Is Smoking Making Me Look Older?

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Dermatologist Romeo Morales, MD, says the answer is “Yes” and offers tips for understanding the skin related risks.

Dr. Romeo Morales

According to Dr. Morales, researchers are zeroing in on smoking’s effects on the human body, clarifying the mechanism that accelerates aging.

Despite the warnings from experts and non-experts alike, from the US Surgeon General to the drugstore cashier, close to 17 percent of American adults—that’s more than 40 million people—smoke. And while there’s no shortage of harrowing diagnoses tied to cigarettes—lung cancer and emphysema, for example—experts can also point to a host of non-life-threatening (but serious) conditions that go hand-in-hand with lighting up. Skin changes—more specifically, aging of the skin—is at the top of this list indicates Romeo Morales, MD, a medical and surgical dermatologist at Advanced Dermatology, P.C.

According to Dr. Morales, researchers are zeroing in on smoking’s effects on the human body, clarifying the mechanism that accelerates aging. These discoveries may help us prevent smoking-related problems. But at the same time, he says, studies continue to show the direct correlation between smoking and skin damage.

Tips for understanding the skin related risks of smoking
Wrinkles: “We know that smokers’ faces exhibit a telltale pattern of wrinkling, coarseness and discoloration,” he says. “But we’re also finding these changes in the skin all over the body, not just in areas that are exposed to sunlight and other environmental stresses,” he says. In one study, for example, researchers examining non-facial, photo-protected skin (like that on the inside of the upper arm) found that the number of cigarettes smoked per day and the total years that a person smoked were directly related to the degree of wrinkling and sagging in those areas.

Non-melanoma skin cancers: Smoking-related skin damage is not restricted to wrinkles, Dr. Morales says. Research shows that people who smoke are more susceptible to non-melanoma skin cancers, including basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. Again, risk increases along with the number of daily cigarettes and the number of years as a smoker.

Poor wound healing and more: Other research points to links between smoking and poor wound healing, sagging breasts, psoriasis, dental problems and hair loss. One study found that smoking could add the equivalent of 14 years of aging to the skin—not to mention taking about 10 years off the smoker’s lifespan.

Impaired production of collagen: “We know that tobacco smoke has over 400 chemicals, many of which hinder circulation and produce free radicals, which contribute to aging and disease,” Dr. Morales says. Cigarette smoke also impairs the production of collagen and actually degrades it, along with elastin and other kinds of connective tissue in the skin, he says.

Plastic Surgery (and Other Options)
Before now, smokers (and anyone else seeking the antidote for aging skin) would have only one option: plastic surgery. Of course, surgery is still an option for many patients; in fact, one recent study of people seeking blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery) found that smokers sought the procedure roughly four years earlier than non-smokers. Today’s dermatologists have a host of other, less costly (and less extreme) options.

For example, Dr. Morales says, smokers are more susceptible to sagging of the upper eyelids and chin, under-eye bags, lines between the nose and mouth and around the lip (the so-called “smoker’s mouth”). In smokers, signs of aging are generally most pronounced on the lower face. All of these can be treated with non-invasive, in-office procedures. To the rescue: Botox and injectable fillers, which can reduce wrinkles and restore volume to sagging skin. At the same time, lasers can do wonders to tighten skin (and boost collagen production below the surface).

Dr. Morales advises smokers to do whatever they can to kick the habit. While the natural process of aging is uncontrollable, the skin effects of smoking are avoidable.

Romeo Morales, M.D., F.A.A.D., specializes in many areas of medical and surgical dermatology with a particular interest in skin cancer screening and prevention.

Advanced Dermatology P.C. and the Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery (New York & New Jersey) is one of the leading dermatology centers in the nation, offering highly experienced physicians in the fields of cosmetic and laser dermatology as well as plastic surgery and state-of-the-art medical technologies. http://www.advanceddermatologypc.com

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