How smoking really affects your skin and how to reverse it – from a leading cosmetic doctor who has helped hundreds.
Approximately 7million people were smokers in the UK in 2019, and stats suggest that 1 million people have quit the habit since the pandemic hit. Government advice suggests that smokers may be at risk of more severe Covid symptoms, however, that is not the only health implication that smoking has. Smoking not only impacts your cardiovascular health but also has huge implications on your skin.
Cosmetic doctor and former GP, Dr Rekha Tailor specialises in skin health and says we should not underestimate the impact smoking has on our skin’s health and also our looks.
‘The toxins from smoke damage the collagen and elastin in skin, these are the fibrous components that keep it firm and supple,’ she explains. ‘Smoking begins to affect the skin almost immediately and is the result of the nicotine on the skin which affects the blood flow. Its effects can be seen and felt in a number of ways.’
How smoking affects skin:
The toxins in cigarette smoke damage collagen and elastin. ‘This damage speeds up the skin ageing process, making skin more prone to wrinkles,’ explains Dr Tailor.
Most smokers will have what are often known as ‘smokers lines’. These are the wrinkles around the mouth that come from pursing the lips to draw on a cigarette. ‘For smokers this damage, as well as other wrinkles and lines begin to appear much earlier than in people who don’t smoke. This is as a result of the vascular construction caused by smoking. The constricted blood vessels affects blood flow and oxygen from reaching the skin cells, and speeds up the ageing process,’ says Dr Tailor.
This occurs as a result of the damage to collagen and elastin and can occur all over the body, not just on the face. ‘Smokers often find sagging skin on their upper arms and breasts too,’ adds Dr Tailor.
Smokers are more than 50% more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma than non-smokers. This is the second most common skin cancer and often occurs on the lips. This may be due to the fact that the toxins in cigarettes lower the immune system.
Smokers are more prone to a type of Psoriasis called palmoplantar pustulosis. Again, Dr Tailor explains that this may be because of the fact that the nicotine lowers the immune system as well as skin growth and inflammation.
‘Some evidence suggests that smoking might increase the risk of stretch marks, this is thought to be because of the fact that vascular constriction caused by the toxins slows down the skin’s ability to repair itself,’ says Dr Tailor. ‘It’s for this reason that it affects wound healing too.‘
Smokers often have skin that looks uneven or more of an orangey or grey tone. ‘This is down to lack of oxygen to the skin cells, along with the chemicals in tobacco,’ explains Dr Tailor. ‘The reduction in antioxidants that smoking results in can also lead to skin pigmentation. Tar stains can also appear on the hands from holding the cigarette itself and these are virtually impossible to remove.‘
Four tips to revitalise skin after smoking
If, like the million people who quit smoking last year, you are keen to revitalise your skin after the damage that’s been caused, here’s how:
1. Improve skin brightness with retinol
‘Topical retinoids work by removing the dead skin cells on the surface of the skin and improving turnover to help prevent them building up in hair follicles,’ says Dr Tailor. ‘This helps to reduce breakouts and make dull skin appear brighter and revitalised.‘ (It is important to see a specialist to prescribe the right medical skincare regimen for your individual needs. Please note these are not suitable for use during pregnancy).
2. Exfoliate to bring back the glow
According to the experts, the answer to persistent dryness and a lack of glow is to exfoliate. ‘The first step in your skincare regimen should be to cleanse your face with an appropriate cleanser for your skin type, I recommend double cleansing to ensure a truly effective clean. For ingredients to properly absorb into your skin as you continue on with your regimen, you need to ensure that your skin is free of oil and dirt. Spending just ten minutes in total on cleansing your face will help reduce oily build-up and acne break outs,’ says Dr Tailor.
3. Tighten your skin with ultrasound
Dr Tailor recommends ultrasound treatments like Ultherapy to tighten any sagging skin.‘Ultherapy is a nonsurgical alternative to a facelift. It’s often described as a ‘lunchtime facelift’ because of the speed and effectiveness of the procedure,’ she says. ‘It’s used to counteract signs of aging like skin sagging and wrinkles on the face, neck, and chest as well as drooping of the brow area. The technology stimulates collagen production, which creates a more youthful look overall.‘
There are no needles with Ultherapy; nothing injected, nothing stiffens, nothing fills. All that happens is an ultrasound wand is applied to the parts of the face from which collagen is rapidly departing – the neck, the cheeks, the brow and of course, the jawline. The resulting heat, produced by very targeted sonic waves, kickstarts lazy collagen into frenetic activity; this ultimately re-tightens and lifts the face.
4. Even out skin tone with in-clinic peels