Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last fifty years, you’ll already know that cigarettes are unhealthy. Tobacco and the other ingredients like tar are notorious for causing lung cancer, they age you prematurely, and they can even gradually trigger cardiovascular disease.
But did you know that smoking is one of the worst habits for your skin too? Firstly, picture every heavy, long-term smoker you’ve ever seen. Almost no long-term smokers have healthy looking skin – usually it looks grey and lifeless and far more wrinkled than non-smokers of the same age.
The same horrific chemicals that age your skin can also worsen many of the factors behind acne. Smoking doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get acne, but can cause a huge explosion of spots if you are genetically prone to them.
Tobacco – an expert at blocking your pores
The biggest problem with cigarettes is the massive amount of free radicals they generate. Burning tobacco, the core of cigarette smoking, creates many chemical by-products – that’s why smoking is so unhealthy.
The dreaded tar, for example, is formed when the burning of tobacco creates numerous particulates, which enter your body and stick to your lungs in a steadily growing, black, sticky mass. Lung cancer is the result, and the particulates also stick to your teeth and slowly make them yellow.
There are many other such by-products, and importantly for us, perhaps the most abundant are reactive oxygen species (free radicals). If you’re a heavy smoker the cigarettes will probably be your single biggest sources of free radicals. It’s estimated that with a single puff on a cigarette that’s been lit for two minutes, you can ingest 100 trillion.
It’s this free radical overload that causes your typical smoker’s grey and unhealthy skin. Free radicals are notorious for targeting healthy tissue; when they enter the body, they go on a rampage against other molecules, creating a cascade of damage that can reach any part of your body.
The effects of free radical overload show up vividly in the skin, and that’s why smokers always look so old for their age. Keeping free radicals down is a strategy that anti-aging fanatics employ everywhere.
Clearly, this tissue damage poses one big problem for the skin, one that can affect every smoker, but free radicals can make your acne much worse as well. If you’ve read this article, then you’ll know that sebum oxidation is one of the two biggest causes of acne. Oxidised sebum is twice as potent at blocking your skin pores as regular sebum…
…and free radical overload makes sebum oxidation far more likely to occur. Your body defends your sebum and keeps it stable by supplying it with antioxidants. Your sebum is protected from air pollution, strong sunlight and so on, by antioxidants like vitamin E and vitamin A.
But if there’s a ton of free radicals roaming around the rest of your body, wreaking havoc on tissues everywhere, then your antioxidants get occupied with sorting them out instead. They are too busy elsewhere to protect your sebum, it oxidises, and your pores get badly blocked. Free radicals can also directly oxidise your sebum – they can spread throughout your entirely bodily tissues and reach your face.
This nightmare doesn’t have to occur – small amounts of free radicals are perfectly safe and actually necessary for bodily functions such as wound healing. But cigarettes generate a truly gigantic amount; if it’s not trillions it’s at least billions. There are so many that your critical antioxidant supplies don’t stand a chance.
Peak free radical generation is reached roughly 1-2 minutes after ignition and that’s prime smoking time. The thousands of other chemical contaminants in cigarettes, which we’ll discuss below, are often just as prone to oxidation as tobacco.
Cigarettes are among the top sources of free radicals in the world, and therefore, smoking them WILL dramatically increase the risk of your sebum oxidising. Thus smoking is an especially damaging habit behind blocked pores and acne.
Free radicals can seriously damage the rest of your body too. They cause cancer, which is another reason alongside tar that smokers get cancer so much. The depletion of antioxidants caused by free radicals can damage all sorts of tissues, particularly your eye cells which are necessary for proper vision.
You’ll probably feel a lot healthier by avoiding cigarettes – rather than simply preventing deadly diseases, you’ll feel invigorated on a daily basis.
Other problems with smoking
Smoking depletes your vitamins – cigarettes are known for their ability to deplete your vitamin C stores. In this study scientists gathered 11592 people with varying cigarette usage, and analysed their blood vitamin C levels. They found that the heaviest cigarette users had the lowest levels of vitamin C in their body.
Importantly, those low levels occurred independently of dietary vitamin C intake, meaning that cigarettes reduced vitamin C levels directly. That’s bad because vitamin C is very important for your skin; it’s a key ingredient of the skin protein collagen, and it’s needed to clear out excessive levels of stress hormones.
