Premature aging is usually blamed on too much time in the sun without proper protection, but the sun isn’t the only culprit. Heavy smoking and drinking also contribute to early aging, evidenced, for example, by sallow skin and little wrinkles around the eyes and telltale lines above the lips.
Smoking and drinking introduce toxic substances that increase the number of free radicals in our cells, significantly accelerating the aging process. Smoking also interferes with blood flow to the skin, which means the skin isn’t getting nutrients that provide youthful strength and elasticity.
When used in large quantities, alcohol acts as a diuretic that saps moisture from the skin. Eventually, tiny blood vessels near the surface of the skin tend to rupture, leaving the appearance of tiny red spider webs around the cheeks and nose.
A study conducted in Denmark indicates that heavy smoking and drinking are associated with specific signs of aging beyond wrinkles and saggy skin.
The study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, followed more than 11,500 adults since the project began in 1976. Participants ranged in age from 21 to 94, with an average age of 51.
Average use of alcohol was 2.6 drinks per week for women and 11.4 drinks for men. Approximately 57 percent of the women and 67 percent of men were smokers.
The participants, all residents of Copenhagen, paid a visit to the clinic every few years. Participants completed a survey of overall health and lifestyle habits before being assessed for the following four clinical signs of aging:
Earlobe creases: The study indicated that men who drink heavily are more than 25 percent more likely to develop earlobe creases than those who drank moderately. Although no specific relationship has been determined, statistics have suggested that people with earlobe creases are more likely to develop heart disease in later years.
An opaque ring around the outer cornea of the eyes: Scientifically known as arcus coneae, a ring around the cornea was the most common signs of premature aging among participants. Smokers who exceeded at least a pack a day for 15 years or more were 41 percent more likely to develop the ring. The rings, which are thought to be partly genetic, may be an indicator of coronary artery disease.
Yellow-orange discoloration of the thin skin of the eyelids: This discoloration, known in the scientific community as xanthelasmata, was the least common sign of aging, affecting only about five percent of men and women over 50. Scientists believe that the yellow patches are caused by high levels of cholesterol collecting under the skin.
Male pattern baldness: Researchers concluded that male pattern baldness (which also affects women), is strongly influenced by genetics and hormones, and is not consistently associated with heavy use of alcohol or tobacco. However, other studies have suggested that male pattern baldness among younger men may be more common among those who engage in unhealthy lifestyle habits.
Consider Addiction Treatment and Rehab
If you’re concerned that heavy smoking and drinking is causing you to look older than your years, this a good time to stop or cut down your use of alcohol and tobacco. A drug and alcohol addiction clinic or rehab can help with alcohol addiction and most addiction treatment providers offer smoking cessation as part of treatment.