Everyone is used to seeing graphic images of damaged lungs on cigarette packages, perhaps we’re all immune to these images now. If you’re a smoker, would the above photo from one the many smokers twin studies motivate you to butt out for good? Might Twin B’s aged face be enough to sway Kate Moss to ditch the ciggs for good?
A survey conducted on behalf of Nicoderm and Nicorette found that the majority of female smokers are not aware of many immediate and long-term health risks of lighting up. When asked which health concerns female smokers associated most with smoking, not surprisingly, lung cancer came in first among respondents (83%). Next was premature aging of the skin (62%), followed by dental problems such as yellowing of teeth or tooth loss (61%) and heart disease (60%). (Source: Angus Reid, 2009). But, fewer than two in 10 respondents were aware of the link between puffing away and increased risks of developing other health issues including:
- early onset of menopause
- baldness or premature greying of hair
- menstrual irregularities
- weight gain
- hearing loss
If that list isn’t scary enough, consider the looks factor. Similar to sun damage smoking can lead to premature aging due to a lack of oxygen in the skin. According to our consulting dermatologist Dr. Lisa Kellett of DLK on Avenue in Toronto, “When you smoke you decrease oxygen flow, and when you decrease oxygen flow then you decrease basically the amount of oxygen your skin uses to repair itself. If it can’t repair itself as quickly then you get premature aging.” The first thing you notice is the colour of the skin, she says. “It will have a kind of brawny hue to it, and that has to do with it not reflecting light uniformly so you get some brown spots.” Next is the quality and texture. “Your skin becomes more coarse, and thicker with age. You can get prominent folds in the forehead, an accentuation of the nasolabial folds on the lower face, and wrinkles on the upper lip line.”
The latter tell-tale sign of a smoker is something Diana Phillips, the seasoned nurse injector at DLK on Avenue, frequently treats. “Constant pursing of the lip breaks down collagen base of the dermis, so first I would use a tiny amount of Botox in the upper lip to soften the muscle causing the pursing effect. Then I would thread a combination of Botox and dermal filler across the lip lines to restore the collagen. This method not only fills the lines but also improves the overall look of the whole lip. For deeper lines, laser resurfacing can further repair the collagen breakdown and promote collagen production.” The whole procedure takes about 20 minutes, says Phillips, and results can last up to one year when she uses her preferred filler brand, Volbella.
Despite the relative ease of erasing the damage, albeit temporarily, both the cosmetic nurse and dermatologist would prefer to see patients kick the habit altogether. So why is it some of us are still smoking?
Anti-smoking campaigns, Dr. Kellett believes should shed more light on the lesser-known health effects of smoking including these skin effects. “Whoever has been responsible for looking at smoking prevention, they take two or three of the biggest health issues, thus so many women aren’t aware of the full effect of smoking on their bodies beyond lung cancer and heart disease. ”
The implications, says Dr. Kellett, could mean the difference between deciding to quit and not. “It’s funny how people are – they think about it a bit more when you relate it to their appearance,” she says. “It’s a lot like when we counsel young adults and staying out of the sun. When we counsel them we can say, ‘If you go out in the sun you’re going to get skin cancer.’ And they say, ‘Whatever, I’m going to continue to tan.’ When you say, ‘If you go out in the sun, you’re going to get lines on your upper lip, you’re going to get brown spots, you’re going to get wrinkles around your eyes, then people, especially young women, start to say, ‘Well, hold on, maybe it isn’t such a good thing.’”
“The skin is the largest organ in the body and it’s also one of the most visible organs of the body. So it’s not like a lung where if you smoke you can’t really see the impact on the lung unless you go in and actually cut someone open and take a look at it,” she says. “You can see the effects of what you do on the skin. And it’s just another way of telling people they have to stop smoking. The hope would be that it gives some people who might be sitting on the fence that extra little push.”
Now we know that quitting is hard, and it’s critical to have a plan that’s going to work for you. Some people find swapping a new habit in is key, so that you’re not just giving up a bad habit but creating a new one. Dr. Kellett recommends starting with your family physician to create a stop smoking plan. This could encompass nicotine replacement products, hypnosis, and support groups (try quitting with a friend). If all fails, perhaps perusing a few more twin study photos, here, can help you quit for good.
Looking good can be powerful motivator.