What ages your skin faster than 142 beach days sans sunblock, 13 years of intense towel drying, and 2.4 margaritas per day? The answer is smoking.
I know, you’ve heard it all before… from your worried mother, nosy neighbor, over-involved teacher, and maybe even as a bored 8th grader sitting through yet another D.A.R.E. program that you’re sure to make fun of later at the lunch table with your friends. At this point we all know that smoking kills in a laundry list of ways, each more terrifying than the last. However, if the thought of impending death is not enough to make you run at the sight of a freshly lit cigarette, it turns out that smoking causes premature aging of the skin that can be seen by the time you reach your early 30s. Early 30s?! *Cue gasps*
Smoker’s face is something we all know when we see it. Smokers develop distinct wrinkles around their mouth and eyes from all the inhaling and squinting that goes along with taking a drag. Dullness and greying of the skin is a feature many smokers share as well. And, according to Dr. Douglas Model, many people don’t notice the effect smoking has had on their own face until they’re told that they can be identified as a smoker from their face alone. It’s really interesting how we can be blind to the signs of diminishing health when they occur gradually.
So, you’re probably wondering how smoking alone can have such an alarming effect on your skin. We’ve consulted our dear friend, science, to bring you the answers!
It happens like this. Cigarette smoke actually contains over 4,000 toxins, and because it is inhaled into the lungs, these toxins are delivered directly to the bloodstream and carried straight to the skin. From there, they cause narrowing of the blood vessels in the skin, reducing the amount of blood that is able to flow there. Blood flow to the skin is essential, because it carries oxygen, which is necessary for all living cells. And, yes, your skin is made up of billions of living cells! Without this vital oxygen, your skin is not able to effectively dispose of dead skin cells and other waste in order to regenerate itself. As a result, the skin on smokers’ inner arms was found to be 25% thinner than the skin of people who don’t smoke. Now apply that same idea to your face, and the rest of your body. The difference is huge!
And it gets worse! This same narrowing of the skin’s blood vessels results in decreased levels of collagen in the skin. All of you out there currently layering on collagen filled essences, lotions, and sleeping packs know how important this protein is to the skin’s health. Collagen is the glue that literally holds your skin together, responsible for helping it keep its shape and firmness. This is why smokers see wrinkles, sagging skin, and even stretch marks much earlier in life. Beyond aging, let’s not forget that smoking also makes you more likely to develop skin cancer.
In Korea, smoking has a pretty unique gender breakdown. While over a whopping one-third of adult Korean men smoke cigarettes, just about 4% of Korean women do. Smoking is actually taboo for women in Korea, so most women refrain from taking up smoking because it wouldn’t sit well, socially speaking. Here in the U.S., the gap between genders is significantly smaller. Around 19% of men and 15% of women reportedly smoke in America. What this means, I can’t be sure, but go ahead and add this factoid to the list of reasons why Korean women have such glowing, healthy skin.
It’s important to be knowledgeable about our health, and our skin is often a good indicator of how our internal systems are functioning. However, keep in mind that smoking is an addiction, and addiction is a serious disease in its own right that should not be taken lightly. The best way to combat addiction is to avoid beginning in the first place. But, for those who are already smokers, there is hope! Quitting is an extremely difficult process, but it can be done with determination, support, and the right resources.