If you've quit smoking or are on your way, you deserve some congratulations. Not only do you stand to reduce your risk for future heart disease, cancer, and other health conditions, but you've done a mighty favor for your skin.
That's because—on top of all its other effects—smoking can also lead to signs of early aging, like wrinkles and sagging skin.
Still, quitting is only the first step. From now on, the healing begins: it's time to boost your skin recovery after quitting smoking. To do that, it's important to understand a little more about how years of smoking can damage your skin and how you can help undo that damage, starting today.
Smoking Effects on Skin Health
Take a look at this picture. It was taken of a 52-year-old woman who smoked about one pack a week throughout her adult life. Now, look at this one. That's her twin sister, of the same upbringing and environmental exposures, who didn't smoke.
This study by JAMA Dermatology compared the effects of smoking and skin aging among identical twins. Researchers compared the two sisters by the severity of their skin aging, on a scale of 1 to 6. The smoker twin received a score of 5, indicating severe aging, while the non-smoker twin received a 2, just mild to moderate aging.
This comparison created a clear, visual representation of what studies have long shown. The sister who smoked had more extensive skin damage because smoking tobacco exposes users to more than 4,000 chemicals that can damage skin health from nearly every angle, including the following:
- Nicotine causes the blood vessels in the skin's barrier to tighten. That contraction means that the skin gets less blood flow—and with it, less of all the good stuff that blood brings with it, like vitamin A.
- Toxins in tobacco smoke also limit the body's supply of skin-firming elastin and collagen.
- To a lesser degree, skin may also get fine lines from long-term exposure to cigarette heat as well as the puckered face people make when smoking.
Whether from smoking or vaping, these factors can lead to what the American Academy of Dermatologists calls "smoker's face"—that is, leathery, dull, or wrinkled skin. They can also lead to skin health problems that aren't just cosmetic; for example, smoking can exacerbate existing conditions like psoriasis. It can also delay the healing of cuts, scrapes, and other wounds.
If all this sounds scary, that's because it is. But by quitting, you can prevent future damage—and potentially work to reverse past damage, as well.
What You Can Do Now
No matter how long you've smoked, you can get your skin the attention it needs with some instant TLC. Starting right now, here's what to do:
1. Establish a Good Skin Care Routine
Everyone needs a basic three-part regimen of cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen, but ex-smokers may need to enhance that routine with some extras to visibly reduce lines, sagging skin, and other adverse effects of tobacco smoke. Many people with skin damage have noticed improvements by using amino acids for skin barrier repair and collagen regeneration.
2. Rein in Other Vices
If you once used smoking to cope with stress, resist the urge to manage that stress in other unhealthy ways like drinking or binge eating. Instead, seek out positive ways to combat stress, like getting exercise, eating a balanced diet, and sleeping around eight hours each night. Those good-for-you behaviors can not only make you feel better on the inside, but they can also improve your skin health and appearance.
3. Consult a Dermatologist
A Dermatologist can help you assess your skin's unique needs, taking into consideration your kicked habit and medical history. They may also recommend certain procedures, such as radiofrequency or laser treatments, to help repair damage from long-term smoking.
Quitting for Yourself and Others
Making the decision to quit smoking and then following through with your quit plan is one of the best choices you can make—not only for yourself but also for everyone around you, as secondhand smoke exposure can affect your loved ones' health (as well as their skin).
But why stop there? You can continue your journey to good health by focusing on your skin recovery after quitting smoking. Simple practices, like good skin care and a healthy routine, can go a long way.