The Impact of Smoking and Nicotine on Skin Health

Burlington, Toronto, Thornhill, Therapeutic Aesthetics, Therapeutic Aesthetics Medical Spa, Medical Clinic, GTA Medical Clinics

The harmful effects of smoking and nicotine on cardiovascular and pulmonary health are well understood and widely communicated. However, the repercussions on our body’s largest organ – the skin – receive comparatively less attention.

The skin is not just a protective barrier but a highly complex organ involved in numerous bodily functions, including temperature regulation, immune response, and sensation. Therefore, any negative impact on skin health is far from superficial.

Nicotine, the addictive substance in tobacco, has several detrimental effects on the skin.


Extensive medical research has demonstrated a strong correlation between nicotine consumption and the acceleration of skin aging, particularly the development of wrinkles. According to a study published in the Journal of Dermatological Science, nicotine narrows blood vessels in the outermost layers of the skin, hindering blood flow. This results in the skin not receiving enough oxygen and nutrients like vitamin A, leading to skin damage. Moreover, nicotine stimulates the body to produce an enzyme called matrix metalloproteinase. This enzyme breaks down the skin’s collagen, crucial for skin elasticity. As elasticity decreases, wrinkles form more readily, substantiating nicotine’s role in skin aging. The result is loose, saggy skin and deeper wrinkles.

The repeated exposure to the heat from burning cigarettes, combined with the facial expressions made when smoking (like pursing the lips and squinting the eyes), can contribute to premature wrinkles. The chemicals in cigarettes negatively affect collagen and elastin, the fibrous proteins that provide the skin with strength and elasticity. This results in loose, saggy skin and deeper wrinkles, making smokers appear older than they are.


Numerous studies suggest that nicotine, a primary component of tobacco, plays a significant role in impairing the immune system. A study in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology (2016) revealed that nicotine can alter the function of immune cells, known as neutrophils, through its interaction with specific receptors on the cells. These alterations reduce the cells’ ability to fight infections, increasing disease susceptibility. Furthermore, nicotine has been found to disrupt the balance of the immune system, causing inflammation and potentially leading to various autoimmune diseases. This can exacerbate conditions like psoriasis and hidradenitis suppurativa. Therefore, nicotine’s impact on the immune system is a critical factor contributing to the health risks associated with tobacco use.


Nicotine is a colourless substance that turns yellowish-brown when exposed to oxygen, and it can stain the skin upon contact. It sticks to substances, including skin, hair, and nails. When a person smokes, nicotine and tar from the cigarette smoke settle on the skin. Over time, this leads to discolouration.

From a medical perspective, research indicates the staining is because nicotine increases melanin production, the pigment that colours our skin. According to a study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, nicotine can bind to melanin and accumulate in tissues containing the pigment, leading to darker skin over time.

It’s also worth noting that nicotine constricts blood vessels, reducing the oxygen flow to the skin. This can make the skin lose its natural colour and appear dull, yellow or gray.

Nicotine stains can be stubborn and difficult to remove because they penetrate deep into the epidermis. Exfoliating the skin can help remove some of the stains, but quitting smoking is the most effective method to prevent or eliminate nicotine stains.


Furthermore, smoking increases the risk of skin cancer. While it’s well established that smoking is a significant risk factor for lung cancer, research indicates that it also contributes to squamous cell carcinoma.

The effects of smoking and nicotine on skin health are manifold and severe, affecting not only the appearance but also the function of the skin.