11 November 2019

What is smoker's face and is it a real thing?

Smoking not only affects our health, but can alter our looks as well.

By now we know that smoking increases our risk for chronic disease and can significantly worsen the symptoms of other health problems.

But if that isn't enough to make you quit, a study from the University of Bristol has now shown that heavy smoking may cause facial ageing.

The study, published in PLOS Genetics recently, led by the University's MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit (IEU), investigated 18 000 traits to identify those who may have been affected by heavy smoking.

How did the research work?

According to the news report, the researchers analysed the data by using a new approach. They combined two existing methods: the Mendelian randomisation phenome-wide association study approach and gene-by-environment interaction tests.

The researchers found this new approach to be effective and it added to evidence that heavy smokers are likely to experience premature signs of ageing such as wrinkling. This effect on appearance might act as a stronger deterrent to help people quit.

And if this new angle works, it can also be done to for other substances such as alcohol.

Dr Louise Millard, Vice Chancellor's Research Fellow in the Bristol Medical School: Population Health Sciences (PHS) who led the research, said: "We proposed a novel approach that could be used to search for causal effects of health exposures, and demonstrated this approach to search for the effects of smoking heaviness. We searched across thousands of traits to identify those that may be affected by how heavily someone smokes. As well as identifying several known adverse effects such as on lung health, we also identified an adverse effect of heavier smoking on facial ageing."

Why exactly would smoking lead to facial ageing?

There are several factors that can add years to our appearance, including sun exposure without protection. In this case, cigarettes alter the appearance of the skin because of the effect of nicotine on the blood vessels.

Nicotine narrows the blood vessels, which affects blood circulation. With less circulation, your skin gets less oxygen and nutrients, which is important for a healthy texture and appearance.

Just like the rest of your body, your skin needs antioxidants such as vitamins for optimum health – and when those can’t get to your skin, free radicals start taking their toll, causing wrinkling and signs of premature ageing. You expose your body to oxidative stress every time you smoke.

The chemical compounds found in cigarettes also deplete the body of collagen and elastin, the structures that our bodies produce to help keep the skin supple. Your body naturally starts producing less of these as you age. Throw cigarettes into the mix, and you're speeding up the process.

Wrinkles around the mouth are specifically associated with smoking. The main contributors are the heat of the cigarette and the physical action of pursing your lips together when inhaling.

Is there anything you can do to avoid a smoker’s face?

While you can protect your skin against harmful UV rays by applying sunscreen, there are no such measures for smoking. The best course of action is to quit and to support your skin health by drinking more water and eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Image credit: iStock