This Is Exactly What Happens to Your Body When You Quit Smoking

woman smoking a cigarette

Andrei Aleshyn / Stocksy

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.

"Tobacco smoke contains over 4000 chemicals. At least 50 are known to cause cancer, including formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, and benzene," explains celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau. "Collagen-destroying enzymes (MMPs) ramp up when exposed to tobacco smoke, dramatically increasing how quickly the skin will show visible aging."

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 the skin's barrier, resulting in dry, parched skin," she continues.

But here's the thing: It's never too late to quit. Keep scrolling to learn exactly what happens to your body and skin after you quit smoking.

One Hour

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. As a result of exposure to smoke, the fiber within your bronchial tubes does not move. But in as little as 20 minutes after your last cigarette is smoked, the heart rate drops and returns to normal, blood pressure begins to drop, and circulation may start to improve. The fibers within your bronchial tubes will begin to move again, pushing bacteria and irritants out of the lungs, helping to reduce the risk of infection.

Your skin: "Within hours, your skin color peps up as your circulation improves," notes Rachel Nazarian, MD, FAAD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group. In addition, your hands and feet will warm up to their usual temperature.

One Day

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 only 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—like 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."

One Week

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."

One Month

Your body: According to the American Heart Association, your lung capacity will begin to regenerate and improve. This makes it so that you have the heightened energy to exercise harder and 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 gray 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."

6 Months

Model with curly hair, blue background
 Delmaine Donson / GETTY IMAGES

Your body: "The real benefit of quitting will happen months following cessation," says Gundry, noting that 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."

During this time, he adds, that it is "critical to repair 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." By now, you will be able to take in deeper breaths without coughing.

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).

1 Year

Your body: The risk for coronary heart disease decreases by half. Your lungs will improve greatly and function properly, reducing your cough and making it easier to breathe.

Your skin: Your skin tone will improve as oxygen flows back into your skin cells.

5 years

Your body: According to the University of North Carolina, your risk of lung cancer drops by half compared to when you began to smoke. The toxins within cigarettes cause the arteries and blood vessels to narrow. It also increases the likelihood of blood clots. When the body is no longer inhaling the toxins over a five-year span, the blood vessels begin to widen. As a result, the blood is less likely to clot, lowering the risks of a stroke.

Your skin: After five years without smoking, your body has healed itself enough for your arteries and blood vessels to open up again. The blood flow to your skin will repair as well.

10 Years

Your body: After 10 years, your risk for heart disease is approximately half of what it was. You also decrease the risk for cancers of the mouth, esophagus, kidney, pancreas, and bladder.

Your skin: "Within 10 years, your risk of skin cancer drops," says Nazarian. 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," adds Airan.

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