24 January 2014

Smoking, premature ageing, and quitting

Tobacco smoking seriously affects internal organs, particularly the heart and lungs, but it also affects a person’s appearance.

A smoker’s skin can be prematurely aged by between 10 and 20 years. 1

While these changes are generally not as life threatening as heart and lung disease, they can, nevertheless, increase the risk of more serious disorders and have a noticeable ageing effect on the body. 1

The skin is affected by tobacco smoke in at least two ways. Firstly, the skin is directly exposed to tobacco smoke released into the environment, which has a drying effect on the skin’s surface.1,2

Secondly, the skin is impacted indirectly due to toxic substances that pass into the bloodstream from the inhaled smoke, 1,2 and due to restricted blood vessels, which in turn reduces the amount of blood flowing to the skin, thus depleting the skin of oxygen and essential nutrients. 1

Another likely explanation is that squinting in response to the irritating nature of the smoke, and the puckering of the mouth when drawing on a cigarette causes more pronounced wrinkling around the eyes and mouth. 1,2

Skin damaged by smoke has a greyish, wasted appearance. The more a person smokes, the greater the risk of premature wrinkling. 1

A smoking history of more than 0.9 pack-years is associated with a 3-fold increase in wrinkling.3 (To calculate your pack years, multiply the number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day, by the number of years smoked. e.g. 1 pack-year is equal to smoking 20 cigarettes (1 pack) per day for 1 year, or 10 cigarettes per day for 2 years).

Smokers in their 40s often have as many facial wrinkles as non-smokers in their 60s. Although the damaging effects of cigarette smoke on the skin are irreversible, further deterioration can be avoided by stopping smoking. 1

Physical appearance improves and change in skin colour occurs within 1 month of smoking cessation. 1

A recent study demonstrated the skin-related benefits of smoking cessation.4 In this study, average biological skin age, which was calculated using parameters such as skin smoothness, brightness, colouring and elasticity, decreased from 53 to 40 years during the 9 months of smoking cessation. According to this study, skin biological age improved quickly within 3 months, and this improvement was maintained for 9 months.

1. Action on Smoking and Health. ASH Fact Sheets: How smoking affects the way you look. [Internet]; November 2009 [cited 2013 Jan 8]. Available from:
2. Just-Sarobé M. Smoking and the Skin. Actas Dermosifiliogr. 2008; 99:173-184
3. Doshi DN, Hanneman KK, Cooper KD. Smoking and Skin Aging in Identical Twins. Arch Dermatol. 2007 Dec;143(12):1543-1546
4. Cho YH, Jeong DW, Seo SH, Lee SY, Choi EJ, Kim YJ et al. Changes in Skin Color after Smoking Cessation. Korean J Fam Med. 2012 March 2; 33:105-109
5. Action on Smoking and Health. ASH Fact Sheets: Stopping smoking: the benefits and aids to quitting. [Internet]; December 2012 [cited 2013 Jan 8]. Available from:
LICENCE HOLDER: Pfizer Laboratories (Pty) Ltd. Reg. No. 1954/000781/07. 85 Bute Lane, Sandton, 2196, South Africa. Tel. No.: 0860 PFIZER (734937). 40/CHX/04/13/PA