Smoking and skin aging

woman with smoker's faceSmoking cigarettes ages skin faster than anything else apart from sun damage.

There’s no gentle way of saying this. If you smoke cigarettes you need to stop.

Aside from the many health issues associated with smoking – if you care at all about wrinkles and you want to look younger for longer – then smoking is out.

One million new smokers light up each year in the US alone – many of them young women who may later come to regret what smoking does to their looks.

Smoking worse for women

As far as the effects of smoking on skin aging and health – it’s much worse for women. That’s official – and it’s supported by many years of research by reputable medical bodies.

The nicotine in cigarettes is more addictive for women and women have much more difficulty quitting smoking than men as a result.

Women who smoke have twice the additional risk of heart attacks, strokes and lung cancer than men who smoke.

Lung cancer kills three times the number of American women than breast cancer – currently around 70,000 per year.

Link to early menopause

Smoking is also linked to early onset of the menopause in women. Most devastating of all from a looks point of view – the aging effects of smoking on the skin are worse for women who are much more likely to develop “smoker’s face” than male smokers.  For women smoking and aging are inextricably linked.

In 2001 the special risks of smoking for women were recognized by the US Surgeon General in a report warning women of the dangers from smoking cigarettes. Similar statements were made by European government bodies and other world authorities.

Smoking accelerates skin aging

Even if you dismiss the health risks the effect of smoking on skin may give you some pause for thought. It is worth taking time to consider how smoking cigarettes will damage your skin and accelerate skin aging.

As Amanda Sandford from Action on Smoking Health has commented: “For smokers, middle age starts in the early 30’s as the tell tale wrinkles around the mouth and eyes begin to appear. Young female smokers are likely to be wasting their money on anti aging face creams if they continue to smoke.”

In recent years much research has focused on this area and it’s now broadly accepted that smokers skin is damaged by smoking making smokers look much older than non-smokers.

Smoker’s Face

The effects of smoking on skin aging have been recognized for a long time. A 1965 study first identified what came to be known as ‘smoker’s face’ – gray, pale and wrinkled skin.

Smoking statistics will clearly tell you the risk of death and disease from your smoking habit. If that’s not sufficiently frightening – this is what you might expect your skin to look like if you continue to smoke:

  • dull appearance to the skin – loss of skin glow and vitality
  • discolored skin (an ashy look on white skins)
  • deeper wrinkles around the mouth and eyes
  • loss of tone and elasticity more than with the normal aging process

The Chief Medical Officer of the UK recently highlighted the link between smoking and skin damage saying that smoking adds between 10-20 years to your natural age.

Professor Young, Head of Dermatology at Guys School of Medecine in London says that smokers face makes it easy to identify someone who smokes: “Smoking exerts such a noticeable effect on the skin that it’s often possible to detect whether or not a person is a smoker simply by looking at his or her face. Smokers have more wrinkles and their skin tends to have a greyish pallor compared to non-smokers.”

And its not just smokers skin that ages quicker – research in recent years has proved conclusively that passive smoking is damaging to your skin and to your health. Unfair though it seems – whether you smoke or just breathe in other people’s smoke – your skin will suffer the same symptoms of smoker’s face.

Skin ages all over the body

A 2007 study found that smoking is associated with increased wrinkling and skin damage on many parts of the body – not just the face. Inner arms, neck and decollete are likely to show wrinkling and sagging as a result of accelerated skin aging from smoking.

How does smoking age skin?

Smoking speeds up skin aging in a number of ways. It all starts with the free radicals formed in your body by the exposure to cigarette smoke.

Free radicals are highly unstable and powerful molecules that can cause disease and damage to cell DNA. The cells of your body start behaving erratically producing a range of responses that make your skin age faster.

Here’s a summary of the main ways in which smoking damages skin health:

  • smoking restricts blood flow through the capillaries (tiny veins near the skins surface) preventing oxygen and nutrients getting to the skin
  • smoking increases production of an enzyme which breaks down the supply of collagen to the skin’s structure. Collagen supply is vital to the skin’s elasticity. It decreases with age but smoking cigarettes accelerates this process.
  • smoking reduces the body’s store of vitamin A which provides protection from skin damage
  • smoking gets in the way of absorption of vitamin C – a vital antioxidant for skin protection and health
  • smokers continual puckering from drawing on a cigarette and squinting in reaction to the cigarette smoke results in deeply wrinkled skin around the eyes and mouth – classic signs of ‘smoker’s face’

Can I reverse the damage from smoking?

A key question from most smokers is – if I stop smoking can I reverse the skin damage. The simple answer is that you won’t be able to completely reverse the damage that smoking has done.

But – with a good diet, skin supplements and great anti aging skin care you can do a lot to get your youthful skin back. What you will do if you quit smoking is stop the damage getting any worse. Why wait and then stop smoking later when even more damage has been done to your skin?

