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Smoking and the Effects on the Skin

By Stephen M. Schleicher, MD, Director, DermDOX Center for Dermatology

Concerned about wrinkles and dark spots?  Several studies document that cigarette smoking, like excess sun exposure, leads to premature aging of the skin. One study compared identical twins; the skin of the twins who smoked was 25 percent thinner than that of the twins who did not. On a molecular level, cigarette smoke activates the genes responsible for a skin enzyme that breaks down collagen.

The term smoker’s face was coined over two decades ago by a physician who was able to differentiate smokers from nonsmokers by examining not their lungs but their faces. The smoker’s face is characterized by accelerated skin aging, deep wrinkles about the mouth, accentuated crow’s feet, and discoloration. Even secondhand smoke, which contains hundreds of toxins, is absorbed into and through the skin.

Regarding premature aging, we cannot alter our genes. But we can in large measure control exposure to sunlight and cigarette smoke.

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