Vitamin C is also a potent antioxidant, and in fact, smoking can reduce any nutrient that has antioxidant functioning. Many of your vitamins and minerals have antioxidant functioning tacked on to their regular functions. Therefore by ingesting massive amounts of free radicals, you use up those nutrients and reduce their ability to exert their other, more important effects on your skin.
One example is vitamin A. Vitamin A is very important for controlling your sebum production but if you ingest free radicals from cigarettes, it will have to be used as an antioxidant and it won’t be available to help your skin. This study here found that smoking was associated with much lower levels of vitamin A in the body.
Cigarettes are full of unhealthy substances – tobacco is bad enough, but a single cigarette is also filled with literally thousands of toxic chemicals. Researchers have identified 43 carcinogens (cancer causing chemicals) and numerous poisons. Companies add numerous fillers and additives to cigarettes, either to make them taste better or to make them more addictive.
Rat poison is often used, and many cigarettes contain Acrolein, a chemical weapon used by the Germans in World War 1. Some cigarettes even contain the heavy metal mercury, a neurotoxin that accumulates in the body.
These substances are only the tip of the iceberg. The real question is: do these chemicals damage your skin? First you have the inflammation factor to consider. Any substance that damages your body can be the target of an inflammatory response, so it’s no stretch of the imagination to suppose that these chemicals could add to chronic inflammation.
Finally, you have to use common sense. If these chemicals are bad enough to cause cancer, or to be used in chemical warfare, could they possibly be bad for your skin as well? Such chemicals are commonly linked to insulin resistance, damage to the absorption of nutrients from foods, higher stress levels, and many other side effects.
Higher stress levels – being addicted to nicotine leads to your stress hormone levels being high for the majority of the day. High levels of cortisol (the main stress hormone) can badly disrupt your digestive function and possibly cause oily skin.
Inflammation –the chemicals in cigarettes are highly inflammatory, and there’s evidence tobacco itself is too. This study found that tobacco smoke enhanced inflammation in patients with prostate cancer. Scientists observed that a key inflammatory marker called interleukin-18 was significantly higher among the tobacco smokers. This study also found that cigarette smoking worsened inflammation significantly.
The explanation is either that 1) there are certain compounds in tobacco that cause inflammation, 2) it’s the added chemicals mentioned above, or 3) the massive amount of free radicals is causing the inflammation. Regardless, it’s clear that stopping smoking is a great way to tackle chronic inflammation.
But smoking reduces stress!
Most smokers know that their habit is unhealthy these days, but many justify it to themselves by saying it helps them to relax. If true, cigarettes could help your skin; mental stress increases the stress hormone, cortisol, which is a disaster for acne.
It’s also common knowledge that stress leads to pimples and such rumours are backed up by science, as you can read here. But cigarettes do not lead to generally lower stress at all.
Here’s what happens: when you’re addicted to smoking, your cravings send your stress levels far higher than the average person’s. This isn’t just mental, the lack of the nicotine which your body is now adapted to receive sends your stress hormones through the roof. When you then smoke a cigarette, the cravings are satisfied, mental stress clearly subsides, and so do physical stress hormone levels. So it is true that cigarettes can combat stress…
…but this effect is only temporary. Moreover, cortisol only falls because a smoker has higher stress levels in the first place. Stress levels don’t become low, they simply return to normal, and only very briefly.
The relaxation a smoker enjoys is simply how a non-smoker feels like all the time. In fact, a smoker generally has higher levels of cortisol because his cravings are not satisfied for a large portion of the day. Smokers are also very stressed out about getting their latest fix.
Overall your stress levels will be far healthier if you don’t smoke and thus there is still no reason to smoke whatsoever. Never fall for the old “smoking=relaxation” argument! It’s a common story from “big tobacco” that smoking is good for your social life.
Speaking of which, there are no other advantages of smoking either. It’s not like carbohydrates where they are very healthy in moderation: cigarettes are a nightmare through and through.
Over the years, the massive tobacco industry has created endless myths to drum up support for cigarettes. Originally they claimed it was healthy and helped you to breathe, but then science disproved that. Then they claimed that smoking was good for mountaineers climbing at altitude, because it provides extra air to your lungs. That was disproven too and since then tobacco corporations have fallen back on the anti-stress argument. Don’t fall for any of this!
