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Women's Health: Avoid cigarettes for healthier skin

Study shows a history of smoking is associated with more wrinkles on unexposed areas

Smoking is even worse for the skin than previously thought: A tobacco habit is already known to cause premature aging of the face, but new research shows it even causes wrinkling of skin hidden from the sun.

The researchers found that growing older was the number one factor causing wrinkling in skin not exposed to the sun, but ever having smoked was the number two cause.

The researchers, led by Dr. Yolanda Helfrich, an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, used a nine-point scale to evaluate the skin in the upper inner arms of 82 people ranging in age from 22 to 91 years. Forty-one participants reported having smoked at some point in their life, from one to 55 years, with an average smoking duration of 24 years.

Researchers took photographs of the upper inner arm, and judges evaluated the photos twice — at the beginning of the study and again a year later.

Wrinkling was not much in evidence before age 45. Among those older than 45, however, those who reported smoking the longest, and the most packs per day, were those found to have the most fine wrinkles compared with nonsmokers.

There was a two-point increase in wrinkling in those who ever smoked compared with those who never smoked, Helfrich says. In the 45 to 65 age group, smokers had an average wrinkling score of more than two, while nonsmokers had an average score of less than one. In the 65 and older age group, smokers had an average score of about six, while nonsmokers had an average score of approximately four.

“What smoking did is it caused a difference in upgrade of wrinkling,” Helfrich says.

Other studies have shown that the “facial skin of smokers versus nonsmokers is definitely more wrinkled.” This is the first study to also find more wrinkling in areas of the body hidden from the sun, she adds.