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Does Quitting Smoking Cause Acne? (Hint: Maybe…)

Hat’s off to you for finally quitting smoking! You should be proud of yourself because it’s not an easy thing to pull off.

But wait, what is this sudden breakout of acne on your face right after quitting smoking? Is this a mere coincidence, or is it one of the side effects of nicotine withdrawal? Does quitting smoking cause acne?

To tell you the truth, staying away from cigarettes after smoking for years may have something to do with the acne breakout. But there is no reason to panic! It just shows that your body is successfully flushing out the nicotine and adjusting your hormone levels. The acnes will go away soon! Let’s find out more about it.

How Does Smoking Affect Acne?

Most of us are well aware of smoking’s negative effects. You literally pay for smoking with your lifespan! Prolonged cigarette smoking commonly leads to the development of a wide range of health problems including heart disease, lung diseases, strokes, and cancer.

What people often overlook is the effect of smoking on their skin. That’s right, smoking is pretty harmful to the skin and there is no doubt about it. In the worst-case scenario, you will end up developing squamous cell carcinoma, which is a form of skin cancer.

Many researchers suggest that smoking may be responsible for the growth of adolescent acne as well. For instance, back in 2001, a study related to smoking and acnes was published in the British Journal of Dermatology. It showed that out of its 896 participants, smokers were more prone to acne growth than non-smokers.

Similarly, another study published in the Dermato Endocrinology in 2009 suggested a strong correlation between smoking and acne. However, many studies disprove the relation between smoking and acne vulgaris. So, it’s impossible to land on a definitive answer.

It’s also important to look at the rest of your lifestyle and habits after quitting smoking that may be contributing to acne.

I go into more detail within my book Unmasking Acne. We go over the root causes of acne, along with dietary and supplement strategies that you can use to get permanently clear skin from within.

With that being said, there is a form of acne that’s easily affected by smoking and no one has any doubt about that. It’s commonly known as Acne Inversa.

Acne Inversa & Smoking

Simply speaking, acne inversa forms due to the pores getting blocked up from the top down. When your skin cells grow too fast, they clog the skin pores. These pores often end up becoming inflamed.

This results in the growth of inflammatory acne, commonly on the areas of the skin that rub against other skin patches. You’re more likely to see this type of acne in the armpits, groin area, behind your knees, etc.

Recent studies prove that smoking plays a big role in developing and worsening existing inflammatory acne. According to a German study, the majority of the participants with acne inversa were smokers. Non-smokers had a significantly lower prevalence of acne.
Besides, it’s acknowledged that regular smoking constricts your blood vessels, reduces blood flow, and therefore severely weakens your body’s ability to heal wounds. As a result, any acne on your body will take longer to heal.

It’s highly possible that all your acne inversa will start healing soon after you quit smoking. You can even quicken the process with the right acne treatment!

Smoking Weed & Acne

Tobacco is not the only substance people smoke. Marijuana has exploded in popularity as more states and countries legalize its use. Although weed does not come with the same cancer risks, marijuana increases both inflammation and sebum oil production. The active THC in marijuana can clog pores and create bacteria that cause acne breakouts

What Causes Acne Breakout After Quitting Smoking?

Now that we’ve learned how smoking affects acne let’s find out why adult acne breakout is a thing that happens after you quit smoking. It seems kind of contradictory, right? Well, it isn’t, and you’ll see why as we explain further.

Nicotine addiction is pretty strong, which makes it harder to quit cigarette smoking. The more you smoke, the more your body adjusts to the nicotine. So, when you try to quit, you have to go through a tough process known as nicotine withdrawal.

You will have to deal with massive cravings and find yourself looking for reasons and ways to puff a cigarette or two. At times, you will be extremely frustrated. Headaches and mood swings are pretty common too.

But another annoying thing you will notice is the development of annoying acnes. You might remember them from your young adolescent days. Brings up some bad memories, doesn’t it? So, why does acne flare up when you’re trying to give up smoking?

Drastic Change in Body

You see, when you stop actively giving nicotine to your body, it begins to push the toxicity out. The changes in your body caused by years of smoking start to revert. In addition to that, your hormone levels readjust to help you cope with life without nicotine.

During the withdrawal process, your body gets stressed out by the drastic changes. It attempts to purify your body of nicotine which isn’t an easy feat. After all, nicotine is extremely detrimental to health. All these changes and stresses are responsible for severe acne breakouts. They’re just a side-effect of your body trying to heal itself.

  • Improved Blood Flow

Your blood flow also improves due to the blood vessels not being constricted anymore. This can also contribute to severe acne breakouts due to the release of the toxins and bacteria that were stuck under your skin.

