Smoker Face

By James Whittall


It's another New Year, and we all know what that means. Resolutions! Those solemn pacts we make with ourselves, and then break almost as quickly.

According to the Star Tribune, and just about anyone with more sense than a donut, the most popular New Year's resolution is to swear off cigarettes... after this one last carton. Or two.

That's why January television is infested with those loathsome I'm-a-doctor-who-quit-smoking-and-so-can-you ads.

I'm a former smoker, myself, so I won't wag my finger at you like some overzealous born again Health Nazi. Nothing infuriated me more while I was a smoker than that phony little cough and the inevitable, "You know, those things will kill you."

As if I never once read the enormous warning labels printed on the side of every pack of cigarettes I felt compelled to buy for more than 20 years. As if it never once occurred to me what that putrid gunk was doing to my lungs.

As if I actually had control over my addiction.

Quit for Your Own Reasons

People start smoking for all sorts of stupid reasons: peer pressure, pissing off the parents, a lifelong desire to paint your insides with tar.

Giving up butts, for good, is also a very personal choice one you need to make on your own and not because someone else frowns upon tobacco use. (Show me anything that isn't frowned upon these days, and I'll be first in line to sign up.)

Let's not sit here and chat about the toxicity of cigarette smoke, or how it affects your internal organs. Like yet another nude Madonna spread, we've all seen and been repelled by those glossy full color photos of contaminated body parts. Yuck.

Instead, let's talk about what smoking does to your skin.

This is, after all, a skin care site. What else did you think we were going to discuss?

Of Butts and Bums

According to the medical journal The Lancet, researchers with an apparent bum fetish analyzed the ass fat of a group of heavy smokers and compared it to the posteriors of non-smokers. Their findings rewrote that decades-old Hollywood myth that smoking somehow makes you look healthier and younger.

Here's the article, in a nutshell.

Nicotine and carbon monoxide are among the 4,000 known chemicals you draw into your lungs and bloodstream when you puff on a cigarette, pipe, or stogey. These two toxins, in particular, reduce circulation by constricting vessels that carry nutrient-rich blood and oxygen to the top layers of the skin. The lack of nutrients seems to impair your body's ability to produce collagen, the fibrous protein that makes new, healthy skin.

Furthermore, smokers have a higher concentration of an enzyme called matrix metalloproteinase 1 (MMP-1). This enzyme literally demolishes collagen. The skin of smokers, Lancet asserts, has "significantly more MMP-1" than the skin of non-smokers. Which means guys (and gals) who puff typically have sagging, dry, wrinkly skin.

Is this you? It could be, with enough time and nicotine coursing through your veins.

What About Mellow Yellow?

After tobacco, marijuana is the most widely smoked substance on the planet.

I'm not going to jump into the legalization debate, nor do I intend to endorse or oppose its use. On the eve of decriminalization in Canada, and with pot smoking at an all time high (pun intended) among young adults, it seems only appropriate to include reefer in this conversation.

Unfortunately, there are no studies that measure the effect of marijuana smoke inhalation on human skin. But it's pretty easy to connect the dots.

Pot is a known phytoestrogen a plant with mild estrogen-like effects. Among its many other harmful long term consequences, which include memory loss and high systolic blood pressure, marijuana reduces testosterone production in both men and women.

In case you didn't know, low testosterone can lead to male impotence and affect the skin's ability to produce collagen and retain moisture. As if that weren't enough incentive to quit, marijuana use is also associated with gynecomastia, or breast development in men.

In short, weed can turn you into an impotent old prune with man boobies.

Not exactly the hot new look you were hoping for, I'll bet. But you'll probably raise a few pulses at a seniors' shuffleboard tournament.

Restore the Glow

You take a long, close look in the mirror and see what you believe to be the first unmistakable signs of Smoker Face. What do you do?

Quit. I know it's hard, really really hard, and you'll probably fail the first few times you try. But stick with it. See your doctor for help.

Next, modify your diet a smidgen to include foods that are rich in nucleic acids, such as sardines, salmon, tuna, shellfish (only if you aren't allergic), lentils, and beans. Fruits and vegetables with powerful antioxidants grapes, strawberries, cherries, blueberries, red onions, spinach, whole grain breakfast cereals, green tea can protect against and in some cases repair damage to skin.

Food supplements, particularly with antioxidant Vitamins E and C and the mineral selenium, as well as Vitamin A (the so-called "skin vitamin"), in combination with coenzymes and the minerals zinc, copper, and manganese, are known to increase the skin's ability to repair, renew, and revitalize itself.

Always consult with a nutritionist, dietician, or doctor BEFORE you make any changes to your menu or start a new vitamin/supplement regimen.

Topical antioxidants, available in our Appellation Spa series of grape seed extract skin care products, are also widely used to protect and restore skin.

Grape seed extract is a potent antioxidant that contains a unique bioflavonoid complex known as Procyanidolic Oligomers (PCO). Preliminary evidence suggests that PCO protects and strengthens callogen and elastin, thus helping to improve the elasticity of skin.

How Did I Quit?

The funny thing is, you can control your addiction. You need the strength of will to convince yourself it's possible. And you need a little outside help to bolster your resolve.

I tried the patch. It produced a very unpleasant sensation that can only be described as a rabid squirrel clawing at my shoulder. It also made me unusually irritable and restless, which is great if you're a warthog but not so good when you have employees.

I switched to nicotine gum, but it burned the inside of my mouth. So I picked up about 100 packs of Trident sugarless cappuccino flavored gum and went Cold Turkey.

I had to chew through an entire city block of the stuff before my cravings finally subsided. But it worked. I've been smoke-free for two years and counting.

I just can't walk into a coffee shop without breaking into a cold sweat.

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