February 21, 2011 - Dr. Nick Lowe.. The harm smoking inflicts on the skin seems superficial compared to heart disease or lung cancer, but it is usually the first - and most visible - damage caused by the habit.
At my clinics in London and Los Angeles I often see women and men - some as young as 30 - who want to rid themselves of the ravaged complexion that smoking has given them. My first message to them is simple: stop smoking.
The good news is that if you do give up, the skin will start to repair itself. The bad news for those who can't or won't give up (such as devoted smoker Kate Moss - see Reference - for before and after picture) is that the later you leave it, the more irreversible the problems.
Smoking affects the entire body and when it is put under stress - in this case with a toxic concoction of carbon monoxide, cyanide, tar, formaldehyde and other chemicals - the brain diverts vitamins away from your skin to be used elsewhere.
Nicotine also reduces blood flow to the lower living layer of skin, or dermis, which results in less oxygen being delivered. Skin becomes sallow and the regularity and quality of cell production deteriorate, leading to dry, flaky skin that is less resilient to external stresses.
Over time the skin sags and wrinkles because the body cannot produce collagen effectively. Smoke saps the body of Vitamin C - a key component in the manufacturing of collagen - and disturbs the production of an enzyme called matrix metalloproteinase.
This enzyme should regulate collagen production but in smokers destroys more tissue than it produces, leading to skin that is lined and less plump.
All that sucking when you light up puts the skin under more stress, too. This leads to the signature hollow cheeks, crow's feet and the puckered upper lip of a seasoned smoker. And even those who smoke and sun-worship but don't yet look like a leather bag should give up because it can take 25 years for the damage to show.
So is this damage reversible? Yes, within reason. As soon as you stop smoking, your body is able to function more effectively. Within six weeks the skin will be visibly benefiting from increased oxygen and antioxidant levels, but you must adopt a strict skin-care regime.
Broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) sunscreen is essential to stop the sun destroying any collagen that your now smoke-free body is producing.
Face cream should provide your skin with antioxidants and peptides - Vitamin A to speed up skin-cell turnover, Vitamin C to stimulate collagen production and Vitamin E to encourage healing. Peptides will signal to your brain that more collagen needs to be produced.
While clinical tests for lycopene supplements - an antioxidant found in red fruit, especially tomatoes - have focused on preventing and reversing skin damage caused by the sun, the destructive processes that smoking and sunbathing initiate are remarkably similar.
I always advocate an ex-smoker taking a lycopene supplement. And a fish-oil supplement with a high concentration of omega-3 will dampen inflammation, promote healing and aid moisture-retention in the dermis.
Reference: Quit smoking and you can still save your skin by Dr Nick Lowe, DailyMail.co.uk, 2/20/2011.
A girl's guide to naturally beautiful skin.. Information provided by Dr. Joshua Fox - a leading dermatologist.
Tobacco smoking makes you old before your time..
Slideshow: Surprising Ways Smoking Affects Your Looks and Life, Reviewed by: Louise Chang, MD on August 13, 2010, WebMD.