Is it true that smoking causes wrinkles?

Answers from Lowell Dale, M.D.

Yes. So if you need another reason to motivate you to quit smoking, add premature wrinkles to the list.

Smoking can speed up the normal aging process of your skin, contributing to wrinkles. These skin changes may occur after only 10 years of smoking. The more cigarettes you smoke and the longer you smoke, the more skin wrinkling you're likely to have — even though the early skin damage from smoking may be hard for you to see initially.

And smoking doesn't cause wrinkles only on your face. Smoking is also associated with increased wrinkling and skin damage on other parts of your body, including your inner arms. While the skin wrinkles may not be reversible, you can prevent worsening of wrinkling by quitting smoking now.

How does smoking lead to wrinkles? The nicotine in cigarettes causes narrowing of the blood vessels in the outermost layers of your skin. This impairs blood flow to your skin. With less blood flow, your skin doesn't get as much oxygen and important nutrients, such as vitamin A.

Many of the more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke also damage collagen and elastin, which are fibers that give your skin its strength and elasticity. As a result, skin begins to sag and wrinkle prematurely because of smoking.

In addition, repeated exposure to the heat from burning cigarettes and the facial expressions you make when smoking — such as pursing your lips when inhaling and squinting your eyes to keep out smoke — may contribute to wrinkles.

Oct. 10, 2014