Many people put a lot of time and care into maintaining the largest organ in the body--our skin. We wear protective clothing to shield our skin from the sun’s harmful UVA/UVB rays. We lather our skin with sunscreen when we do go out. And we spend money on lotions, creams, cleansers, and other beauty products designed to keep our skin healthy, radiant and youthful. But one of the best things you can do for your skin is quit smoking.
Most people are aware of the risk smoking poses to the heart and lungs. But smoking is also one of your skin’s biggest enemies. Even if you don’t smoke, exposure to secondhand smoke can be damaging because the chemicals can act as a skin irritant and have a drying effect. There are over 7,000 chemicals in second hand smoke! These chemicals wreak havoc both inside and outside your body. Smoking is damaging to your skin's health because it:
- decreases blood flow to the skin which robs your skin of oxygen and vital nutrients;
- decreases the production of elastin and collagen; both are important in keeping skin soft and supple;
- deprives your skin of certain vital nutrients and minerals including vitamins A, C, and E;
- delays wound healing and increases risk for scarring.
All of these things can contribute to wrinkling (earlier, deeper and more numerous wrinkles), dull skin, loss of skin elasticity and suppleness, and premature aging. Smoking doesn't just add years to the face; it can also affect other areas on the body, including the neck and arms. The skin in these areas can become more loose and saggy. On top of this, smoking is a risk factor for skin conditions such as psoriasis (a chronic skin condition characterized by itchy, dry, red, flaky skin), adult acne (aka atypical post-adolescent acne), and squamous cell skin cancer.
The good news? While not all damage to the skin from smoking is reversible, it can be slowed down. Within weeks of quitting smoking you should notice an improvement in skin coloring and texture. Many people also notice their gums getting more pink and healthier, and the stains on fingers and fingernails fading. So with all of these improvements in skin, why do ex-smokers sometimes get acne? While not completely understood, "quit zits," may be part of the body's detox process (clogging of skin's pores due to increased sebum production, hormonal changes, etc.). Luckily, they are temporary, albeit annoying.
What else can you do to take care of your skin besides quitting smoking?
- Wear protective clothing when spending time outside.
- Wear sunscreen with at least SPF 15 (and reapply often).
- Clean your skin twice daily with a gentle cleanser (or just water) to help remove dirt and make-up.
- Wash/rinse your face with water after exercise, paying special attention to the hairline if you wear caps, helmets or other headgear.
- Avoid using harsh chemicals on your skin which may cause irritation or outbreaks.
- Drink plenty of water which helps moisturize skin and replenish cells and tissues.
- Eat a healthy diet. Fruits and veggies are filled with vitamins and minerals your skin needs to repair and maintain healthy functioning.
- Talk to your doctor first about over-the-counter or prescription medications for acne and other skin conditions.
Quitting smoking is an important step in improving your health, including your skin health! Healthier skin not only makes you look better, but feel better. By making a few small changes, you will find that healthier, more beautiful skin is within touching distance!