Why smoking is bad for your skin (not to mention your overall health)

(This article by Annet King was originally published in Teen Vogue on Nov. 17, 2015.)

I'm not going to give you some long lecture on all of the horrifying things smoking does to your health — you're already aware that it causes lung cancer, heart disease, and sundry other awful diseases. But are you aware of the significant toll this very risky habit takes on your skin?

That's right, your skin ⎯ that very same skin you work so hard to keep clear and healthy-looking — takes a beating every time you take a drag off a cigarette or suck on a vape. In fact, smoking does so many bad things to your skin, it’s hard to know where to start.

Premature aging, discoloration, bags under the eyes, slowed healing, and sallow skin tone are only some of the scary consequences the nicotine-addicted public contends with.

Smoking one cigarette restricts blood flow, depriving skin of the oxygen and nutrients (like Vitamin A) that it needs to thrive and heal. The more you smoke, the harder it is for your skin to recover from a pimple, a cut, or a bruise.

There's more.

One single, solitary puff disperses about a million free radicals throughout your body. These bad guys trigger the destruction of the fibers that give skin its elasticity and strength. When these fibers, called collagen and elastin, are compromised, your skin wrinkles and sags. Only prolonged sun exposure causes more premature aging than smoking. And, it's not just your face that's affected...your inner arms, neck, throat, and décolleté all take a hit.

Oh, and if you smoke you can kiss your youthful, pillowy lips goodbye. Repetitive pursing from puckering to drag the smoke into your lungs and the near-constant heat exposure can cause permanent creases and lines around your mouth — lines that are further etched as the ensuing billow of exhaled smoke touches your skin.

And, because smokers continually squint to keep smoke out of their eyes, they can develop deep crow's feet. In fact, all of this wrinkling is so jarring that there's even a website, aprilage.com, that allows you to upload a current photo to show how your very own face will age over time adding in the effects of smoking and other vices. The resulting visuals are a powerful anti-smoking message.

To go with your wrinkles and rapidly aging skin, there's the sallow, sickly complexion that's common among smokers. This results from skin being continually deprived of oxygen and from nicotine restricting blood vessels and diminishing nutrient and blood flow, so that you start to take on a pale, splotchy look instead of the healthy glow we all want.

Another frightening component of how smoking affects skin is the fact that smoking ups the odds that you'll develop squamous cell skin carcinoma and makes you more likely to get cataracts in your eyes (which can lead to serious vision problems).

I share all of this because vanity can be a great motivator. If you're not willing to kick the habit to save your health, maybe quitting to save your looks will end up helping you save your life.

Annet King is the director of global education for Dermalogica and The International Dermal Institute