Tobacco affects not only the skin of those who smoke, but also those who are exposed to smoke. It should be noted that tobacco contains approximately 4000 toxic components, of which at least 300 are very dangerous and can have dermatological effects.
First, tobacco affects the skin by causing unwanted aesthetic effects. Although it causes skin damage throughout the body, the effects are more visible on the face. There is 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.
Still, the good news is that the effects are reversed if someone quits smoking in the short, medium or long term.
How tobacco affects the skin
The first biological effect tobacco has on the skin is caused by the increase in free radicals. These are chemical elements that damage cell membranes. They also 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 endangered. The skin is deprived of oxygen and essential nutrients, leading to dehydration and dryness. In addition, nicotine contains a component called vasopressin which increases blood pressure and lowers estrogen levels. At the same time, low estrogen levels lead to dryness.
On the other hand, tobacco use reduces the absorption of vitamin A and alters elastin and collagen. The result of all this is dry skin with reduced radiance and pronounced wrinkles.
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 39 years.
The wrinkles that smokers have are different from non-smokers. The grooves are narrower, deeper and more pronounced and the contours are more pronounced. One study points out that the wrinkles of some smokers aged 40 to 49 years are similar to those of non-smokers aged 60 to 70 years.
Wrinkles are often more pronounced around the eyes and upper lip. This is due to the facial expression the smoker often adopts when they smoke. Meanwhile, premature aging is mainly due to tobacco causing elastin debris to accumulate in the dermis, leading to collagen degeneration and wrinkle formation.
Tobacco affects the healing of the skin
Healing problems represent another way tobacco affects the skin. Smoke weakens the oxygenation in the tissue, reduces circulation and poisons the blood. The consequence of this is that wounds, especially surgical wounds, take longer to heal.
Smokers with chronic wounds, especially in the lower extremities, have a more unstable evolution and problems with healing. People who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day are three times more likely to develop necrosis compared to non-smokers.
Tobacco use can trigger or aggravate many skin diseases. Some of them are:
- Alopecia or hair loss
- Hidradenitis suppurativa
- Chronic hand eczema
Tobacco also causes yellowing in the nails and fingers of the hands, as well as the teeth, as it increases the bacterial surface. The heat of the cigarette in the mouth causes repetitive aggression that can lead to lip cancer. 80% of the people who develop this cancer are smokers.
Tobacco is also a potential trigger for non-melanoma skin cancer. It can especially cause epidermoid carcinoma, a condition that is twice as common in smokers. It can also lead to cancer of the oral cavity and increase the risk of metastasis.