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A pack of cigarettes a day, takes your youthful skin away Author: Silvan S. Prayogo, BSc. Biochem & Mol. Bio, MSc. Biotechnology
Last updated: 24 July 2007, Tuesday.

I have seen a magician transforms himself from an old-looking wizard into a young magician within second behind the cover of smoke. Another magic with smoke  does the opposite, a young person appears years older. It is one of the undesirable effects of cigarette smoking. Cigarette smoking has been suspected to cause early skin aging. Unfortunately for non-smokers, although you do not smoke, frequent exposure to cigarette smoke can age your skin prematurely.

A smoker's face has distinct premature skin aging characteristics such as  a pale, yellowish-grey skin with deep lines that typically appear radially from the upper and lower lips, and laterally from the eyes (i.e. wrinkles). Also, there is relative skin thickening between the wrinkles.

How does cigarette smoke induce early skin aging? Scientists have yet to discover the exact mechanism of skin aging due to tobacco smoke. Many factors could have influenced the aging mechanism. For example, some people are genetically more susceptible to develop a premature skin aging. Another possible cause is collagen* degradation by  matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs). MMPs level is significantly higher in smokers than non-smokers. Smoking also reduces vitamin A level in your body. Vitamin A is important in reducing the amount of collagen damage.  

Toxins in a cigarette smoke damage the surface of your skin by direct contact and may result in dryness and irritation. Nicotine in a cigarette causes vascular constriction (narrowing the diameter of blood vessels). Blood flows through your blood vessels to distribute oxygen and nutrients into your skin. Vascular constriction reduces normal nourishment of your skin by blood. Furthermore, cigarette smoke contains toxic products that can be adsorbed through your skin into blood circulation. Lack of blood flow causes the toxic products to stay longer around your skin and damage the collagen and elastic fibers. Considering the above facts, it is not surprising that smoking is well known to slow wound healing. You would usually be asked to stop smoking for at least one month prior to any elective cosmetic surgery such as face-lifts, laser resurfacing, and dermabration procedures because a good blood supply to the skin is important for a good surgical result (good wound healing).

Cigarette smoke irritates your eyes and forces you to squint repeatedly. Repeated squinting results in the appearance of "crow's feet"-type wrinkles on the corners of your eyes( see figure on the left).

The best solution for the above problems is of course, quit smoking. However, if you insist on smoking, then you should consume an oral antioxidant vitamin formula (vitamin A, C, and E) and topical retinoid to minimize some of the deleterious effects of smoking. The wrinkles can be treated with dermal fillers such as Dermalogen, Cymetra, or Zyplast, or a small amount of botulinum toxin (BOTOX)*.

In conclusion, smoking ages your skin faster. Although skin rejuvenation procedures may slow down the aging process, quit smoking is still the best medicine.

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Collagen: a protein in your dermis (a layer of your skin) that maintains your skin's strength and resilience (elasticity).

BOTOX: it is a strong neurotoxin produced  by a bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. In small quantity, the toxin reduces your muscles activity (contraction) for several months. Therefore, it is frequently used in a cosmetic procedure to minimize the amount of wrinkles on your skin.


  1. Baumann, L. (2002) "Cosmetic Dermatology: Principles & Practice". The McGraw-Hill Companies Medical Publishing Division. Page: 21-23.

  2. Lowe, N. and Sellar, P. (1999) "Skin Secrets: The Medical Facts Versus The Beauty Fiction". Collins and Brown Limited. New York. Page: 22.

  3. Shai, A., Maibach, H. I., and Baran, R. (2001) "Handbook of Cosmetic Skin Care". Martin Dunitz. London, U.K. Page: 73.

  4. Pictures:






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