Get Serious With Clients About Smoking


It’s always easy to talk to clients about the extrinsic, premature signs of aging that appear due to sun exposure or poor diet because they continually hear the facts and statistics about UV rays and skin damage, as well as the connection between a healthy diet and healthy skin.

Messages such as these have been a part of the mainstream media— in consumer women’s magazines and on television—for decades, and for good reason. But the topic of smoking and the skin has never been as widely discussed. Of course, it is commonly known that smoking is bad for your health, but its specific effects on the skin are rarely discussed in detail.

In research released by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services in 2010, 21% of adults 18 and older smoke cigarettes. As skin care professionals, it’s your responsibility to change the way you talk about smoking and the skin. It may be easy to say “Don’t smoke because it’s bad for your skin,” but clients already know that basic truth. It’s time to start a real dialogue about just how damaging smoking is to the skin, and how significant and premature the effects can be.

Your client may be a 20-something social smoker who has only a few cigarettes on the weekends when she’s out with friends and doesn’t feel the need to quit because she sees no signs of aging. Or, she may be a pack-a-day smoker who’s coming to you because she sees the deep lines, rough texture and skin discoloration. Either way, it’s time to start talking with these clients in the treatment room, and educating them in a way that is not lecturing, but is enlightening. Then, you can begin to treat smoker’s skin with ingredients and treatments that will improve skin function and appearance.

How to talk about smoking

How do you begin to talk to clients about their smoking habits? It starts with the facts. During your initial skin assessment, as you discuss your client’s history, concerns and goals, take the opportunity to talk about smoking’s long-term effects. Here, broken out into talking points you can easily use, is what inhaling the 4,000 chemicals in a cigarette does to skin.

Smoking chokes skin. The fountain of youth is in the bloodstream, but smoking cigarettes causes a restriction of the blood vessels, “choking” them, which then reduces blood supply to the skin. This results in a reduction in oxygen, which is necessary for cell regeneration and the ability to carry away damaging free radicals, so toxins build up and accelerate aging.

Even smoking a single cigarette can result in vasoconstriction for up to 90 minutes. Smoking for 10 minutes decreases tissue oxygen for almost an hour.1 That means a pack-a-day smoker will have skin with a reduced oxygen supply for most of the day.

Smoking thins skin. A recent British study focused on 25 pairs of identical twins, one a lifetime smoker and one who never smoked. Using an ultrasound to gauge skin thickness, the smokers’ skin was 25% thinner than the nonsmokers’, and was as much as 40% thinner in a few of the cases.2

Smoking destroys skin’s collagen and elastin. The appearance of wrinkles and loose or sagging skin is caused by the destruction of collagen and elastin—complex structural proteins that are necessary to keep skin firm, elastic and strong. Smoking robs skin of vitamin C, which is necessary for collagen production, and keeps skin soft and revitalized. It also interrupts the production of the matrix metalloproteinase enzyme, which regulates collagen production.

Smoking causes vertical lines around the mouth. When smokers take a puff from a cigarette, it forces the lips to pucker and form the same lines around the mouth over and over again. Throughout time, these contractions become permanent wrinkles. Pucker lines are a dead giveaway that someone is a smoker.

Smoking slows skin healing. Smoking delays the skin’s ability to regenerate. Wounds take longer to heal, and scars are more likely to form. Many good cosmetic surgeons won’t even operate on a smoker.

Even if you don’t see age signs yet, they can take up to 10 years to appear. This is a great fact for young clients who feel if they don’t see the damage yet, they don’t have to worry.

How to treat the smoking client

So how do you treat smoker’s skin—the dryness, lines and wrinkles on the cheeks, loss of firmness, lip lines and thin skin?

First, be frank with your clients. If they continue to smoke, their skin will continue to age prematurely. There is no miracle treatment or ingredient that will completely reverse the damage caused by years of smoking. However, for clients who are making the choice to save their skin, you can help with treatments that will rehydrate the skin, revitalize the complexion and deliver the needed oxygen that’s been robbed by cigarettes. See Smoker’s Skin Facial.

Oxygenate. Apply a targeted oxygenating treatment that’s formulated with stabilized hydrogen peroxide and essential oxygen that will infuse skin, and revitalize dullness and sluggishness. This will refresh smoker’s skin, and leave it smooth and hydrated.

Deliver vitamin C. A powerful detoxifying vitamin C mask will help neutralize free radicals to counteract premature aging as it energizes the skin. It will help even out skin tone and texture, which can become noticeably discolored and rough for those who smoke.

At home. Recommend that your client continues to use oxygenating products with stabilized hydrogen peroxide at home. There are also daily topical vitamin C creams formulated with both natural and cosmeceutical vitamin C to help smoker’s skin naturally repair itself. A daily broad-spectrum SPF of at least 15 is a must as well. Be sure to have these types of products available in your retail area.

Make the recommendation

Above all, recommend that your client quits smoking. Even one recommendation can make the difference. There is plenty of smoking cessation help online, including and, so providing these types of resources may be all the client needs to get started on the road to a smoke-free life.


1. JB Smith, NA Fenske, Cutaneous manifestations and consequences of smoking, J Am Acad Dermatol 34 5 717–732 (May 1996)

2. T Andrew, et al, Are twins and singletons comparable? A study of disease-related and lifestyle characteristics in adult women, Twin Res 4 6 464–477 (Dec 2001)

As president and founder of Bioelements, Barbara Salomone has helped deliver results-oriented esthetic excellence to skin care professionals and their clients since 1991. As one of the first-ever licensed estheticians in the United States, she’s often considered the architect of the modern facial.

More in Facial