A study published in the March issue of Archives of Dermatology reports that cigarette smoking causes premature aging to the skin, irrespective of sun exposure.

According to Yolanda R. Helfrich, MD, of the University of Michigan,  smoking was second only to chronological age in predicting fine wrinkling of photo-protected skin.

“Cigarette smoking has long been investigated as a risk factor for premature skin aging,” says Helfrich. “However, the focus on research has been primarily facial wrinkling with no scales available to measure light-protected skin.”

In the study, the researchers took standardized photographs of the inner upper-arm skin of 38 men and 44 women who were patients at a dermatology clinic. They then picked five photos that illustrated varying degrees of fine wrinkling. On the basis of these photos, three blinded judges scored the rest of the photographs twice, 1 year apart.

The 82 patients had a broad age range (11 of age 22 to 29 years, 32 of age 30 to 59, 27 of age 60 to 79, and 12 of age 80 to 91). Half had a history of smoking at some point in their lives ranging from a quarter of a pack to four packs per day.

The predictive factors for skin aging were chronological age, years of smoking, packs smoked per day, years of smoking, and in women, the number of births.

The results found that the inner upper-arm wrinkling measured on the eight-point photonumeric scale in the study was two points higher among smokers than nonsmokers age 65 and older.

For those ages 45 to 65, fine wrinkles were about one point worse for smokers than nonsmokers.

According to Helfrich, aging of the skin by tobacco use mirror those associated with UV light exposure. This suggests that the generation of reactive oxygen species after tobacco exposure leads to molecular changes (elevated   matrix metalloproteinase levels and decreased levels of procollagen) that eventually lead to wrinkling and other changes we tend to associate with age, in photo-exposed and photo-protected sites.

[www.medpagetoday.com, March 19, 2007]