Smoking will hurt you — even where the sun doesn’t reach. Such is the verdict of new research demonstrating that years of cigarette smoking can damage skin all over the body, not just on areas exposed to the sun.
While previous studies on smoking and wrinkling have focused on facial complexion, a recent paper published in the Archives of Dermatology looked at the skin near the underarm, which is normally protected from photodamage. After examining 82 test subjects, including smokers and non-smokers, ranging in age from 22 to 91 years, researchers found significantly more fine wrinkling and skin laxity among those with a history of smoking. In fact, the major predictor of skin aging — after controlling for age and other factors such as ethnicity — was the number of packs per day and years of smoking.
Smoking suppresses the production and accellerates the breakdown of collagen, the connective tissue that provides skin its elasticity. In addition to constricting capillaries, and thus reducing blood flow to the skin, smoking also ravages DNA, undermining the fundamental processes of cellular repair. Years of research have demonstrated the dangers smoking poses to the lungs, heart, throat, bones, cervix, and many other parts of the body. Thus, it’s no surprise that the largest organ — the skin — is just as vulnerable to cigarette damage.
Picking up fruit may help you put down the cigarettes — while lowering your cancer risk and also protecting you against weight gain, which in the case of obesity, also presses the gas pedal on the aging process. Nutrients, such as vitamin A (from beta-carotene) and vitamin C, to help nourish your epithelial cells, but the importance of choosing whole fruit and vegetable sources over supplements applies especially to smokers.
While dietary beta-carotene (e.g., from cantaloupe, carrots and spinach) can enhance sun protection, beta-carotene pills more than double the risk of developing tobacco-related cancers among those with a history of smoking.
Published May 1, 2007