By now, we thought, everyone knows that smoking does serious damage to your heart and lungs and multiplies your risk of developing lung cancer (23 times if you’re a man, and 13 times if you’re a woman, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
Unfortunately, however, that’s not a powerful enough incentive for the 21.4 percent of Americans ages 45 to 64 and 7.9 percent of adults 65 and older who still light up, despite the health risks.
But if you’re one of those millions of smokers, maybe this finally will convince you: According to a just-published study in the medical journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, smoking takes a toll on your face, as well as your heart and lungs, and makes you look older.
For four years (from 2007 to 2010), surgeons from Case Western Reserve University attended the annual Twins Day Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio, and identified 79 pairs of identical siblings in which one twin smoked and the other didn’t. The researchers photographed the subjects and then had their facial features evaluated by three judges who used an assessment scale for age-related changes in the skin. The subjects were screened to be similar in other factors that can affect facial aging, including sunscreen use, alcohol intake and work stress.
The results: In most instances, the judges were able to guess correctly which twin was the smoker, based on the signs of premature aging. When it came to measurable specifics, smoking twins had worse scores on the scale for certain unattractive features: saggy eyelids and bags under the eyes, upper and lower lip wrinkles, and jowls. (If there’s a plus side, smokers didn’t have a statistically significant amount of other deterioration, such as crow’s feet and transverse forehead wrinkles.)
The study quantified what dermatologists and plastic surgeons have known for some time - namely, that cigarette smoking wreaks havoc on your exterior as well as your insides. A 2007 study by University of Michigan dermatologists, for example, found that found that the skin on smokers’ inner arms – a spot that usually escapes the ravages of sunlight – aged significantly more rapidly than nonsmokers, and that the amount of damage correlated strongly to the number of packs smoked per day.
Researchers say the damage actually occurs at the cellular level. Smoking releases a whole lot of free radicals – those nasty molecules with unpaired electrons – that roam through our bodies, scavenging the molecules in our cells for the tiny parts they’re missing. And smoking enhances an enzyme known as matrix metalloproteinase-1, which inhibits the production of collagen – the protein that keeps your skin smooth and elastic – and breaks down the collagen that’s already in your skin.
You might think that cosmetic surgery could mitigate some of that self-inflicted vandalism. But the problem is that, according to this 2008 article in the New York Times, many doctors refuse to perform face-lifts and other procedures as long as you’re still smoking. That’s because nicotine causes the tiny blood vessels in the skin to clamp down or constrict, reducing blood supply to the skin, and leading to poor healing and increased risk of infection, bruises and scarring.
Photos: Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
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