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Illness prevention and treatment

January 21, 2015

Face the facts: Smoking causes wrinkles

Today is Weedless Wednesday, and here’s a reason to quit that you may not have thought of: Smoking makes your skin look old.

You’ve heard the health reasons you shouldn’t smoke: cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, emphysema. You’ve heard the financial reasons: cost per pack, higher insurance premiums, cleaning bills. You’ve probably thought about the esthetic reasons, too: stained teeth and fingers, bad breath, stinky hair and clothing.

Here’s another reason to quit: wrinkles. Smoking ages your skin prematurely.

It’s easy to see how smoking can cause wrinkles for mechanical reasons: Pursing your lips and squinting to keep smoke out of your eyes promote the formation of wrinkles around the eyes and mouth. But smoking ages your skin for chemical reasons, as well.

According to Dr. Lowell Dale of the world-famous Mayo Clinic (Is it true that smoking causes wrinkles?), the culprits are nicotine and many of the other 4,000-plus chemicals in cigarette smoke. Nicotine causes the blood vessels in the outer layers of your skin to contract (which is why smokers often have cold fingers), which impairs the flow of oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to your skin.

Other chemicals in tobacco smoke, such as carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, cyanide, ammonia and tar, damage collagen and elastin, the fibres that make your skin firm and resilient, and reduce the water content in your skin’s outer layer. The result: Your skin looks drier and more fragile, and begins to sag and wrinkle before its time.

More than just wrinkles

Smoking also contributes to more serious skin problems. In a research review (Cutaneous effects of smoking), Toronto dermatologist Anatoli Frieman found that “smoking is strongly associated with numerous dermatologic conditions including poor wound healing, wrinkling and premature skin aging, squamous cell carcinoma, psoriasis. . . hair loss, oral cancers, and other oral conditions. In addition, it has an impact on the skin lesions observed in diabetes, lupus, and AIDS.”

Stopping smoking won’t make your existing wrinkles go away, but it will halt the damage that creates new ones. And don’t count on cosmetic surgery to undo smoking’s ravages: The negative impact on wound healing means that many plastic surgeons won’t operate on smokers.

California plastic surgeon Robert Singer of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery explains why (Ask a surgeon – Facelift):  “All wound healing depends on blood supply. The blood flow to the skin and underlying tissue is diminished by smoking, which constricts the small blood vessels.” Smoking delays healing, causes problems with anesthesia, increases the rate of infection and scarring, and even puts the skin that is lifted and stretched at greater risk of dying, says Dr. Singer.

Fewer Canadians are smoking. According to Health Canada’s Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey, the percentage of adult smokers dropped from 25% in 1994 to 16% in 2012. That’s a positive trend, to be sure, but it means almost one in six Canadians still smokes. If you’re one of them, what will it take to help you quit?

Amid all the serious health risks of smoking, premature wrinkles may sound a bit frivolous. But it’s one more reason to quit, once and for all.

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