How Tobacco Affects the Skin

Tobacco affects the skin in many ways. It markedly deteriorates appearance and may trigger premature aging. Also, it can cause severe skin diseases such as skin cancer.
How Tobacco Affects the Skin

Last update: 02 March, 2020

Tobacco affects the skin of both those who smoke but also of those who are exposed to smoke. It should be noted that tobacco contains approximately 4,000 toxic components, of which at least 300 are highly dangerous and can have dermatologic effects.

First, tobacco affects the skin by causing undesirable aesthetic effects. Although it causes skin damage in the entire body, the effects are more visible on the face. There’s even a pattern that defines “smoker’s face”. However, tobacco affects the skin beyond its aesthetic effects. In some cases, it causes serious diseases such as skin cancer.

Nevertheless, the good news is that if someone quits smoking in the short, medium, or long-term, the effects reverse.

How tobacco affects the skin

A man smoking.

The first biological effect of tobacco on the skin is caused by the increase in free radicals. These are chemical elements that damage cell membranes. Also, they even alter the genetic information and cause anomalies in the arterioles of the dermis and epidermis.

Under these conditions, the skin’s circulation and nutrition are compromised. The skin is deprived of oxygen and essential nutrients, which leads to dehydration and dryness. Also, nicotine contains a component called vasopressin that increases blood pressure and decreases estrogen. Meanwhile, low estrogen levels lead to dryness.

On the other hand, tobacco use decreases the absorption of vitamin A and alters elastin and collagen. The result of all this is dry skin with reduced radiance and pronounced wrinkles.

The face of smokers looks grayish-yellow and their cheekbones become more prominent. Sometimes, purple spots appear. Likewise, their hair becomes dry and brittle.

Keep reading: Everything You Should Know About Staying Away from Tobacco

Premature aging

One of the obvious manifestations of how tobacco affects the skin is premature aging. This is more visible in women than men and is most evident after the age of 39.

The wrinkles smokers have are different from those of nonsmokers. The furrows are narrower, deeper, and more pronounced. The contours are more pronounced. A study points out that the wrinkles of some smokers aged 40 to 49 are similar to those of non-smokers aged 60 to 70.

Also, wrinkles are often more pronounced around the eyes and upper lip. This is commonly due to the position the smoker adopts to smoke. Meanwhile, premature aging is mainly because tobacco makes elastin waste accumulate in the dermis, leading to the degeneration of collagen and wrinkle formation.

Tobacco affects skin healing

A slow-healing wound.

Healing problems represent another way in which tobacco affects the skin. Smoke impairs tissue oxygenation, decreases circulation, and intoxicates the blood. The consequence of this is that wounds, particularly surgical wounds, take longer to heal.

Smokers with chronic ulcers, especially in the lower limbs, have a more unstable evolution and difficulty healing. People who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day are three times more likely to develop necrosis compared to non-smokers.

Other problems

Tobacco use can trigger or worsen a lot of skin diseases. Some of them are:

  • Alopecia or hair loss,
  • Psoriasis,
  • Hidradenitis suppurativa,
  • Chronic hand eczema, among others.

Also, tobacco causes yellowing in the nails and fingers of the hands, as well as the teeth, as it increases bacterial plaque. The heat of the cigarette in the mouth produces repetitive aggression that can result in lip cancer. 80% of people who develop this type of cancer are smokers.

Tobacco is also a potential trigger of nonmelanoma skin cancer. Specifically, it may cause epidermoid carcinoma, a condition that’s twice as common in smokers. Also, it can lead to cancer of the oral cavity and increase the risk of metastasis.

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  • Rampoldi, R., Querejeta, M., & Larreborges, A. (2005). Efectos del tabaco sobre la piel. Act Terap Dermatol, 28, 32-39.