  • Change in Diet

Another reason behind the relation between quitting smoking and adolescent acne is that smokers often change their diet after stopping their smoking habit. They tend to eat more and include sugary foods in their diet.

These sugar-heavy foods cause your blood sugar to rise quickly. When that happens, your body releases insulin into the blood. Having too much insulin in your blood causes the oil glands to generate more oil. And anyone who had to deal with acne in their life knows that oily skins are like a breeding ground for acne!

In any case, don’t let the fear of acnes drive you back into the nasty habit of smoking. They will go away soon even without acne treatment unless they are too severe. It’s a very small price to pay for being able to breathe freely when you’re older!

Should You Quit Cold Turkey or Wean Off Nicotine?

For some, quitting cold turkey might be too strong of a shock to their body and cause unpleasant adverse effects such as acne.

To minimize the chances of acne while quitting smoking, people have found success by weaning off using Habitrol Nicotine Patches. These patches are designed to decrease nicotine consumption over an 8-week 3-step approach to reduce nicotine dependency and side effects.

What Happens to Your Face When You Quit Smoking?

It’s easy to notice the effects of smoking on a person’s face because the toxins in cigarettes significantly damage the elastin and collagen of the skin. These components are responsible for keeping the skin nice and firm. In their absence, the skin hardens and loses a lot of its elasticity.

In addition to that, smoking also increases the production of free radicals. All these things lead to a condition known as premature aging. Active smokers end up with signs of aging faster than non-smokers. Their skins wrinkle up too early. These effects are most noticeable on the face.

Aside from premature aging and facial wrinkles, smoking also makes the skin on your face harsher and reduces the brightness of your skin complexion. When you give up smoking, all of these negative effects subside and you enter into a healing process. Here is how the skin on your face improves after you have stopped smoking.

No More Premature Aging and Reduced Wrinkles

Quitting smoking means the toxic nicotine can no longer harm the precious elastin and collagen inside your skin. So, your face stops the premature aging process as your skin becomes firmer and softer again. You will notice a reduction in the wrinkles too.

However, your body cannot undo all the damages that have been done to the skin over the years. But the improvements will be significantly noticeable. Your facial skin will be tighter and more supple within a short time after laying off the cigarettes!

Brighter Skin

The toxic materials in nicotine constrict the blood vessels and reduce the flow of blood in your entire body, including the face. When that happens, your face loses its tone and color. So, active smokers may look paler than non-smokers.

However, the flow of blood improves when all the toxicity is cleansed from your body. As a result, your skin brightens, making it look much better than before! Your skin cells will regenerate as they will get more oxygen and nutrients to make the skin radiant and smooth.

Whiter Teeth

Every time you smoke, the nicotine passes through your mouth before reaching your lungs. The toxic substances do a great deal of damage to the inside of your mouth in the process, making your teeth stained with awful yellow color.

Fortunately, you can get rid of those stains just by not smoking anymore and brushing your teeth regularly. Your teeth will look whiter soon enough. So, get ready to enjoy smiling again! Besides, your chance of getting oral cancer will lessen too.

Faster Wound Healing

Your immune system also takes a hit when you’re actively sending nicotine into your body. But when you lay off smoking, your blood circulation improves, oxygen levels rise, and inflammations decrease, allowing your body to heal faster.

So, if you’ve got cuts on your face, they will take lesser time to heal. The acnes will heal faster, too, even without acne treatment. You will notice that your face looks fresher after quitting smoking cigarettes.

Reduced Psoriasis

Nicotine in cigarettes negatively affects the immune system, causes skin inflammation, and disrupts skin cell growth. These are all responsible for the development of psoriasis, an inflammatory skin condition.

You may have it spread to your face already. However, giving up smoking means limiting the growth of psoriasis. Coupled with effective treatment, you will be able to treat facial psoriasis with ease if you don’t smoke.

What Are the Other Side Effects of Quitting Smoking?

We have learned that adolescent acne breakout is one of the common withdrawal symptoms of quitting smoking. However, that isn’t the only side effect associated with smoking cessation. So, let’s explore what other things you might have to tolerate when you are throwing off your smoking habit.

Headaches & Nausea

You will have headaches and nausea after staying away from anything nicotine. It’s an uncomfortable sign that the toxins are leaving your body. These symptoms may occur due to the muscle tensions triggered by the withdrawal process.

Don’t worry, they will stop pretty soon. Remember to eat plenty of water during the process and stay away from smoking cigarettes. It’d be best if you stayed away from secondhand smoke as well.

