In 1971, Daniell reported the deleterious effect of cigarette smoke on the skin with a typical pattern of wrinkles and a “smoker’s face.” The skin becomes atrophic, thick looking with a rather orangey purple colour and uneven complexion. The pattern of the wrinkles in cigarette smokers is different from that from nonsmokers and different from that of photoaging, as the wrinkles are narrow and deeper and the smokers have more contoured deeper Crow’s feet lines and much more prominent perioral lines because of the repeated act of pursing the lips to inhale the cigarette and the deleterious effect of the smoke directly on the lip skin. The wrinkle radiates at right angles from the upper and lower lip and the eyes.
It is believed that smoking causes skin damage primarily by decreasing the fine capillary blood flow to the skin which creates an oxygen and nutrient deprivation and hence changes in the physiology of the skin, so that smokers have fewer collagen and elastin fibres in the dermis and the skin becomes less elastic, looking slack and thick and dull.
I think we can include here pollution as an environmental influence on the skin very similar to that of smoking. There are lots of particulate matter in the atmosphere which forms an environmental risk to the skin. This has not been studied in depth, but it has certainly been postulated that these particles can carry chemicals and metals that locally damage mitochondria and affect oxygen function. The effects of pollution on skin health have been studied by researchers and recognised as causing ageing skin.
Two antidotes exist for smoking and pollution. The first is obvious which is to stop smoking; the second is much less recognised which is to wear less sticky moisturising cream during the day when in the town as this can attract particulate matter to sit on the skin, and to cleanse the skin thoroughly morning and evening to remove particulate matter. If necessary do an additional cleanse during the day to rid the skin of micro particles containing chemicals and metals which are attracted to sit on the skin and be absorbed and risk causing damage.
Lastly sleep deprivation can cause an effect not dissimilar to that of smoking and air pollution, as sleep is important for the physiological renewal of the skin. Although the effects of chronic sleep deprivation on human skin function and signs of ageing are not fully elucidated, there are a few studies, which suggest that good sleep equals good skin.
Jennifer Crawley is the Consultant Dermatologist at Clinica London with a special interest in dermatology. She is an expert in both adult and paediatric dermatology and has particular interests in research, teaching and leading audit projects. She will be pleased to advise you how you can reduce the environmental influences on your skin ageing.