Smoking is considered to be one of the most controllable causes of disease and death today, and in a continuous effort to encourage smokers to quit, the American Cancer Society-sponsored Great American Smokeout will take place on November 20th .
This is a day in which those who smoke are encouraged to quit for 24 hours in hopes that they will quit permanently.
While it is widely known and accepted that smoking is a contributor to heart and lung disease, to name a few, the adverse effects of smoking and what it does to the skin are less well-known and often ignored.
Dr. Jennifer Linder says, the fact is that smoking is a contributor to many dermatologic conditions and complications, such as poor wound healing, collagen degradation, skin discoloration, the formation of abnormal skin growths, deep wrinkling and premature skin aging.
Linder adds, restriction of oxygen flow to the skin cells is also common, as well as oral cancers of the lips, mouth and gums. It is imperative that we have an understanding of all of the adverse consequences of smoking, including its direct effect on the skin.
Ironically, most people start smoking as teenagers because they think it will make them appear older and more mature.According to Linder, this thought process is not far from the truth: Smoking actually does make you look older by aging your skin prematurely.
She says, the connection between skin aging and cigarette smoking is now so apparent that warning labels such as "smoking makes your skin age" can be seen on cigarette packages in Europe and in other parts of the world.
Linder also says oxygen is imperative for skin cell health.
The vessels within the skin are responsible for transporting oxygen to the skin cells.
One cigarette actually causes vasoconstriction, meaning the vessels to contract and become tighter, for up to 90 minutes.
In addition, the carbon monoxide that is in cigarettes actually bonds with oxygen and keeps it from getting to the skin cells.
The body realizes that there is not enough oxygen being supplied to the skin cells and begins producing more blood vessels.
Linder says, this is the reason why those with a condition known as "smoker's skin" have more visible blood vessels.
Skin discoloration is also common with this condition.
A grey or yellow tone will be present, rather than the pink color of healthy, oxygenated skin.
Linder says evidence shows that smoking also induces something called metallo-proteinase activity, which is a function in our skin specifically responsible for the breakdown of collagen.
Collagen production is important for retaining the elasticity in our skin, and as we age, this production decreases.
This accelerated degradation of collagen caused by smoking, combined with the repeated pursing of the lips and squinting of the eyes when inhaling a cigarette, ultimately increases the depth, size and severity of facial wrinkling and is often more evident on the faces of female smokers.
Other signs according to Dr. Linder, slow wound healing is another serious and sometimes deadly effect of smoking.
It is recommended that anyone who smokes should discontinue this practice before undergoing any type of surgery, whether elective or mandatory.
The increased vasoconstriction and decreased collagen production associated with smoking are significant concerns, as the main determining factor of the strength of an operative incision is mature collagen.
Linder says smoking also increases the formation of numerous types of neoplasms. Neoplasms are abnormal growths of tissue whose cells proliferate, or grow, more rapidly than normal. The end result is a distinct mass which is foreign to normal tissue. Neoplasms can either be benign or malignant.
Besides the many devastating effects smoking has on the skin, it is also important to consider the other unsightly cutaneous effects of smoking, such as yellow fingers and fingernails, increased wrinkle depth and severity, as well as a dull, sallow appearance to the skin.
It is also important to note that smoking for only five years causes enough damage to the skin to cause "smoker's skin," which may appear many years later.