Smoking is most commonly associated with lung cancer and heart disease but affects other body parts, including the skin. Researchers have been looking into any possible link between smoking and acne outbreaks.
Smoking is known to affect the skin in a variety of ways. Dr. Richard Hurt of the Mayo Clinic says smoking narrows blood vessels in the skin's outer layer, which leads to decreased blood flow. This can keep the skin from getting enough oxygen, vitamin A and other nutrients. Chemicals in tobacco smoke can also damage collagen and make the skin less elastic. It also accelerates the aging process, which can lead to premature wrinkles, Dr. Hurt says.
Acne is a skin condition, so it's logical to think that smoking may worsen acne outbreaks. However, studies over the years have shown mixed results. A 2001 study, published in the British Journal of Dermatology, found that smokers had more outbreaks and significantly worse acne than their non-smoking counterparts. A 2006 study of young male smokers, published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, found that they suffered from fewer acne outbreaks than non-smoking males in the same age group. A 2007 study of males and females published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, found no effect at all in men. However, female smokers were found to have less acne.
Smoking may worsen acne in indirect ways, according to the Acne.org acne education website, because of its overall effects on skin health. For example, impaired blood flow can make it more difficult for acne infections to heal. Impaired collagen production may worsen the appearance of pitted acne scars.
Research has not definitely shown whether smoking worsens acne, and the Mayo Clinic says there is uncertainty regarding other factors such as diet. For example, chocolate and greasy foods are often said to trigger or worsen acne, but the Mayo Clinic says they have no effect. Bread, chips and other starchy foods may cause acne outbreaks, but that has not yet been proven conclusively.
Smoking may not worsen acne--and it may even offer some protection if some of the recent studies are correct--but Acne.org warns that it's still best to quit for overall skin and general health. It can affect blood pressure and circulation and contribute to problems such as heart disease and cancer.