With each puff of tobacco smoke, your body takes in over 4,000 chemicals via your lungs. Many of these chemicals are toxins that make their way through your bloodstream to the superficial layers of your skin. These toxins destroy important ‘connective’ components, including elastin and collagen, which support your skin’s ability to stretch and subsequently regain its normal, healthy firmness and shape. Cigarette smoke is considered second only to sun exposure as the leading cause of damage to the skin.
Perhaps the most damaging of the tobacco-related chemicals is nicotine; not only is this the stuff that drives your desire to smoke, often into addiction, but it triggers the muscular walls of your blood vessels to squeeze into narrower channels and deliver less blood downstream. This means replacements for elastin and collagen and nutrients from your food, including vitamins A and C, reach the cells of your skin in inadequate amounts to keep it supple and prevent damage.
Reduced blood flow also brings less oxygen to your skin’s cells. This further impedes your skin’s ability to regenerate itself. The result is the formation of wrinkles and sagging skin. This is not reserved to the delicate skin around your eyes or about your face and neck; affected skin can be anywhere on the body, particularly on the upper arms and breasts. In a study that followed 25 pairs of identical twins over their lifetimes, in which one twin was a smoker while the other twin avoided cigarette smoke, the smoking twins were found to have 25% less thickness in their body’s skin (in some cases, skin thickness was reduced by 40%).
Skin’s Ability to Heal
Along with imparting premature and sometimes irreparable damage to your skin, the presence of nicotine in your bloodstream can affect the results of surgery to repair it. Especially in procedures where skin flaps are created and shifted, such as face-lifts, eye-lifts, breast reductions and tummy tucks, the reduced blood flow from nicotine can have damaging effects. The wounds created by these operations require normal blood flow into superficial capillaries to properly heal; without it, the edges of the wounds can pull apart, become infected or require remedial surgery. Because of this, some plastic surgeons are willing to accept smokers for cosmetic work only on the condition they undergo cessation therapy.
Wonderful New Methods
The good news is that in recent years, techniques have been developed to avoid these complications in various plastic surgery procedures for patients who smoke. These new methods improve how the surgeon works with the skin flaps to enhance their ability to heal properly. Dr. Barry Press is certified through the prestigious American Board of Plastic surgery and has over thirty years of experience in cosmetic and reconstructive surgery. In your consultation with Dr. Press regarding improving your appearance, you can confidently disclose your smoking lifestyle, and you may be able to avoid drastic steps to curtail your smoking both pre-op and during recovery. Of course, smokers face other complications while in surgery, especially under the effects of or recovering from general anaesthesia. However, under the care of Dr. Press, your smoking habit will not necessarily eliminate you as a patient.