Smoking is harmful to both your heart and lungs, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer. But one of the lesser-known impacts of smoking is on your skin.
"Smoking causes constriction of blood flow to your skin, depriving your skin of the necessary oxygen and nutrients, and also leads to harmful free radicals and pollutants that cause further damage to your skin, said Dr. Michael Kassardjian, a dermatologist in California.
Tobacco smoke reduces immune responses and causes damage to collagen and elastin — in turn reducing the "integrity and elasticity of the skin," Kassardjian said.
Insider spoke to board-certified dermatologists to find out more ways that smoking hurts your largest organ.
Smoking accelerates the aging process, said Dr. Papri Sarkar, a Massachusetts-based dermatologist. "Cigarette smoke causes the formation of oxidative stress, or free radicals," she said. "These processes cause less collagen to be made and more of it to be broken down."
Sarkar added that smoking also makes your skin more sensitive to UV light, decreases blood flow, and decreases elastin. Decreases in collagen and elastin cause your skin to look looser since they help skin keep its structure and bounciness.
Wrinkles and fine lines
Puffing on cigarettes can also cause wrinkles and fine lines.
"The nicotine from smoke leads to constriction of blood vessels and therefore leads to a deficiency of oxygen and nutrients to the skin, Kassardjian said. "This causes the appearance of visible fine lines and wrinkles to develop more quickly."
Kassardjian added that smokers are especially susceptible to developing wrinkles around their mouths, which are aptly called "smokers lines." "Smokers tend to use the muscles around their mouths when they pucker to inhale," he said. "This repetitive motion can lead to a quicker development of fine lines and wrinkles in this area."
Sarkar said that smoking can also impact your skin's hydration levels. "Cigarette smoke decreases moisture in the skin, so the skin of smokers is generally drier than non-smokers," she said.
Kassardjian added that smoking can cause flareups of other skin conditions, such as psoriasis. "Overall, smoking can contribute to general dryness and coarseness of the skin," he said.
Scarring and pigmentation
If you're a smoker, it's difficult to get clear, smooth skin, Kassardjian said.
"Since blood is not flowing properly due to vascular constriction, the skin is more susceptible to broken capillaries and veins — leading to discoloration, hyperpigmentation, and scarring," he said.
Sucking in and puffing out consistently can also change the color of your lips, Kassardjian said.
"Constant exposure to heat from smoking can lead to darkening and pigmentation of the lips, which also can become dry and coarse," he said.
Normally, skin is good at healing. But Kassardjian said that smoking changes things.
"The deficiency of blood flow, oxygen, and nutrients cause skin to take much longer to recover or heal following trauma, surgery, or other medical procedures," he said. "Smoking can delay healing in general. Ulcers can persist longer, and the risk of wound infection and scarring increases significantly."
Increased skin cancer risk
Sarkar said that smokers are more at risk for skin cancer than non-smokers.
"You know how UV light has been shown to cause skin cancer?" she said. "UV light is more damaging to the skin in the presence of smoking. In addition, it's not only the sun-exposed parts of your body that are sensitive to cigarette smoke. Cigarettes also increase the risk of cancer of the mouth, anus, and genitalia."