We all have our vices, whether it's junk food, cocktails, or yes, smoking. We're not going to pretend you don't already know it's bad for you—of course you do. So we're here to educate with some facts you may not already know. There's no judgment here—only information.
"Collagen-destroying enzymes (MMPs) ramp up when exposed to tobacco smoke, dramatically increasing how quickly the skin will show visible aging," explains celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau. "Tobacco smoke contains over 4000 chemicals. At least 50 are known to cause cancer, including formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, and benzene."
In fact, "Heavy smokers are nearly five times more likely to be wrinkled than nonsmokers. Lipid peroxide (released in cigarette smoke) is the main free radical that destroys skin's barrier, resulting in dry, parched skin. On top of that, fibroblasts (collagen-making dermal cells) produce 40% less collagen when exposed to tobacco smoke—the eye area is most affected. Vitamin C also decreases in the skin and body when it's exposed to cigarette smoke."
But here's the thing: It's never too late to quit. Below, find a timeline of all the good things that will start to happen (beginning at just one hour post-cigarette) when you give it up.
Your body: "One hour after you've decided to quit smoking, it is likely that all you're thinking about is having a cigarette," says dermatologist Lisa Airan, MD. But "in as little as 20 minutes after your last cigarette is smoked," reports Medical News Today, an article reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, Ph.D., CRNP, "the heart rate drops and returns to normal. Blood pressure begins to drop, and circulation may start to improve."
Your skin: "Within hours, your skin color peps up as your circulation improves," notes Rachel Nazarian, MD, FAAD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group.
Your body: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the carbon monoxide levels in your blood will drop to normal and your peripheral circulation will improve. Warmth will come back to your fingertips and other extremities. Plus, after 24 hours, your risk of heart attack begins to decrease.
Your skin: "As with any skincare product you use on your face, there will not be an immediate result," notes Airan. "Start introducing such products to help stimulate cell production and circulation—SkinMedica TNS Essential Serum, which has growth factors and the XEO Laser Genesis, which is a YAG non-ablative laser, to stimulate the skin to produce new collagen."
Your body: "Smoking paralyzes little tiny hairs called cilia that line your windpipe and breathing tubes," explains Steven R, Gundry, MD, the medical director at the International Heart and Lung Institute. "These cilia constantly sweep debris and bacteria out of your lungs toward your mouth, where you swallow them. It can take about a week after you stop smoking for them to wake up and start working again." Your sense of smell and taste will start to return to normal during this time. But this is also when you'll start to feel some withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, irritability, and intense cravings.
Your skin: "Within weeks, your skin will be visibly benefiting from increased oxygen and antioxidant levels," says Nick Lowe, MD, of The Cranley Clinic. Now it's time to adopt a strict skincare routine including "sunscreen, vitamin A to speed up turnover, vitamin C to stimulate collagen production, and vitamin E to encourage healing."
Your body: According to the American Heart Association, your lung capacity will begin to regenerate and improve. This makes it so that you can exercise harder and for longer without getting winded.
Your skin: Airan says, "It takes at least 30 days for you to notice a real, visible difference in your skin. So, now is when you will begin to notice that change. Nicotine kills microcirculation, so smaller blood vessels are shut down (which is why smokers' skin has a grey tone). A month down the line, your circulation recovers, which means nutrients and oxygen are being delivered to your skin. Additionally, as skin cells take at least 28 days to turn over, now is when you will really be seeing the ever-elusive glow return." Also, Nazarian notes, "Within one month, your smoke-related acne breakouts will decrease."
Your body: "The real benefit of quitting will happen months following cessation," says Gundry. "Smoking produces severe oxygen free radical damage to every one of the cells in your body. This is sometimes called oxidative stress. Your body uses vitamin C as a major way of mopping up these free radicals, but we don't manufacture our own vitamin C. So when you smoke, you rapidly use it up. It's critical to repair a protein in your body called collagen (a 'rebar' that holds together your blood vessels and your skin). But worse, broken collagen in your blood vessels gets repaired by scar tissue, resulting in coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular disease (PAD), and strokes. The longer you have quit, the more vitamin C and collagen in your body, so the more flexible your blood vessels get."
Your skin: If you've stuck with regular skincare, six months down the line you'll start to see real results. The chemical exfoliators and line-smoothing ingredients in your routine will have smoothed out fine lines, evened out dark spots, and your cheeks will look less hallow (from the constant sucking motion).
Your body: After a year, your risk for heart disease is approximately half of what it was.
Your skin: "Within 10 years," Nazarian says, "your risk of skin cancer drops." You've cut your health risks down and you can "look up to 10 years younger than you would have had you continued to smoke," says Airan.