How smoking affects the skin

Smoking is an ancient habit, its first recorded use dating back as early as 500BC - cannabis was commonly smoked in Eurasia before tobacco was introduced in the 16th century. For the hundreds of years to follow, smoking was mostly seen as a harmless habit, actually thought to provide beneficial effects. Although there was some counterargument against this dangerous ideology, it wasn’t until the 1950s where smoking started to become Public Health Enemy Number One as medical publications were released revealing the hazardous effects of smoking.

Fast forward sixty years later, people still smoke but not as much. According to the NHS, 78,000 people still die the UK die every year because of smoking and the habit still remains one of the biggest causes of death and illness in the country.

In today’s society there is the related, controversial issue of smoking E-cigarettes. Marketed as a safe alternative to smoking, yet still not researched enough nor regulated, E-cigs, also known as ‘vape pens’ or ‘vapor cigarettes’ contain substances that may or may not be hazardous to our health. We just don’t know enough yet.

So why do people smoke?

Smoking is highly addictive due to it containing nicotine. When smoked, cigarettes alter the balance of dopamine and noradrenaline in the brain, releasing temporary feelings of pleasure and dampening stress and anxiety. This happens instantly, and lasts a few short minutes. The more you smoke, the less you experience this ‘nicotine rush.’

Quitting smoking leads to disruptions in these levels, making the smoker feel anxious, depressed and agitated. 

How does smoking affect the body?

Smoking causes disastrous effects for the body – we know this. On average smokers die 10 years earlier than non-smokers, as the habit dramatically increases the risk of developing more than 50 health conditions. 

70% of lung cancer patients are smokers. Smokers are more likely to experience heart problems as it damages the blood circulation. Smoking can cause bones to become brittle and weaken, contribute to male impotence, cause bad breath and stained teeth, increase the risk of stomach cancer and ulcers and increases the chances of having a stroke.

How smoking affects the skin

There are over 7000 chemicals in a cigarette so it's no wonder that it has a negative impact on the body’s largest organ. The three main elements in cigarette smoke that affect the skin are:

  • Nicotine – as it narrows blood capillaries, reducing blood flow to the skin

  • Carbon monoxide – this blocks oxygen in the body, blocking it from feeding the tissues and skin

  • Free radicals – atoms that attack healthy skin tissues which causes the degradation of collagen and elastin 

These factors can have multiple effects on the skin and the way we age. Smoking can:

Advance ageing With the combination of poor blood flow, slower delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the skin and increase of free radicals, smoking can speed up ageing process. Ageing is technically an unescapable process however research has shown how smoking can cause deeper wrinkling and sagging of the skin.

One study published the findings from data collected during the Twins Day Festival in Twinsbury, Ohio in 2007 to 2010. 79 pairs of twins were identified; one smoked, the other didn’t. The chosen test subjects were studied for how they aged depending on whether they smoked. There was a surprising aging difference between the twins that smoked and those that didn’t smoke– the results showed that smoking ‘primarily affects the middle and lower thirds of then face’ when it comes to accelerated ageing.

Below: Can you guess the smoker? Via Insider

Cause a slower wound healing process

Inhaling smoke creates free radicals which induces oxidative stress, leading to a much slower healing process. 

Cause uneven skin tone

Smoking has a drastic effect on blood circulation and contributes to vascular constriction. This makes smokers more susceptible to broken capillaries and veins on the face and body.

Increases dehydration

Because smoking degrades connective skin tissue it can lead to extremely dehydrated skin with a rough texture. Psoriasis was closely linked in a 2010 evaluation of trials studying the correlation between smoking and problematic skin disease.

Lead to poor lip health

Ever heard the term ‘smokers lips?’ Repetitive exposure to the extreme heat of a cigarette can lead to dryness around the mouth area, darkening of pigment and fine lines.

Ways to quit smoking

Quitting smoking is never easy, however the amount of people that smoke in the UK significantly drop every single year. If just under 2 million people since 2011 have kicked the habit, then so can you. The journey to kicking the habit for good can be a smoother and more successful process if:

Goals are set

According to research, setting a goal invests us into that target, making us feel as though we have already accomplished it. So set a goal, be specific about the outcome. “I want to quit smoking forever” or “I want to quit smoking for 30 days.”

Anticipate and control cravings

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, so make a mental note of your triggers and make a plan from there. In the days that follow quitting smoking, it is perfectly normal to face cravings. Cravings can last anywhere between ten and twenty minutes, so list things you can do during these moments to take back control. 

You add a why

Listing the reasons as to why you are ditching the habit will remain a useful tool when you are experiencing cravings, and considering smoking again. Are you quitting for your children, for health, to save money, to live a longer life, for vanity? Adding a why to quitting, will strengthen the affirmation. This mental or physical list you devise should become part of your daily mantra and will provide comfort when you vulnerable to smoking cravings.

You consider your diet and lifestyle habits

Certain foods such as meat, or eating habits may stimulate the need for a cigarette – for example some smokers like to smoke just before or after a meal. Drinks such as alcohol, tea, coffee and fizzy drinks all make cigarettes better so consider cutting down or avoiding such things in the first few days you quit.

You keep track of your progress and reward yourself when necessary

Keeping track and rewarding yourself is crucial during the process of quitting. There are so many apps available for smartphones that can help to cheer you on and remind you of how well you are doing. Keeping track gives a high level of purpose to the work you are putting in, and the rewards you give yourself with provide you with new and better things to look forward to, besides a cigarette.

Remember the 10 minute rule

Continue to remind yourself that the cravings you experience will only last a few short minutes. If you can get through those ten minutes, you can get through anything.

Other tips to control those cravings:

Nicotine replacement therapy

This is a medically-approved way to try and quit smoking. Nicotine replacement therapy gives you nicotine in the form of gum, spray, inhalers, patches and lozenges to reduce the physical withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting smoking. The idea is that this way, you can gradually reduce your use and focus on the emotional aspect of your journey.


This ancient practice is great for many things, including guiding you through the journey of overcoming a nicotine addiction. Committing to daily practices of meditation, whether it be for 10 minutes or up to an hour, will help to enhance focus, develop mindfulness, induce relaxation by reducing depression and anxiety and improve self-control. If you are not familiar with meditation, try playing a guided session through headphones first.

Keeping a journal

I am a huge advocate for keeping a journal, and I believe keeping a little book specifically for quitting smoking will be a huge aid in your success. Keep lists of the reasons you want to quit, use it to write in when you feel like you want to smoke, keep a note of how good your feeling when you overcome that craving. Continue to journal even after you quit.

Sound therapy

Sound therapy uses voice, music, instruments and visual imagery to alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety – common triggers to light up in the first place. These practices are usually carried out a professional, but can be adapted for use in the home as well. Find out my favourite ways to use sound therapy in the home here.

Smoking is bad for our minds, our body and our skin: fact. The combination of nicotine, carbon monoxide and free radicals from the cigarette smoke attack healthy skin cells and reduce blood flow and oxygen to the skin. This can all lead to slower healing of the skin, uneven skin tone, broken blood vessels and veins, dehydration and premature ageing. And that’s not counting the impact it has on other bodily organs. Quit now, if you haven’t already. And if you never started in the first place, top marks for you. 

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