Skin Damage and Smoking

You may know that you can get all sorts of health problems from smoking but did you know that serious skin damage and smoking go together, too? Here are four types of skin problems that smoking can cause or exacerbate:

Skin Lesions

Smokers who suffer from diabetes run a greater chance of developing skin lesions if they smoke. A skin condition called necrobiosis lipoidica starts out as small red bumps and then grows into red or brown scaly patches of skin that turn hard. These lesions tell you that you probably have diabetes or that your insulin dose needs to be revisited.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Medical evidence indicates that exposure to the sun puts people at the greatest risk of the second most common type of skin cancer, called squamous cell carcinoma. There’s also a fair amount of evidence that indicates that smoking increases that cancer risk. In fact, one study in 2000 found that smoking increases the risk of squamous cell carcinoma by three times. Researchers in the study from the Netherlands theorize that smoking damages the DNA in the skin tissue which leads to abnormal skin cell growth.


Lupus is an auto-immune disease that, in one of its forms, affects skin condition and hair loss. A broad range of studies teaches us that smoking speeds up the unfortunate effects of Lupus. Smoking also interferes with the effectiveness of medicines for Lupus. For example, anti-malarial drugs are often used to treat Lupus but smoking interferes with the drug’s benefits. A study through Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that Lupus skin disease was more prevalent in people who smoked than in non-smokers.

Wound Healing

The medical community has seen evidence in surgical patients that smoking interferes with the skin’s ability to regenerate and heal wounds. Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor which means it causes blood vessels to contract, letting less blood circulate throughout the body. In practical terms, that means fewer nutrients circulate throughout the body, nutrients that the skin needs to regenerate. Carbon monoxide is also a by-product in cigarette smoke. Carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen in the lungs which means less oxygen flows throughout the body and the skin has less oxygen than it needs to regenerate cells, including skin cells.

How does Australia fare in the smoking v.s skin cancer wars?

Tobacco smoking in Australia is on the decline. The decrease is apparently due to society’s momentum on quitting, the increase in the number of smoke-free establishments in Australia, and the change in the tobacco taxes. Between 1998-2001, total tobacco sales dropped by about 18%. In the following years, the drop in tobacco sales has been about 2.5% per year. Even more encouraging, tobacco use in students age 15-17 dropped by about 30% over the six-year period starting in 2002.

The rate of skin cancer in Australia says that 2 out of every 3 people will receive a skin cancer diagnosis by age 70. To put it another way, doctors treat 750,000 Australians for one or more non-melanoma skin cancers each year. Cancer is a leading cause of death each year in Australia but the death rate is lower by more than 16% in recent years. More good news — 66% of the people in Australia who develop cancer will live past the fifth anniversary of their diagnosis.

For more than a decade, Australia has focused on a successful educational campaign teaching Australians about the dangers of exposure to the sun and the dangers of smoking. Statistics for both seem headed in the right direction — down.