Smoking also interferes with the body’s production of collagen and elastin, the two protein fibers that keep the skin soft, supple, and firm. The production of these proteins naturally slows with age, but smoking speeds up the process. When the skin is depleted of nutrients and oxygen, it affects the skin’s ability to produce new collagen and elastin, as well as “tear down” old and damaged proteins and tissues. If old and damaged tissue is present, new collagen will not form.
Smoking and skin cancer
It is common knowledge that smoking causes cancers of the lungs and other internal organs of the body. However, it can also cause squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), a type of skin cancer. In terms of severity, SCC is in the middle of the skin cancer spectrum. It is more serious than basal cell carcinoma (BCC), and not as deadly as malignant melanoma; but that is not to say that it cannot cause death.
Although SCC is very treatable if it is detected early, it does have the ability to metastasize to distant tissues and organs, which can become fatal. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, SCC is the second most common form of skin cancer in the United States (after BCC).
Although SCC is typically caused by overexposure to UV rays from the sun or tanning beds, a 2001 Dutch study revealed that smoking is also an independent risk factor for SCC. Although why or how smoking causes this type of skin cancer was not determined, the researchers observed that “in current smokers, the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma is 3.3 times higher than in non-smokers.*” Quitting smoking reduces this risk by approximately half.
The army of free radicals unleashed into the body by cigarette smoke causes unfavorable changes to the skin as well as the entire body. Free radicals damage healthy cells and healthy DNA, which can cause them to mutate, or grow abnormally. This causes many problems with the functions of the body, which can lead to premature aging and can potentially cause serious diseases like cancer.
Smoking compromises the body’s ability to heal
Many smokers who hear or read about how smoking ages the skin may think “That’s OK, I’ll just get a facelift or a chemical peel”. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. In order to be a candidate for a surgery, or an aggressive skin care treatment like chemical peels or laser resurfacing, the patient must have an immune system that is intact, and a body that can effectively perform the process of wound healing. Due to the reduced amount of nutrients a smoker’s skin (and body) receives, as well as decreased blood flow, the skin’s ability to heal and regenerate itself is compromised. Nutrients that are necessary for healing, like Vitamin A, are no longer available. This drastically increases a person’s risk for complications during and after a surgical procedure, as well as for scarring. The aesthetic end results of the procedure may also be compromised.