What smoking and secondhand smoke does to skin: Top Singaporean dermatologists share the detrimental effects of puffing up
Mo’ puffs, mo’ problems
Some vices prove more difficult to shake than others. Tequila is Fashion and Beauty Editor Jolene Khor's weakness, while I inhale junk food faster than you can say, "Is that a fried Oreo?" As detrimental as poor dietary choices are on our health and skin, they don't hit quite as hard as smoking. Sure, most of us may be aware of its impact on our wellbeing, but we're not super informed as what it does to our complexion.
"Smoking accelerates skin aging," explains Dr Stephanie Ho, accredited dermatologist and founder of Stephanie Ho Dermatology. "Think early onset wrinkles, sagging, and a premature aged appearance. It also heightens the risk of developing serious skin conditions such as allergic contact dermatitis, psoriasis, discoid lupus, and delayed wound-healing." And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Whether you're the one lighting up or on the receiving end of secondhand puffs, we smoke out what tobacco really does to your moneymaker by speaking to top local dermatologists.
Smoking constricts blood flow to the skin.
Lighting up a single cigarette causes limited blood flow to the skin for up to 90 minutes, which means smokers are literally starving skin from oxygen for an hour-and-a-half. Not only does this cause the breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin, but it also makes you more prone to broken capillaries and veins, which can cause dark scarring on the face in the long run.
Smoking causes early onset of wrinkles around the eyes and mouth.
"The physical act of repeatedly pursing the lips can lead to the formation of wrinkles and lines around the mouth," says Dr Tan Hiok Hee, senior consultant dermatologist at Thomson Specialist Skin Centre. And that's not all — upon exhaling, smoke tends to blow back to the face. This causes smokers to squint. The recurring motion upsets the delicate skin of the eye area, which can lead to the formation of crow's feet.
Smoking creates a 'toxic cloud' that causes the formation of blackheads.
You'd think that most of the damage is done upon breathing in all those chemicals and toxins, but breathing them out can also lead to immediate — and dire — consequences for skin, too. "All of the nicotine, chemicals, and tobacco are now floating on top of your face and the faces of others around you," Dermalogica's Director of Education, Annet King, explains in an interview with Teen Vogue. "This will cause an increase in blackheads around the mouth and cheeks, since the skin is more likely to be congested."
Smoking ups your risk of skin cancer.
It goes without saying that smoking ups the risk of lung cancer, but this is applicable for skin cancer, too. More specifically, squamous cell carcinoma. Dr Tan, elaborates: "This is a non-melanoma type of skin cancer that often results from sun damage. It is the second most common type of skin cancer, and it is believed that smoking and exposure to cigarette smoke reduces the immune system's ability to suppress development of cellular changes that lead to cancer."
Wait, but what about secondhand smoke?
"The inhaling and exposure to secondhand smoker certainly affects one's skin condition," says Dr Ho. "Secondhand smoking can similarly be associated with 'smoker's face', where the passive smoker develops earlier wrinkles, pigmentation, and a grey and gaunt appearance. An increased production of free radicals and pro-inflammatory chemicals from passive smoking also damage healthy skin cells, weaken collagen and elastin fibres, eventually leading to dull, saggy skin. Most of us are aware of the damaging effects of the sun in causing premature ageing. This is exacerbated when you're exposed to sun and secondhand smoke at the same time."
Is it possible to reverse the damages done to skin?
Yes — though it won't be an easy task. "Firstly, stop actively or passively smoking," Dr Ho instructs. "Secondly, make sure to always use sun protection, whether that is in the form of sunscreen and physical protection with hats, sunglasses, and long sleeves. This minimises the likelihood of photo-damage, which is often exacerbated in smokers. Thirdly, be sure to employ a good skincare regime that includes a gentle cleanser, moisturiser, antioxidant serum, and tretinoin to minimise the harmful effects smoking leaves you with. And lastly, rejuvenating and resurfacing lasers can also reverse the effects of ageing. You may approach a dermatologist for specialist advice on personalised anti-ageing strategies."