9 Ways Smoking Cigarettes Is Harming Your Skin

Written by Donna Hart, MD, Board Certified Dermatologist on October 26, 2017 No Comments

how smoking affects the skin

By now most people realize how harmful smoking is to your overall health. Smoking cigarettes has been proven to increase the risk of diseases such as heart disease and lung cancer. But did you know that smoking can also damage the health and appearance of your skin?

Each time you inhale smoke, you are exposing your skin to over 4,000 chemical toxins that induce premature aging and lead to the development of long-term skin disorders. Here are 9 ways smoking can harm the skin:

Sagging Skin

There are several chemicals in cigarettes that damage the natural collagen and elastin within the skin. As these fibers weaken the skin loses its strength and elasticity, resulting in sagging and wrinkling of the skin. Sagging is not limited to the facial area, sagging is also common in the upper arms and breasts of many women who smoke.

Lines & Wrinkles

The deterioration of healthy collagen fibers also results in early onset development of deep lines and wrinkles. Additionally, the repetitious facial movements involved in smoking (i.e., puckering of the lips) results in dramatic lines and wrinkles around the mouth and on the lips.  There is also a link between crow’s feet (wrinkles around the outside of the eyes) and smoking cigarettes since smokers squint more than non-smokers in order to keep the smoke out of the eyes.

Uneven Skin Tone

Smoking causes a reduction in the amount of red blood cells which are necessary to carry nutrients and oxygen throughout the body. With fewer red blood cells, many smokers will appear pale or develop extreme blotchiness.


For reasons that are not entirely known, smokers are more susceptible to human papillomavirus infection, the virus that causes warts. This includes the development of HPV (genital warts).

Dullness / Dryness

The use of nicotine has also been shown to impair overall blood flow by causing the narrowing of blood vessels. This leads to dry and dull skin, along with other health issues.


The narrowing of blood vessels also makes the skin of a smoker more prone to scarring. Many smokers will find that their wounds may take longer to heal due to reduced oxygen-rich blood flow. This means scarring is more prevalent (bigger and redder) in smokers vs. non-smokers.

Chronic Skin Conditions

Smokers have an increased risk in the development of chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. For anyone who is already living with psoriasis, smoking will make your daily symptoms worse.

Age Spots

Age spots (also called solar lentigines or liver spots) are small dark areas of the skin. They can develop in anyone who experienced prolonged and repeated sun exposure over time. However, studies have shown that smokers are more susceptible in developing age spots.

Skin Cancer

Cigarettes can cause lung, throat, oral, and even skin cancer. In fact, smokers have a 52% higher risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma (the second most common form of skin cancer) than non-smokers.


Donna Hart, MD

Donna Hart, MD, a medical, surgical and cosmetic dermatologist, completed her dermatology residency at the John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County in Chicago, where she served as chief resident. Dr. Hart is Board Certified by the American Board of Dermatology, and is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, and Women’s Dermatologic Society.

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