When you look at your skin remember that some damage won’t appear until ten to twenty years after you began to smoke. So if you haven’t been smoking that long and you don’t see much damage yet – don’t assume it won’t happen.

The important thing for your skin and your looks is to stop inflicting continued damage on yourself. If you quit smoking now you will stop your skin aging any faster than it normally would. And with proper anti aging skin care and nutrition your skin will look much better into the future than it will do if you carry on as a smoker.

And now you know all about the dangers of cigarette smoke for your skin – find out why tanning is worse than smoking for skin.

About Eileen

I am the publisher of Simply Anti Aging and a web author researching and writing on all aspects of anti aging. I'd love you to connect with me on


  1. My mom has smoked all of her adult life. She quit once when she was in the hospital for pneumonia, but started right back up once she was ‘healthy’. My mom and her husband (also a smoker) moved up north and recently visited me after I hadn’t seen them in 5 yrs. I was shocked to see my mom – her face just hangs. Her arms are thin and sickly. She seems small, shorter than me at 5ft 4 and she didn’t seem to eat much while we had meals together. My mom is 67 but she looks like she’s 87. I’m sad about this, but if I said anything she would say it’s her life and she’ll live it the way she wants to. Now that we know the devastating effects of cigarettes – Why are cigarette companies allowed to sell this poison?

    • MonicaP – what a sad story – even more so because the damage done by smoking to your looks and health is all preventable. Many people think it is vanity to be concerned about looking good but I’m sure your mom would feel better if she looked her best. I guess the answer to your question is about government revenue from taxes on cigarettes and powerful lobbies – same story with big pharmaceutical companies that can get away with murder (almost literally!). At least you are not going to make the same mistakes with your skin and health. Thanks for commenting!

  2. I have been searching for a long time college room mate after the devastating disaster in Japan. We kept in contact after she returned to her country. We would chat on the phone and send each other letters from time to time. There were periods of years when communications would ceased. She searched for me proceeding Hurricane Katrina. And I searched for her after the nuclear power plant disaster in Japan.

    I received a returned letter from Japan. Then it was determined that the address was wrong, so I sent the letter out again.

    Just yesterday my friend finally contacted me. She sent a Facebook request. At first I didn’t know who she was. I saw a profile photo which looked like it could have been her mother. I didn’t second guess why she would use her mom’s photo, because it wasn’t unusual.

    She asked me add her to my Skype account. We finally met on Skype and a video appeared and there was the older lady in the photo I had seen in Facebook. She looked like a person in her late 60’s or 70’s. I wondered “where is _____ who is this lady and why does she keep wanting me to talk to her and see her city?”

    I said “I think there has been some kind of mistake, who is this?” I thought perhaps someone read the letter I sent and decided to play some kind of game. There was nothing about this elder lady that reminded me of my long time college friend. She told me “Lynn! Lynn! this is me.” I said prove it. What year did we first meet, what city was it. She said “you can trust me, this isn’t a joke.” A few minutes later she wrote down the name of the city, which no one else could know because it was a small town. I was both shocked and frighten and embarrassed. She said “didn’t you see my face?” How could I answer such a question honestly without hurting her? I said “yes, but since you are moving around, it is blurry.”

    I couldn’t believe my friend aged so much. There was nothing about her (and I mean nothing) that resembled the Japanese girl I once knew. Her face was filled with age spots, her teeth seemed to deteriorate some what, and she had many more wrinkles I expected for her age of 51.

    I realize we all age in different ways, but not 10 – 20 years older than we should. I searched my mind for answers. I had a nightmare about aging. Then it just dawned on me. This girl was a chain smoker in school. I wondered if it had anything to do with it. I searched for the answers and ran across this article.

    The message is clear. Smoking not only affects our health, but it can drastically accelerate a women’s aging process as seen by “the smokers” face.

    • Lynn – that is a fascinating story about your friend – smoking certainly does wreak havoc on the skin over time and fortunately now more people are coming to recognize the bad effects. Thanks for taking time to describe your own experience!

  3. Thanks for this article, it is very depressing and stress makes me smoke even more. I have been smoking for 12 years now. I am 28 and i already see wrinkles around my mouth and eyes. I care about my health and most definitely I want to stop the damage that is done to my skin. I tried to quit many times but with no success. I do not have strong will. Can you recommend any methods for quitting? nicotine patch? or pill?

    • Maria – thanks for your comment. Don’t be depressed – if you quit know then you will be able to undo much of the damage smoking has done to your skin and improve your health instantly. I know from friends who gave up smoking that the improvement in looks is a real bonus – must be a big motivation. There is an article on this site about quitting which gives some ideas on how to tackle your smoking habit. Many people swear by nicotine replacements. Good luck with whatever path you choose.

    • Anne Lourenco says:

      Hi Maria,

      I have read what you said about not being able to quit smoking. I have been smoking since the age of 18 and I am now 48. I also tried quitting a few times and I thought that I must be the weakest person around because I never succeeded. I tried Zyban, and have not had a cigarette since. It works! I recommend going the pill route.

