Sunlight and Cigarette Smoke: A Bad Combination for Your Skin

A new study finds that the combination of cigarette smoke and sunlight can worsen early skin aging. Absorbing the chemicals in cigarette smoke through the skin is one way people are exposed to thirdhand smoke, the toxic residue left behind when someone smokes. While previous research shows that being exposed to cigarette smoke or sunlight can cause premature skin aging, this Canadian study is the first to show that being exposed to both makes skin aging even worse.

To measure premature skin aging, the researchers created artificial skin, which contained an outer and inner layer. Next, over one week they exposed the skin substitute to a solution containing cigarette smoke chemicals for 30 minutes a day and artificial sunlight for the equivalent of 5, 10, or 20 minutes a day.

After a week, the researchers analyzed the skin and found that its outer layer was thinner and the inner layer was damaged. The skin was producing less of the materials needed to make collagen, which keeps skin elastic and helps prevent premature aging. The skin also had more inflammatory chemicals, which is another sign of premature aging. Further, the damage from exposure to both sunlight and cigarette smoke was synergistic. That is, the combined effect was greater than the effect of exposure to each separately.

 Four sections of skin: one health, one with brown dots exposed to smoke, one with tan dots exposed to sun, and one with both dots exposed to both

These results suggest that people should avoid being exposed to both sunlight and cigarette smoke. Since it is nearly impossible to avoid sunlight exposure, people should focus on avoiding exposure to second- and thirdhand cigarette smoke. To do this, people should avoid places where smoking occurs, and if they must be in those areas, they should wash their skin, hair, and clothes as soon as possible after leaving. These actions have the potential to reduce unnecessary damage to their skin.

Click here to read the research study.

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