What Smoking Does to Your Appearance

  • Woman smoking
    A Harmful Habit Inside and Out
    You may be aware smoking increases your risk of cancer, but some of its other negative effects may be staring back at you in the mirror. Premature wrinkles, rotten teeth and yellow fingernails represent just three unflattering consequences of lighting up a cigarette. Before you open that next pack of cigarettes, take note of these seven ways smoking alters your appearance for the worse—along with the positive effects quitting smoking might have on your looks.

  • Woman facing Mannequin
    Gray Facial Skin
    Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes narrow your arteries and reduce the amount of oxygen that can reach your skin. In light-skinned people, this results in the facial skin exhibiting a grayish cast. In people of color, the face may look dull or darker overall. While makeup can mitigate this effect in women, men aren’t so lucky. However, when you quit smoking, oxygen flow to the face may increase and lead to a naturally brighter or rosier complexion.

  • Woman applying face cream
    Premature Wrinkles
    Cigarette smoking can cause facial tissue to lose elasticity due to reduced oxygenation, which often leads to premature wrinkling. Many smokers—both men and women—exhibit lines that radiate out from the lips, possibly caused by the muscle activity involved in holding a cigarette in the mouth. Once these wrinkles develop, you cannot reverse them by quitting smoking. However, you can avoid developing premature wrinkles if you quit before they begin.

  • Examining Oral Cavity
    Rotten Teeth
    Smoking causes over half of the cases of adult periodontal (gum) disease in the United States, according to the International Academy of Dermatology. Gum disease can lead to unsightly rotten teeth that require extraction or other significant dental interventions like root canals or gum surgery. Smoking also discolors the teeth, turning them an unflattering yellow. When you quit smoking, you enhance your overall dental health and reduce your risk of needing gum surgery or tooth extractions.

  • Pustular Psoriasis
    Pustular Psoriasis
    Women smokers, in particular, face an increased risk of developing pustular forms of psoriasis. Pustular psoriasis is a skin condition that causes unsightly red, scaly skin patches dotted with white, fluid-filled pimples, often on the hands and feet. Beyond its unappealing appearance, pustular psoriasis can be painful. And smoking makes psoriasis of all types more resistant to treatment. Quitting smoking reduces your risk of developing this unpleasant skin condition and makes it more treatable if it does arise.

  • brittle nails
    Stained Fingernails
    Almost all smokers have yellow-stained fingernails on the hand with which they hold their cigarettes. This is not surface staining; the nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes actually saturate your nailbed to cause yellowing and sometimes nail deformity. Fortunately this condition is reversible. When you quit smoking, your nails will recover and grow out in a natural color again. In fact, you will be able to see a line on your nail where the yellow stops and the normal nail begins.

  • Smoking
    Nicotine Stomatitis
    Many smokers develop white, dimpled skin on the roof of the mouth and back of the throat. Nicotine in cigarettes causes this tissue to become thick, with deep wrinkles called fissures. This unhealthy-appearing skin may be clearly visible to others when you laugh or talk. The good news is nicotine stomatitis can be completely reversed by quitting smoking. After you quit, the skin of your palate will gradually return to a normal, glistening reddish color.

  • Woman Holding Sweater Up Over Mouth
    Bad Breath (Halitosis)
    Smoking can cause serious bad breath because it dries out the oral cavity. This dryness inhibits the ability of normal flora (bacteria) to maintain a healthy, sweet-smelling oral environment. And if your smoking also has caused you to develop periodontal disease or rotten teeth, then your halitosis may be even worse. You can avoid the embarrassment of bad breath by quitting smoking. As soon as you quit, your mouth becomes rehydrated and your oral flora can do their job properly.

What Smoking Does to Your Appearance

About The Author

As “the nurse who knows content,” Elizabeth Hanes, RN, works with national and regional healthcare systems, brands, agencies and publishers to produce all types of consumer-facing content. Formerly a perioperative and cosmetic surgery nurse, Elizabeth today uses her nursing knowledge to inform her writing on a wide variety of medical, health and wellness topics.
  1. Smoking and The Skin. International Academy of Cosmetic Dermatology. http://www.iacdworld.org/skin/smoking.htm
  2. Health & Cosmetic Effects. Kansas Department of Health and Safety. http://www.kanquit.org/health_cosmetic_effects.html
  3. Vander Straten M, Carrasco D, et al. Tobacco Use and Skin Disease. South Med J. 2001;94(6) http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/410808_2

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 23
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.