      • Maria – thanks for the tip – it’s great to get a firm recommendation from someone who knows how difficult it can be to stop smoking!

    • Just watch ‘Allen Carr’s Easyway’ Documentary. You will have quit smoking by the time you finished watching it.

  4. May – thanks for commenting. I think you’re right about smoking for a long time – like any addiction the difficulties build the longer you do it. Nonetheless now we know that smoking accelerates skin aging as well as having so much impact on our health – the incentive is there!

  5. Brilliant blog! Hypnotherapy is a great way to stop smoking, you are 10 time more likely to quit smoking and remain a non-smoker using Hypnotherapy. This is because you look at your smoking triggers and make sure you have the coping mechanisms, motivation and determination to become a non-smoker. Take the first steps today to becoming smok free and being able to enjoy living life to the full with a strong and healthy body.

    • Eileen Gravelle says:

      Erika – glad you like the site. Thanks for the suggestion – hypnotherapy has had great results with helping people quit smoking – whatever works for you is good as we are all different. The important thing is to stop cigarettes damaging your skin and your health.

  6. I need to quit smoking and soon….thank you so much for the information….i’m 47 and have smoked on and off for 30+ years, luckily I have great skin and very, very few wrinkles, but with hitting 50 soon…….not only is this necessary for my skin, but for my health and lungs as well! I am also very vain about my skin…….thank you thank you thank you for the info!

  7. I have been smoking for about 5 yrs yet not on a daily basis yet I have noticed my skin has aged alot even the little of ciggarettes i may smoke (4-5 ciggarettes per week). I was wondering would i be able to completely reverse the damage smoking has done to my skin due to the fact i haven’t been smoking for that long?

    • Eileen Gravelle says:

      Lance – stop now and the damage will not get any worse. Reversing the damage smoking has already done to your skin depends on not smoking any more and changing your lifestyle if you need to. Get yourself a great skin care regimen including regular hydration and increase the amount of antioxidants in your diet (green leafy veggies and high colored fruits (berries). Make sure you get aerobic exercise regularly to get oxygen into your skin and you’ll soon see a healthy glow returning. You are bound to feel much better too!

  8. Thank you for this terrifying and depressing article. It should be, too. People like me, newly non-smoking, need your efforts to keep us motivated and not slipping.

    • Eileen Gravelle says:

      Melissa – I don’t like to think I terrify and depress people but if it helps keep you off the ciggies – glad to oblige! know when I originally researched the article several years ago little was being written about smoking and its effects on skin aging. Yet the more I dug into it the more awful facts emerged. I had noticed the effects on smoking damage on skin myself from observing how friends who smoked came to look over the years – now I can usually tell who smokes just by looking at them. It seems to me that many women are more likely to be put off smoking by knowing that it is one of the surefire ways to wrinkled and older looking skin. Only sun damage is worse. Anyway – good luck keeping smoke free1

  9. Nurul Hussain says:

    I want to quit smoking i have been smoking sing 15 years please help me

    • Eileen Gravelle says:

      Nurul – Google quit smoking and you will find a lot of self help stop smoking sites – my advice would be to go first to well known and trusted sites like Mayo Clinic or Action on Smoking Health or any good medical site. You should find some good advice to help you. The most important thing is motivation – if you truly want to stop you will! Good luck

  10. I with considerable effort quit smoking about 6 yrs ago. Am told am growing younger. When T was smoking I was being placed 15 to 20 yrs above my age. I smoked for more than 30yrs.

  11. Divinity says:

    As a quick note, I’d like to testify to the accuracy of this article. I’m a 34 year old Wife and Mom to four and I’m also the oldest of my siblings. My Sister is ONE year younger than me and a Mom of one, she smokes but I never have. To those who don’t know us, people are always shocked to find out that I’m the oldest. The usual assumptions are that people think she’s anywhere from 5-10 years older than I am. Her skin (especially her face) has a very noticeable “grey” appearance with no natural “glow”, her complexion is muddy and generally “bad” and she’s developed deep lines and wrinkles. My facial skin is still taught with a healthy appearance & color with no lines or wrinkles setting in yet.

    She also loves the tanning beds whereas I try to limit my sun and UV expousre to just what I get from moderate outdoor activity in warmer months and prefer not to bake in the sun or use tanning beds. I learned that lesson when I was still a teen and after a long day at the beach (which resulted in a pretty bad burn) I developed a few (maybe 6 or 7) very light but still noticeable “sun spots” (look like very faint freckles) on my chest that never went away. They remain to this day. Trust me, the “tan” never compensates for the skin damage.

    If you’re a smoker and haven’t really considered the impact of the habit on the skin, I’d urge you to read up about it some more and take it seriously. I’ve yet to see a case where a smokers face (women particularly) did not suffer considerable damage and early aging. Good luck to all!

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