How Smoking Can Change Your Appearance

If knowing that smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke and other serious illnesses can’t convince you to quit, how about good old vanity?If knowing that smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke and other serious illnesses can’t convince you to quit, how about good old vanity?

A smoker doesn’t see the cell damage occurring inside the body from the tar, nicotine and thousands of chemicals inhaled.

A smoker can, however, take stock of the damage on the outside.  “Your mirror shows you the damage smoking does to your body,” says Wanda Lowe, MD, with Baptist Health Medical Group Family Medicine in Louisville.

Smoking takes a toll on a person’s looks by impairing the body’s natural healing processes. Most of the damage is evident on the face and around the mouth and eyes, which are exposed to smoke as a cigarette burns.

Here are a few ways smoking can ruin your looks:

Wrinkles and “smoker’s face.” Smoking causes wrinkles earlier than they occur for nonsmokers, and grooves tend to be deeper, Dr. Lowe says.

Smoking constricts blood vessels, allowing less oxygen and fewer nutrients to be delivered to the skin. It also interferes with DNA repair, a constant maintenance function of the body, and impedes the production of collagen, a protein that gives skin strength and elasticity. As a result, smokers have thin and sagging skin.

Smokers also have a duller complexion. Dr. Lowe says the skin takes on a gray cast from the residue of chemicals and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke. And smoking worsens dark circles and bags under the eyes.

Changes to the complexion can be reversed when a smoker quits, although wrinkles are forever, Dr. Lowe says.

“By quitting smoking, your complexion will be more vivid and the accelerated aging process will slow down,” Dr. Lowe says.

Yellowed fingernails. The tar and nicotine of cigarettes stain the nails (so you can imagine what they are doing to the lungs).

Some smokers have such pronounced yellowing that when they quit cold turkey, they develop something known as “harlequin nails,” where the new nail growing out is a stark contrast to the one stained yellow.

Yellowed teeth and darkened gums. As with fingernails, tar and nicotine can stain teeth, Dr. Lowe says.

Smoking can also cause gums to darken. Chemicals in cigarettes disrupt melanin, a pigment that maintains hair and skin color. In a third of smokers, this causes the gums to darken and can even produce a black hairy tongue. Thankfully, smoking cessation can reverse those changes.

Yellowed teeth might need a round of whitening, though. Check with your dentist.

Also: 

  • Hair damage: Hair on the scalp can become dry and brittle. Facial hair can turn yellow.
  • Skin conditions: Smoking can worsen or trigger eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis.
  • Delayed wound healing: Because of interrupted healing processes, smokers’ recovery from surgery is often slower and involves more complications. They are more prone to infection and the rupture of a scar. “Additionally, any scar is likely to be thicker and larger because of the effects of smoking,” Dr. Lowe says.

The takeaway? Not only will quitting smoking potentially save your life, but it will also help you live that life looking better.

How much do you know about quitting smoking? Take our quiz.

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