Smoking and Skin Health
We have known for many years that smoking causes cancer, and lung and heart disease, but what impact does it have on the health of our skin?
Although much more research needs to be conducted in this area, smoking is now thought to be associated with premature skin ageing and delayed wound healing. It is also associated with a number of skin conditions, including psoriasis.
How does smoking cause skin to age?
Smoking accelerates the skin ageing process mainly through nicotine in cigarettes. Nicotine in cigarettes causes narrowing of the blood vessels in the epidermis (the outer layer of your skin). This impairs blood flow to your skin, which means not as much oxygen and important nutrients flow to the skin.
Cigarettes also contain thousands of chemicals that damage collagen and elastin, which are fibres that give your skin its strength and elasticity. As a result, skin begins to sag and wrinkle. It is also possible that the facial expressions you repeat over and over again whilst smoking (often for decades) may contribute to wrinkles.
The skin also becomes dry and course, with uneven skin colouring and broken blood vessels. Smokers can also appear gaunt and may develop an orange or grey complexion.
Smoking and wound healing
Smoking also affects the immune system, hence resulting in delayed wound healing. It increases the risk of wound infection, graft or flap failure, death of tissue, and blood clot formation. Reasons for this are unclear but involve:
- Vasoconstriction (constriction of blood vessels) and lack of oxygen reaching skin cells
- Decreased collagen synthesis
- Delayed growth of new blood vessels within the wound
Smoking and skin cancer
According to a 2013 study from the American Medical Association, smoking doubles your risk of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)* - the second most common form of skin cancer. This form of skin cancer more commonly occurs in older people and is usually found on sun-exposed areas. They usually take weeks to several months to grow and require surgery to remove. Learn more about skin cancer.
This is another great reason for you to quit smoking.
Smoking and psoriasis
Much like smoking's effect on wound healing, nicotine affects the immune system and can lead to immune-mediated conditions, such as psoriasis. Studies have shown that if you smoke you have a higher risk of psoriasis. Psoriasis also tends to be more extensive and severe in smokers.
Learn more about psoriasis.
Where can I get help to quit smoking?
Quitting smoking is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk of cancer. Tobacco smoke contains more than 7000 chemicals, including over 70 carcinogens (chemicals known to cause cancer). You will experience immediate health benefits as soon as you quit smoking.
National Quitline: 13 78 48 or 13QUIT
Quit Because You Can
Cancer Council Australia