How Can I Reverse Wrinkles Caused by Smoking?

by Sue Chung Patient Expert

I smoked for a long time but quit a few years ago. I have some wrinkles now and I want to know if I can get rid of them? When you quit smoking, it's true that you can reverse some of the damage. Most of that reversal, however, occurs inside your body. Eight hours after your last cigarette, your body's amount of carbon monoxide (a toxin in cigarettes that robs your body of oxygen) falls to non-smoking levels. Lungs take longer and some of the damage may be irreparable.

Likewise, skin can be very difficult to revive. Cigarette smoke is second only to sun exposure as the leading cause of skin damage. Smoking interferes with the absorption of Vitamin C and A, both of which provide skin protection. Nicotine is a diuretic, promoting dehydration. Smoking also promotes collagen deterioration and often cuts off the blood flow from the surface of the skin, which gives it a dry, pale appearance. In addition, the mechanical actions of smoking (pursing your lips and squinting to keep out smoke) create lines aound the mouth and eyes over time. Since smoking also tends to thin your skin, the damage can accumulate quickly.

And if you think smoking damages just the skin on your face, think again. A study at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor's dermatology clinic demonstrated a link between smoking and wrinkles on the upper arm. Even with the participants' ages taken into account, smokers yielded higher wrinkle scores than non-smokers.

So what can you do if you've quit smoking but still worry about the state of your skin? Start by focusing on diet and exercise. Exercise can help bring blood to the surface of your skin and begins to replenish the capillaries with oxygen. Make sure to avoid alcohol and caffeine, which further dehydrate skin. Eat a well-balanced diet to nourish your skin and take Vitamin A and C supplements.

For drastic improvements, it may be time to see your dermatologist. He or she can offer stronger grade peels and resurfacing treatments that will help smooth out or plump up your wrinkles. For more severe wrinkles, you can try Botox or Restylane injections, but both can be pricey.

If your budget doesn't allow for expensive treatments, opt for home cosmetic products with alpha-hydroxy or glycolic acid. DDF's Glycolic 10% Toning Complex will help exfoliate dead skin cells, but be sure to follow with a good moisturizer to counteract its drying effects. Peter Thomas Roth Glycolic Acid 10% Moisturizer includes squalane to help keep moisture in the skin. Both are available at Oil of Olay offers a Microdermabrasion & Peel System, which features lactic acid as its active ingredient.

For smokers who have yet to quit, keep in mind that skin damage accumulates and is more difficult to reverse as you age. In addition, women are more easily addicted to nicotine than men and find it much more difficult to quit successfully. If you'd like to quit, most experts confirm that going cold turkey leads to the highest success rates. Visit for support.

Sue Chung
Meet Our Writer
Sue Chung

Sue wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Healthy Skin.