Normally I would post studies here but the evidence is so conclusive against smoking that there is no point. Neither tobacco nor nicotine nor any other compounds have any health benefits. If they even did, the colossal amount of free radicals would still be overwhelming. Big tobacco is desperate to get a whole new generation hooked but they really have few arguments left.
The only argument left in favour of smoking is that it makes you cool. Because smoking is so widely criticised, teenagers like to do it to seem rebellious. If this argument sounds appealing to you, then look at it this way: smoking is a gigantic cause of acne, and there’s nothing cool about a faceful of pimples. Therefore smoking is not cool either.
If you’re young then do not let the peer pressure get you. Don’t let yourself get hooked for life! Simply don’t start in the first place and you’ll save yourself a ton of worry.
How to reduce the harm of smoking
Get more antioxidants – the free radicals deplete your antioxidants and prevent them from protecting your skin. Therefore it is vital that you increase your consumption of colourful fruits, green vegetables, herbs, spices, and other selected foods like coffee and chocolate. Herbs are a great way to increase your antioxidant intake without altering your diet; by simply adding one gram of oregano as a seasoning on your meat you can get as many antioxidants as from an apple. Herbs and spices are probably the most underestimated food group for clearing acne full-stop.
Get plenty of vitamin C – vitamin E is another nutrient that smoking depletes badly. Vitamin E is especially important for preventing acne as it’s the main antioxidant used to protect sebum. However, this study shows that smokers can prevent the loss of vitamin E by getting more vitamin C. The explanation is that vitamin C takes over some of vitamin E’s antioxidant functioning; therefore less vitamin E is used up.
To get more vitamin C you can take a supplement, or eat foods rich in it like potatoes, berries, oranges, and green vegetables including broccoli, cabbage and kale (a particularly great source).
If you decide to take a supplement then you can simply use this Camu Camu Powder. The camu camu berry is a fruit that grows in the jungles of Peru, with one famous attribute: it’s the richest plant in vitamin C that humans have yet discovered.
Hence the supplemental form of camu camu powder is a great way to megadose vitamin C in a well-absorbed food form with all the healthy bonus enzymes and cofactors. I described the amazing experience I had with it in this article. The best camu camu powder product is either Terrasoul Superfoods Organic Camu Camu Powder or Navitas Naturals Organic Raw Camu Camu Powder.
Cut down your intake – if you can’t stop smoking completely, then simply smoking less will still have some effect. By halving your cigarette intake you will also halve the amount of free radicals you get from them.
With all that said it is still best to stop smoking entirely. Using the strategies above will help you, but don’t get complacent because of them. The best smoking strategy for your skin is to not smoke at all.
Are E-cigarettes safe?
So many people are aware of the harmful effects of smoking that they are looking for alternative ways to satisfy their addiction. The market’s solution is e-cigarettes – which provide the user with nicotine but none of the harmful effects of tobacco.
E-cigarettes are safer for your skin than regular ones; the lack of tobacco means that the amount of free radicals released is far lower…
…but they may have their own problems too. There hasn’t been much research on e-cigarettes yet, as they are a fairly new invention, but one study has already found an association between them and higher levels of inflammation.
They are known to contain weird ingredients themselves, and one recent study found that chemicals used to flavour e-cigarettes can cause respiratory irritation. That’s another sign of inflammation.
Therefore e-cigarettes are better than regular ones, but based on the preliminary evidence I still can’t recommend them. Update 07/02/2017: read a full article on e-cigarettes here.
If you are a smoker, whether regular or infrequent, then by smoking less you can achieve a good reduction in your acne. Smoking is extremely bad for your acne, mostly due to its free radicals, and it doesn’t have a single advantage.
The best part is that stopping smoking is FREE; you can achieve a great improvement in your acne without wasting money on expensive supplements. You will actually save a ton of money, and will have more to spend on the highest quality, acne-friendly food.
If you are trying to quit smoking, then let this be an incentive to redouble your efforts. If you are a teenager who occasionally dabbles in cigarettes, then let this be an incentive to go no further. It doesn’t take many cigarettes to get you addicted, so to keep your skin acne free you need to stop while you still can.
Thanks for reading!