Smoking Adds Another Wrinkle to Aging

Everybody knows smoking is bad for your health. Now here's something you may not know: Smoking is bad for your looks.

It's true. From your rosy cheeks to your pearly whites, smoking doesn't just push you toward an early date with the grim reaper. It also makes you look that way.

Researchers from the University of California at San Francisco have found that female smokers are three times as likely to have moderate to severe wrinkling as female nonsmokers. Male smokers have double the wrinkles of male nonsmokers.

The American Academy of Dermatology says that a person who smokes 10 or more cigarettes a day for 10 years is more likely to have deep, leathery wrinkles than someone who doesn't smoke. Smoking also changes the skin's hue, giving it a yellowish tinge.

Sources of damage

Here's how cigarette smoke and its component chemicals can damage your skin:

  • It reduces the body's ability to form collagen, the main structural component of skin. This causes elastin, the normally long, smooth and elastic fibers in skin, to thicken and break apart.

  • It reduces blood circulation, thereby reducing oxygen supplies to the skin.

  • It cuts estrogen levels in women, causing skin dryness and cracking.

  • It interferes with the skin's ability to protect itself from free radicals unstable compounds with unpaired electrons or electrons or protons that some scientists blame for such processes as rust in metals.

But wait: There's more

Smoking also steals your smile, says Elizabeth Krall Kaye, Ph.D., a professor of health policy and health services research at the Goldman School of Dental Medicine at Boston University. Dr. Kaye has found that smoking doubles a person's risk of losing teeth.

After accounting for variables such as age, sex, and alcohol and coffee consumption, Dr. Kaye has found that the cigarette-smoking women lose significantly more teeth than women who don't smoke. She speculates that cigarette use affects bone around the teeth, leading to tooth loss.

"We think it's very important to document smoking's effect on appearance," says Virginia L. Ernster, Ph.D., professor emeritus at the University of California-San Francisco. Dr. Ernster has done other research projects into smoking's effects on physical appearance. "It might be more of a motivating factor than avoiding cancer in antismoking programs because people can relate to things that they see."

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