The beauty of quitting smoking

Ditching those smokes have benefits, skin deep and beyond.

By Katrina Reyes, M.D.

MAY 2012

Lighting up a cigarette can do damage to you, from the inside out. It causes premature aging, as noted in the case of a woman who smoked a pack a day for the past 52 years. Compared to her twin sister, who lived in the same area and had the same job and level of sun exposure, researchers noted that the smoker significantly had more wrinkles, prominent sagging and dyspigmentation.

Sticks and smokes

Tobacco smoke impairs the delivery of oxygen and nutrition to the skin by reducing blood flow, damages our DNA and cell membranes by the production of reactive oxygen species, and attacks our tissue’s supporting structures by decreasing the synthesis of collagen and elastin. “Smoker’s face” is the term applied when one or more of the following are present:

• Favre Racouchet Syndrome, a distinct form of skin aging characterized by nodules and wide openings at the upper outer cheeks;
• a slightly orange, purple and red complexion;
• slight gray pigmentation of the skin;
• lines or wrinkles that radiate at right angles from corners of the eyes or the upper and lower lips;
• several shallow lines in the cheeks, or deep lines in the cheeks and lower jaw; or
• a subtle gauntness of the facial features, highlighting its bony contours.

Each puff delivers at least 250 harmful chemicals that reach the lungs and circulate throughout the body, destroying the cells necessary for fighting bacteria and repairing or removing damaged cells. These processes destroy almost every organ in the body and perhaps most visibly, the skin. Even non-smokers aren’t spared, as smoke coming into contact with the face decreases skin moisture necessary for that natural-looking glow.

The deadliest effect of smoking is its influence on the risk of genital warts and the development of skin cancer. With over 65 carcinogenic or cancer-causing compounds in tobacco smoke, smoking not only increases the incidence of dreaded skin malignancies, but also leads to larger and more aggressive tumors. Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, is often widespread when detected in smokers, who are also more likely to die of it than non-smokers afflicted with the same condition.

According to dermatologist Lorna Frez, M.D., past president of the Philippine Dermatological Society, premature aging from both smoking and sun exposure have a great deal of overlap so the skin care regimen for both situations is basically similar. Also remember that even after you have quit smoking, aging continues with sun exposure. Protect yourself by regularly applying sunblock of at least SPF 30; using protective clothing, shades, hats and umbrellas; and staying in the shade during midday. In addition to sunscreens, topical alpha hydroxyl acids, retinoids, antioxoidants such as vitamin C, and bleaching agents can correct the damage, as well as protect you from further damage from sun exposure. Treatment may vary depending on your age, skin type, and the type and amount of skin damage, so it is prudent to first consult a dermatologist.

Quitting while you’re ahead

If you’re a smoker thinking of quitting, do so right now. These problems become worse with the greater number of sticks and years of smoking. Set a quit date, replace smoking with healthier habits to address your craving, and join a support group. Smoking is an addiction, and you must accept that there is no easy way to remove it. Ask your physician for available behavioral and pharmacologic interventions.

There is no magic pill or injection that will give you healthy glowing skin. Practice regular basic skin care and oral hygiene. Have a balanced diet: Fruits and vegetables are particularly rich in antioxidants that counteract the toxic reactions that destroy our DNA. Regular exercise improves blood flow to the skin and ensures the delivery of oxygen and nutrients. Drink water throughout the day. Allow your body to repair with adequate sleep and relaxation. Minimize make-up or applying other compounds to your skin and consistently cleanse and moisturize. Also visit your dermatologist and dentist for a full skin and oral examination.

For more facts and tips for kicking the habit for beauty and health’s sakes, get your copy of HealthToday’s May issue, out now in newsstands and bookstores.

The beauty of quitting smoking
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