How does smoking affect skin?

Close-up of an intensively smoking man
Even the faces you make while smoking can give you wrinkles.

Most people know that smoking is bad for your health. It can increase your risk of cancer, cause problems during pregnancy and make you more likely to suffer from a stroke or heart attack. But even before you experience any of these catastrophic health problems, smoking has already made its mark on you. You can see this impact every time you look in the mirror.

When you take a puff, you're causing irreversible damage to your skin. This habit can cause early wrinkles, and it accelerates the overall aging of your skin. After only 10 years of smoking, it's already possible to see the effects in the faces of young adults [source: Mayo Clinic].


Smoking causes wrinkles by narrowing blood vessels in the outer layers of skin. This causes less blood flow and reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that can get to the skin [source: Gibson]. Smoking damages important connective fibers like collagen and elastin, causing permanent wrinkles. This damage doesn't take long to appear -- studies have found that even smokers as young as 20 years old had facial wrinkling that doctors could see under a microscope. And if you smoke 10 or more cigarettes a day for at least 10 years, you're more likely to develop deeply wrinkled, leathery skin and a yellowish complexion [source: American Academy of Dermatology].

Even the little things you do when you puff can contribute to skin damage. When you purse your lips to inhale or squint to keep smoke out of your eyes, you add even more stress to your skin. These actions create crow's feet around your eyes and deep lines on the sides of your mouth [source: Hoffman]. And the damage doesn't stop at your face. A recent University of Michigan study found that smokers showed signs of accelerated aging below the neck and even on their inner arms [source: Helfrich].

Learn more about how lighting up can drag your skin down by visiting the links on the following page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Causes of Aging Skin." (Aug 8, 12, 2009)
  • American Cancer Society. "Guide to Quitting Smoking." July 12, 2009. (Aug. 12, 2009)
  • Gibson, Lawrence. "Smoking: Does It Cause Wrinkles?" Mayo Clinic. Oct. 25, 2007. (Aug. 12, 2009)
  • Helfrich, Yolanda, et al. "Effect of Smoking on Aging of Photoprotected Skin." Archives of Dermatology. March 2007. (Aug. 12, 2009)
  • Hoffman, Matthew. "Aging Skin: Four Healthy Habits to Prevent Aging Skin." WebMD. Jan. 31, 2008. (Aug. 12, 2009)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Top Five Habits for Healthy Skin." Dec. 28, 2007. (Aug. 12, 2009)