Can you tell a smoker by their skin?

02:25, Jan 21 2014
NOT SEXY: Smoking accelerates the ageing process.

A new study suggests you can you pick a smoker by the condition of their skin.

Past research has shown that smoking sucks. As the nicotine constricts the blood vessels, oxygen is sucked from the skin. In this way, smoking speeds up the ageing process.

In part, this is because the skin can't access all the oxygen and nutrients it needs, and in part because the chemicals in tobacco smoke damage the fibres in the skin that are responsible for its strength and elasticity. This leads to wrinkles, sagging and premature ageing on our face and other parts of the body.

The latest study has taken this research a step further, finding that smoking specifically leads to sagging of the upper eyelids and chin, bags under the eyes and more wrinkles and lines on the face and lips.

The study, by researchers at the department of plastic surgery at Case Western Reserve University, looked at 79 sets of twins between the ages of 18 and 78.

They were divided into two groups. The first consisted of twins where only one was a smoker, the second where one twin had at least a five-year head start on smoking.


A panel of three plastic surgeons, with no knowledge about the twins' smoking past, analysed photographs of the participants and ranked "age-related facial features".

In the first group, the panel was able to spot the smoking twin 57 per cent of the time, while in the second group the panel got it right in 63 per cent of the cases, suggesting smoking-related ageing can set in after just five years.

Among twins with more than five years' difference in smoking duration, those who had smoked longer had worse scores for under-eye bags, sagging cheeks and lower-lip lines.

"This study confirms some of what was believed in the most scientific way possible," said the study's lead author, Bahman Guyuron.

"With longer follow-up, we believe that every smoking twin might have exhibited a difference in ageing."

Around 18 per cent of adults currently smoke in New Zealand, down from 20 per cent in 2006/07.

It is estimated that around 5,000 New Zealanders die every year from disease caused by smoking tobacco and exposure to second-hand smoke.

So it seems smoking is even more damaging than we thought, and not just at face value.

Sydney Morning Herald