How quitting Smoking today can improve your physical appearance
We’ve all heard the story about someone’s 90-year-old gran who smoked 40 a day and lives to tell the tale.
Not to discredit the story, as there are probably many cases like this, but there is an unavoidable fact that smoking kills over half of its users. Not only does it kill, but it slowly degrades the body in the process. Accelerated ageing and reduced physical health are only some of the widely known effects of smoking and often listed as the reasons for quitting.
What does smoking do to the skin?
Smoking has negative long-term effects on the skin, not only leaving it discoloured and dry but also leads to premature wrinkle formation. A 1985 study coined the term ‘smoker’s face’ when they analysed the physical differences between smokers and non-smokers visiting an outpatient clinic1. Taking age and sun exposure into consideration, they found that almost half of all long-term smokers had deep facial lines and a leathery, worn or rugged appearance. In the same clinic, only 8% of past smokers had the same appearance and none were found in the no-smoking group.
The effects of smoking on skin ageing are widely known and supported by decades of research. For years, we have been reminded by national campaigns of the physical impact of smoking. Along with an increased risk of developing heart and lung disease, many smokers appear older than they really are. Eye bags and lines, deeper nasolabial nose folds and upper lip wrinkles can describe the features often associated with smokers2.
The mouth is the first point of contact for every cigarette smoked. It disrupts the healthy balance of oral bacteria contributing to bad breath. Not only that, but the carcinogens in tobacco smoke also increase the risk of developing oral cancer. This is something that is often overlooked when looking at the wider issues associated with smoking such as lung and heart health. Quitting today can reduce the risk of developing these cancers, so much so, that in 10 years after quitting, they would have the same low risk as a non-smoker4.
The inside of the mouth isn’t the only thing affected by smoking. Wrinkles also form around the lips and create what is commonly known as ‘smokers lips’. These lines come from persistent pursing of the lips. The more you use the muscles around your mouth in a certain way, the more chance you have that your face develops those prominent lines.
Studies have shown that smokers are less likely to have teeth (and yellow too). The more you smoke, the more likely you are to suffer from poor oral health and lose teeth. The same study also found that the chances of missing more than 8 teeth in people who had never smoked was equal to that of people who quit over 21 years prior. This shows that it’s never too late to quit and damage can be reversible5.
Smoking can also impact on how well you heal after an injury. The vital inflammatory process our body undergoes to heal an injury can be severely disrupted by the long-term effects of cigarette smoke6. Nicotine also reduces the number of healthy blood cells and increases the chances of having complications after surgery. With poor wound healing comes a whole host of skin issues. If you can’t heal properly, your skin will be marked with years of scarring and damage as a result of your nicotine habit. This impact on the overall quality of your skin will age and discolour your appearance, a permanent reminder of the habit you can’t kick.
What happens when you stop?
In as little as 48 hours after quitting, not only will you breathe easier, but your sense of taste and smell will improve. After a year, your risk of a heart attack will have halved and after 10, so will your risk of lung cancer. Coughs and wheezes will be a thing of the past as harmful carbon monoxide leaves your body and your lung function increases by 10%. The national Stoptober campaign found that almost 22% more people attempted to quit in 2020 than in the previous year. Given the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a possible link between managing the virus and how smoking may impact that lung ability to fight it off.
Nicotine speeds up metabolism which means you’re more likely to lose weight and have a poor appetite. Although not always the case, quitting can lead to decreased metabolism and possible weight gain. That’s why it’s important to regularly exercise and maintain a healthy diet. It’s possible that smokers are keen to replicate the comfort of having something in their hand, often they replace this with snacks. Along with an improved sense of taste and smell, people may struggle to reduce their calorie intake at first. Eating smaller, healthier portions can help with the cravings.
Can you reverse the damage?
Yes, it is possible. The sooner you can quit, the better. You can see the benefits only days after quitting, and with a dedicated plan, smokers can see their health match those of their non-smoker counterparts within years, even months.
Smoking can bring a lot of relief to many, but it’s a short term solution to managing the stresses of life. Long-term smoking can lead to a whole host of physical issues, not only inside but on appearance also. Coupled with the fact that it burns a hole in your pocket (literally), quitting allows you to improve your physical and financial situation.
The excuse that ‘the damage is done’ has no real substance. The effects of smoking can be reversed. The younger you stop, the sooner you can prevent the deep lines and gaunt features that many chronic smokers have today. We are more aware of the negative effects of smoking than our grandparents' generation were. It may be too late for them but it certainly isn’t for you.
1) Model D. (1985). Smoker's face: an underrated clinical sign?. British medical journal (Clinical research ed.), 291(6511), 1760–1762.
2) Jamal BT. The effect of smoking on facial aging among females in
3) Saudi Arabia. J Clin Exp Dermatol Res 2017;4:1–4.
4) Ozturk, Onur; Izzet Fidanci ; Mustafa Unal . (2017). Effects of smoking on oral cavity
(Review). Journal of Experimental and Clinical Medicine. V(34):3-7.
5) Yanagisawa, T., Marugame, T., Ohara, S., Inoue, M., Tsugane, S. & Kawaguchi, Y. (2009) Relationship of smoking and smoking cessation with number of teeth present: JPHC Oral
Health Study*. Oral Dis., 15, 69-75.
6) Lassig AAD, Bechtold JE, Lindgren BR, et al. Tobacco exposure and wound healing in
head and neck surgical wounds. Laryngoscope. 2018;128(3):618-625. doi:10.1002/lary.26813