Cigarette smoking is bad for our health. Period. We all know that smoking can lead to such terrible tragedies as lung cancer, stroke and heart attack, making smoking one of the leading causes of preventable deaths world-wide. What many people do not know very well, is that smoking is bad for the health of our skin as well.
Just look at the skin of a chronic smoker. It is often drier and full of wrinkles, making smokers look much older than they actually are. This is because the chemicals found in cigarettes damage collagen, which is the main connective tissue keeping our skin flexible, smooth and vibrant. Smoking also constricts blood flow so that proper moisture and nourishment is not able to saturate the skin properly, leaving the skin dry and withered looking. Impaired collagen production and poor circulation also leads to a decreased ability to heal from cuts and wounds, putting smokers at greater risk to suffer with stubborn infections.
Cigarette smoking also puts the immune system into a state of chronic inflammation, triggering off such skin diseases as psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, hand eczema, hair loss, acne and lupus. Nicotine in tobacco is an immune-suppressant, which means that smokers tend to have higher rates of HPV infections (warts), herpes, malignant melanoma and other skin cancers.
One study found that up to 95% of patients with psoriasis of the hands and feet were either active smokers or had smoked at some previous point in their life. The nurses study, involving more than 100,000 women over a 25 year period, found a 50% increase in skin cancer rates amongst those who smoked. When trying to treat such complicated skin condition as these, it seems imperative that the patient stop smoking, for even the strongest of medicines, and other positive lifestyle modifications, may have little impact.
Research has pointed out that the ill effects of smoking on skin health is not limited to just the smokers themselves, as those who are passively breathing in smoke can be affected as well. Children exposed to second hand smoke, either with the mother smoking cigarettes during her pregnancy or by someone smoking regularly in their home environment, have a much greater risk of developing, not only eczema, but other allergic diseases such as asthma and hay fever.
I have never been a cigarette smoker (probably because my own parents smoked while I was growing up and it drove me totally crazy) but I can imagine how hard it must be to stop such a strong addiction. That said, I do encourage all my patients who are serious about managing their skin disease to stop smoking and, it it proves too difficult to stop on their own, that they should seek out professional help.
Wishing you the best of health,