairs collagen synthesis and restricts new blood vessel development. Without the fresh oxygen and blood necessary to repair a wound, you run a greater risk of infection, skin graft failure, or skin cell death (necrosis) at the wound site.
- Smoking increases the risk of developing an inflammatory skin disorder, such as psoriasis. Nicotine affects the body’s immune system, inflammatory response, and skin cell growth – all factors that contribute to psoriasis. One potent form of psoriasis called palmoplantar pustulosis is most prevalent in smokers and causes pustules, redness, and thick, red scales on the palms of hands and soles of feet. Smokers who already have inflammatory skin diseases – like psoriasis, eczema, and even acne – tend to be more affected by the condition than non-smokers.
- You may already know that smoking is one of the leading causes of oral cancer, but it also doubles the risk of developing squamous cell cancer, a type of skin cancer.
So the next time you cough on a lungful of smoke, just know it’s not only choking you – it’s also choking the crucial blood, oxygen, and nutrients your body requires for healthy, clear skin. If you would like to speak to a professional about the effects smoking has on your skin health, reach out to one of our licensed skincare professionals at Florida Dermatology and Skin Care Centers. We are experts in the field of evaluating and treating conditions of the skin, hair, and nails. And if you are a current smoker, you are at higher risk of developing squamous cell skin cancer – contact one of our ten convenient locations today to schedule your next skin cancer screening.