Cancer is the disease that most people probably think of when considering the major long-term health effects of a lifetime of smoking cigarettes. But a recent side-by-side comparison of multiple sets of twins, one twin a smoker and the other a non-smoker, reveals that accelerated aging is another major health consequence of a perpetual tobacco habit.
As reported by HealthDay.com, the photo sets were compiled as part of an experiment that looked specifically at the aging effects of smoking. Using identical twins as comparison subjects, researchers from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio compared differences in wrinkles, creases, droops and jowls — common indicators of aging — on the twins’ faces.
Frequenting the annual Twins Day Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio, for four years straight, the research team was able to identify 79 pairs of twins in which one twin smoked and the other did not. Both twins were asked to fill out questionnaires delineating their smoking and lifestyle habits, and professional photographers captured photos of each twin set making similar facial expressions.
After taking into account various outside factors like sun damage, alcohol use and work stress that may also account for premature aging, the team turned over the photos to a panel of three plastic surgeons who used a standardized assessment tool to grade each twin’s aging profile. This panel looked for differences in the eyes, cheeks, smile lines and wrinkle lines along the upper and lower lips.
Based on this assessment, twins who smoked for about five years longer than their non-smoking twins were found to appear generally older 57 percent of the time. And twins who smoked for even longer were observed to appear older 64 percent of the time, indicating a sliding scale of cumulative damage caused by an extended smoking habit.
“Smoking harms virtually every organ in the body, including your skin,” stated Danny McGoldrick, vice president for research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, following the study’s publishing. “Whether you are doing it for vanity or your health, one of the most important health decisions of your life is not to start smoking, or to quit if you have.”
Smoking cigarettes damages skin by robbing it of oxygen
Published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, the new study provides tangible evidence that smoking is harmful, particularly on an area of the body that virtually everyone hopes will stay looking young for as long as possible. And it does this, say experts, by robbing skin cells of much-needed oxygen.
“It’s widely known that tobacco causes cardiac problems and disrupts oxygenation,” adds Dr. Cheryl Healton, president and CEO of the anti-tobacco advocacy group Legacy. “Getting good oxygenation really affects a person’s complexion.”
Another way that tobacco harms skin is by damaging the connective fibers responsible for maintaining skin elasticity. These include both collagen and elastin, two major connective proteins that give skin its healthy, youthful texture. A lack of oxygen in the body essentially blocks these fibers from purifying, replenishing, moisturizing and ultimately healing skin cells.
“It’s really bad to smoke, and it definitely affects your appearance,” says Dr. Healton. “A less taut skin envelope cannot counteract the effects of gravity… Not smoking is good for your looks.”
To view a few of the twin photos from the study, be sure to check out 5LIVE:
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