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Trash the ash: What smoking really does to your skin

What happens when you mix smoking with your psoriasis?  

We all know smoking is bad news for our health.1 And, if you are living with psoriasis, you are well aware of how delicate (and temperamental) your skin may be. Before we dig into why you should put down the cigarette, let’s be clear: Quitting smoking will not cure your psoriasis, butt (see what we did there?), smoking has a huge impact on the skin…

1) Smoke dries your skin out

You don’t even have to inhale for cigarettes to mess with your complexion. When tobacco burns it releases a cocktail of around 4000 chemicals (including carbon monoxide)2 into the air, which bombards the skin and dries it out.3  

2) Smoking may give you wrinkles

Sadly, all the anti-ageing creams in the world won’t make a difference if you puff regularly. Studies show tobacco is associated with premature wrinkles.4 One reason for this is that smoking leads to increased production of an enzyme that breaks down collagen – the protein that helps maintain skin’s structure and elasticity.5 There’s also the fact that the repeated ‘chain smoking’ (smoking one cigarette after another) action causes the formation of deep lines around the mouth, while squinting one’s eyes from smoke can exaggerate crow’s-feet. In fact, the physical signs of ‘Smoker’s Face’ were so obvious in one study, experts were able to identify half of the regular puffers by their facial features alone.6

3) Cigarettes = a non-healthy reddish complexion

Nicotine in cigarettes constrict blood vessels,7 reducing blood flow to the surface of the skin and depleting it of nutrients. The tiny capillaries in the face are then forced to widen in order to receive enough nutrients and in time become permanently dilated, giving rise to angry red capillaries.8 So, if you smoke, and your face is red even when you get no sun, this may be why. 

4) Smoking may starve the body of needed vitamins

Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke displaces oxygen, while nicotine reduces blood flow – two effects that deprive the skin of vital nutrients like vitamin C9 which is associated with skin healing.10 Little wonder then that some research indicates that smokers are more likely to suffer from wound complications.11

5) Smoking increases your risk of skin cancer

Exposure to the sun and ultraviolet rays isn’t the only thing that can cause skin cancer. One study found smokers have twice the risk of developing a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma, than non-smokers,12 which might be thanks to the harmful effect smoking has on the immune system.13

6) It can aggravate skin conditions like psoriasis

Like we mentioned before: If you have psoriasis, then there’s even more of an incentive to stub out your nicotine habit. In one study, it was found that smokers may have a higher risk of developing the itchy autoimmune condition14 that can leave skin flaky and inflamed. Another study suggested that harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke trigger T cells to go on the rampage, increasing inflammation throughout the body.15 Smoking can aggravate other skin conditions too, such as eczema16 – so if you already have problems with your skin, it’s even more important to steer clear.

It’s never too late to stop

Quitting tobacco isn’t easy, but it’s definitely worth it. The same study that found smoking increases risk of psoriasis, for example, also showed that giving up significantly reduced risk of psoriasis – after 20 years it was at the same level as people who had never sparked up in their life.17 In fact, you may see an improvement in your skin in a matter of weeks as blood flow improves and levels of nutrients are restored.18 For added encouragement, speak to your doctor about being referred to a smoking cessation clinic for helpful advice on quitting. If nothing else, it could save you a fortune in wrinkle cream!

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