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Passive Smoking Facts
What's in a cigarette?
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Are cigarettes bad news for your looks?

  1. Smoker’s face
  2. What the toxins in cigarette smoke are doing to your skin now!
  3. Smoking makes your skin thinner
  4. Pot bellies?


"It may be hard, but the best thing you can do for a beautiful, glowing complexion is to stop smoking. Smoking both dehydrates and deprives it of oxygen, so you will see real benefits - skin will become smoother and more radiant."  

Sarah Monzani, make-up artist to Madonna


1.  Smoker’s face

In 1985, a Dr Douglas Model added the term "smoker’s face" to the medical dictionary after conducting a study (published in the British Medical Journal) where he found he was able to identify smokers (who had smoked for ten years or more) by their facial features alone. The distinctive characteristics of a smoker’s face which tend to make people look older than they are were called "smoker’s face" and were present in roughly half of the smokers he surveyed, irrespective of the patient’s age, social class, exposure to sunlight, recent change in weight and estimated lifetime consumption of cigarettes.

"Smoker’s face was defined as one or more of the following:

  1. lines or wrinkles on the face, typically radiating at right angles from the upper and lower lips or corners of the eyes, deeplines on the cheeks, or numerous shallow lines on the cheeks and lower jaw.
  2. A subtle gauntness of the facial features with prominence of the underlying bony contours. Fully developed this change gives the face and ‘atherosclerotic’ (sic. A bit like choked up blood vessels) look; lesser changes show as slight sinking of the cheeks. In some cases these changes are associated with a leathery, worn, or rugged appearance.
  3. An atrophic, slightly pigmented grey appearance of the skin
  4. A plethoric, slightly orange, purple and red complexion different from the purply blue colour of cyanosis or the bloated appearance associated with the pseudo-Cushing’s changes of alcoholism"

"The fact that so many of the people with smoker’s face were fairly young indicate that smoker’s face is not simply a symptom of age. The changes in the colour and quality of the skin suggest a toxic process… In my experience, many people notice the ravages of smoking for the first time when it is pointed out to them that they can be identified as smokers by their faces alone."  Dr Douglas Model, British Medical Journal (1985)


2.  What the toxins in cigarette smoke are doing to your skin now!

Cigarette smoke contains more than 4000 toxins many of which are absorbed directly into the bloodstream and are taken by the blood right into the structure of your skin.

Smoking cigarettes reduces the efficiency with which the skin can regenerate itself – smoking causes the constriction (narrowing) of the blood vessels at the top layers of the skin which in turn reduces blood supply (to the skin). It is the reduced blood supply which causes a reduction in the availability of oxygen (which is necessary for all living cells) and the removal of waste products, dead cell fragments etc… which provide the necessary environment for regeneration.

Cigarette smoking causes the blood vessels at the top layers of the skin to constrict and so reducing the oxygen level in the blood there. This thickens the blood and reduces the levels of collagen in the skin (it is actually because of this that smoking is also associated with slow or incomplete healing of wounds).

In fact, smoking a single cigarette can produce cutaneous (pertaining to the skin) vasoconstriction (decrease in the calibre of blood vessels) for up to 90 minutes. One study suggests that blood flow in the thumb decreases about 24% after smoking one cigarette and by 29% after two cigarettes. Another study suggested that digital (finger) blood flow fell by an average of 42% after smoking one cigarette. A further study found that smoking for 10 minutes decreases tissue oxygen tension for almost an hour and concluded that the typical pack-a-day smoker would remain hypoxic* for most of each day. (Smith and Fenske, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatol)

*hypoxic – a reduction of oxygen supply to a tissue below physiological levels despite adequate perfusion of the tissue by blood.


3.  Smoking makes your skin thinner

A recent British study took 25 pairs of identical twins where one twin was a lifelong smoker and the other had never smoked. The doctors used an ultrasound technique to gauge inner arm skin thickness. The smoker’s skin was a quarter thinner than that of the non-smokers and in a few cases there were differences of up to 40 per cent.  (Twins study, St Thomas's Hospital)


4.  Pot Bellies?

Smoking can create an imbalance in women's hormone levels (see Female facts and Fertility facts) which can lead to changes in the body's shape.

"Many scientific observations support the idea that smokers tend to have a lower body mass index, i.e. weigh less for their height.  However this is only part of the story...  What the cigarette adverts don't say is that smoking changes body shape, increasing the waist-to-hip ratio.  Exaggerating slightly to illustrate the point, despite weighing less, smokers tend to be pot-bellied with spindly legs.  This is probably due to smoking upsetting the levels of hormones; irrespective of smoking, such a body fat distribution is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes" - Smoking the inside story, Dr Alex Milne.

"Although smokers tend to be slimmer, smoking affects the endocrinal system - the glands that secrete hormones - causing smokers to store the normal amount of fat in an abnormal way, which gives rise to the 'apple' shape... but the good news is that when people stop smoking, the body-fat distribution can more or less revert to normal... and although people say that when they stop smoking they put on weight, they put it on normally, around their hips, and not the waist" - Amanda Sandford (Action on Smoking and Health) in The Independent newspaper.

Thankfully, this 'apple' shape can take many years to show itself (how soon it shows itself depends on rate of each individual's metabolism) so if you've only been smoking for a few years you can cut your losses now.  If you've been smoking for years and have no plans to quit then just remember an apple a day...



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Last modified: August 03, 2000