Smoking is associated with a wide variety of health problems, ranging from alterations in the respiratory or nervous system, to an increased risk of cancer or cardiovascular diseases.
However, this habit, which claims more than eight million deaths each year, also has harmful effects on the skin.
Tobacco can be smoked, either in cigarettes, cigars, or pipes, or chewed, using products such as snuff (which can also be snorted), dip or snus.
Another form of consumption that brought the new millennium with it is electronic cigarettes, a system created in China in 2004 that uses a battery to heat a liquid solution and turn it into vapor.
Using any of the above options, the body is exposed to nicotine, which, due to its addictive effects, makes it difficult to quit.
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When this substance enters the body, it is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, where it begins to stimulate the adrenal glands to release the hormone epinephrine, better known as adrenaline.
This causes an overstimulation of the nervous system and certain physiological effects:
- It increases the heart rate, the oxygen consumption of the heart muscle, and the blood pressure levels, which is why it is linked to an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
- It is related to an increased risk of diabetes, since it affects the production of insulin by the pancreas, favoring spikes in blood sugar.
- It releases dopamine in the pleasure and motivation areas of the brain, which is why it is often said that an effect is felt similar to that which occurs when people take other types of drugs, such as cocaine or heroin.
- Increases levels of beta-endorphin, a hormone that acts as a pain moderator, reducing the transmission and effectiveness of sensory stimuli. This would also help relieve anxiety.
- Because it increases the activity of the neurotransmitters acetylcholine and norepinephrine, it is believed that it could improve memory and concentration. However, that feeling of alertness or wakefulness can trigger euphoria.
The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that the tobacco epidemic is one of the greatest threats to public health that the world has faced.
In the US alone, it is responsible for the death of 480,000 people each year, and more than 16 million live with a disease caused by smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, its damaging effects also reach the largest organ: the skin.
Effects of tobacco on the skin
Although research on the effects of tobacco on the skin is not necessarily new, specialists agree that it can go unnoticed by consumers.
From different clinical trials, it was discovered that another of the harmful effects of nicotine would be the narrowing of blood vessels in the layers of the skin (especially the outermost: epidermis).
As detailed by the Mayo Clinic, this hinders blood flow to the skin, so it does not receive enough oxygen and important nutrients to stay healthy, such as vitamin A.
In addition to affecting the blood vessels, tobacco (along with the more than 4,000 chemicals that can be found in its smoke) damage collagen and elastin, substances that guarantee strength and elasticity to the skin.
According to different studies, this mechanism is responsible for smokers having a higher risk of suffering:
- Skin cancer, due to constant exposure to thousands of toxins. Some experts say that the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) may be 50% higher in smokers.
- Decreased ability to heal.
- “Smoker lines” (small grooves around the mouth, due to excessive pursing of the lips).
- “Crow’s feet”, which occur on the outer edges of the eyes.
- Sagging skin (especially in the arms and breasts), due to oxidative stress to which the body is subjected.
- Pigmentation problems.
- Psoriasis, probably due to the effects of nicotine on the immune system.
While the consequences of smoking can be shocking, experts say it is never too late to quit smoking.
In the case of the effects on the skin, they affirm that, when leaving it, improvements will be noticed. Wrinkles and tar spots may not disappear completely, however, the return of correct blood flow to the skin and good oxygenation will help the skin to look young and healthy again.
Tips to quit smoking
Nicotine is a highly addictive drug, so quitting smoking is often not easy. However, health professionals say that simply thinking about quitting is already a big step.
You can choose different strategies that make it easier to quit smoking:
- Seek support: family, friends, counselors or experts, any additional help is excellent to find the necessary support to face this decision.
- to write– For many it can be a great pressure to put their tobacco goals or objectives in writing and fail to meet them. Therefore, instead of concentrating on the days or deadlines that you establish to be without smoking, highlight the benefits you get when you do not smoke, from a greater perception of flavors and odors, to greater physical performance.
- Remove cigarette traces: from throwing away all your cigarettes, to washing clothes, curtains or rooms that have their smell.
- Identify the connection to smoking: meetings with friends, walks or waiting for the bus, these are situations in which you tend to smoke, and it is important to identify and eliminate that connection with the cigarette.
- Replace cigarettes with something else.
- Keep your mind busy.
- Beware of abstinence: When you stop smoking you will face withdrawal symptoms, so it is good to know and anticipate them: bad mood, nervousness, lack of energy, depression, dry mouth or throat, stomach and head pain, and desires to eat.
- Stop smoking gradually: For many, it can be a greater challenge to give up cigarettes from one day to the next. One way to achieve this is by gradually decreasing the amount you smoke (if you currently smoke 10 per day, go to 6, then 3, and so on until you eliminate them from your routine).
Remember, ever giving in to temptation is not ideal, but it is not failure either. If at any point the urge to smoke overtakes you, think about all that you have accomplished and still can achieve.
Sources consulted: Mayo Clinic, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), World Health Organization (WHO).