Study of Twins Shows How Smoking Ages Your Face

There are so many reasons not to smoke cigarettes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking contributes to a number of health problems. Smoking accounts for almost one in five deaths in the U.S. every year and it increases your risk of developing heart disease, a stroke, emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Smoking increases your risk of developing a number of types of cancer, including lung cancer, bladder cancer, esophageal cancer, larynx cancer, oral cancer, pancreatic cancer, stomach cancer and throat cancer. As if these weren’t enough reasons to quit smoking, or never to start, there is also strong evidence that the habit ages you.

Smoking and Aging: A Comparison Using Twins

Researchers have uncovered many of the terrible impacts of smoking on the body, including how it ages you prematurely. However, there is little evidence more powerful than seeing that aging in action. As described in a recent academic paper, you can clearly see the impact of smoking when you observe pairs of identical twins: one who smokes and one who doesn’t.

For the study, conducted by the plastic surgery department at Case Western Reserve University, researchers sought out twins at the Twins Days Festival. The festival is held every year in Twinsburg, Ohio, and is a large gathering of identical twin siblings. Working with identical twins is helpful to scientists because these siblings share the same DNA. This means that any genetic tendency to age is the same in each sibling. Also helpful is that twins have generally been exposed to the same types of environmental factors over their lifetimes, which may contribute to aging. With identical twins, researchers are able to focus almost entirely on the effect of smoking.

The researchers found pairs in which one twin smoked and the other did not, or in which one twin smoked for at least five years longer than the other. They then used professional photographs of the twins, analysis by uninvolved judges and questionnaires from the twins to compare their levels of aging.

The judges were plastic surgeons who were not researchers in the study. They graded the faces of the twins, and the results clearly showed that the smokers aged significantly more than the non-smokers. Some of the factors identified by the judges included sagging in the upper eyelids, bags under the eyes and in the lower lids, sagging chins and wrinkling around the upper and lower lips. Most of the extra aging occurred in the lower portion of the smoking twins’ faces. The twins who smoked for at least five years longer than their siblings showed the most aging.

Smoking and Your Skin

The premature aging caused by smoking, and made obvious when comparing identical twins, is due to the effect it has on skin. Your skin is your body’s largest organ, and like every other part of you, it is negatively impacted by smoking. While exposure to the sun is known to be the main contributor to signs of aging, smoking also plays a big role. As shown in the twin study, people who smoke have more wrinkles than those who do not. Smoking also causes skin to be drier, which contributes even more to the creation and severity of wrinkles.

There are a few possible reasons smoking cigarettes ages your skin. One is that the habit seems to damage elastin and collagen, proteins in the skin that give it elasticity and structure. With less collagen and elastin, your skin cannot bounce back or hold its shape, and as a result, more wrinkles develop. Another way smoking speeds up the aging process is by slowing the flow of blood to your skin. Nicotine causes blood vessels to narrow, which means that they cannot get oxygen and other nutrients to your skin as well as they would otherwise.

The researchers who conducted the twin study helped to confirm what many doctors know: smoking makes you look older. With solid evidence to prove this fact, the researchers hope that they can deter more people from smoking and inspire more people to quit. Smoking kills millions of people every year, and any message that works to keep people from picking up or continuing this bad habit is a good one.

Posted on November 21st, 2013
Posted in Smoking

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