Sore Throats & Coughing

Your lungs take a lot of beating from smoking. After you stop smoking, they start flushing out all the dangerous tar, mucus, and other smoking debris which can cause sore throats and coughing. There is no reason to be alarmed as it’s a good thing that your lungs are taking care of themselves.

Tingling Sensation

You may have a sudden tingling sensation inside your hands and feet when you’re going through the withdrawal process. It happens due to your blood being able to flow more freely as the blood vessels are no longer constricted by nicotine.

Frustration & Anger

Frustration, irritability, and anger are also common withdrawal symptoms. You may feel frustrated at everything and even angry at times.
Whenever it happens, muster up some patience and control yourself. Your body is changing from something you were used to, so it’s alright to be frustrated and angry. Give it enough time, and you will start feeling better again.

Intense Nicotine Cravings

Nicotine is extremely addicting, so staying away from it is undeniably hard. Your body becomes heavily dependent on nicotine even if it is a bad thing. So, when you deny nicotine to your body, your body will be asking for it. So, you will feel an extreme craving, which can be unbearable at times.

But don’t give in! The cravings are only temporary and if you manage to fight them off, they will no longer be a problem.

Difficulty in Concentration

Nicotine withdrawal keeps your body worked up. The side effects of it make it harder and harder to concentrate on something as you feel like going through a lot of stuff. That’s perfectly normal. Just be patient, and your ability to concentrate will be back in no time!

How Long After Quitting Smoking Does Skin Improve?

The damages done by smoking is not something that can be undone in a short time. You will have to give your body enough time to recover. All you have to do is stay away from smoking and avoid secondhand cigarette smoke while your body recovers.

It’s important to be aware of the time it takes for the body to recover upon quitting smoking to understand how long it will take for the skin to improve.

After just the first few days, the level of carbon monoxide in your blood will become normal. It will take two to three weeks for your blood circulation and lung function to improve.

Within the next few months of quitting, your lungs will be back into their original condition. Give it a couple of years, and your risk of skin cancer, oral cancer, lung cancer, strokes, etc., will be greatly decreased.

As for your skin, you will start noticing the improvements pretty soon. With the improvement of your blood circulation, your skin tone and color will return within the first few weeks. You will have brighter and clearer skin, which will glow a lot more than before after just a month!

Smoking keeps the skin dry, so when you quit, it will appear fresher and livelier. Your skin will continue to regain its vitality with your body and take no more than 6 months to fully recover!

The skin will be just as smooth as it was before, thanks to the recovery of the collagen and elastin along with improved blood circulation. You will see many of the wrinkles and dark spots disappearing. There is a high chance that you will look much younger than before!
It may not be possible to get rid of all the wrinkles, but you will be able to make significant improvements with the right treatments.

Reddit Users Discuss Skin Changes After Quitting Smoking

Whenever I begin writing a new article I always check out Reddit to understand other people’s experiences with whatever I am researching.

Unsurprisingly, most Redditors agree that over a several-week period quitting smoking drastically improved their skin. However, many agreed that breakouts are likely to happen in the first few weeks.

One Redditor said, “Ok so when you quit you will probably get quit zits. It will last maybe a couple months, treat yourself to a facial with the money you save from smoking ☺️ once it passes your skin will be brighter and will actually look less grey (I never realized my skin had that tone before I quit). I quit almost a year ago and I’ve seen a huge difference! Just be prepared for that little rough patch at the beginning, but it’s completely normal.”

r/SkincareAddiction

Another Redditor said, “Yes, quitting smoking improved my skin drastically! I became a full time smoker at 21 and started getting acne (mostly on cheeks) which I’d never ever had as a teen. This plight of pimples continued until I quit smoking at 28. With a better skincare routine, exercizing more and drinking more water, it has mostly vanished except for the occasional zit and a couple that announce the coming of aunt flo. ALSO I started getting premature forehead lines and quitting has helped my skin feel so much more hydrated and the lines havent progressed since I quit.”

r/SkincareAddiction

Reedit agrees with the general consensus that quitting smoking is extremely beneficial for your skin in the long run however, breakouts are not uncommon the first few weeks you are trying to quit.

Final Words

Smoking causes too many problems to be worthwhile, so quitting is always a good idea, especially if you care about your body and skin. It is a risk factor for various health conditions.

Does quitting smoking cause acne? Well, it does, but that’s nothing compared to the life-threatening diseases that smoking is directly responsible for!
Besides, you will be able to treat acne easily as it isn’t hard to find decent acne treatment. In most cases, acne will disappear soon without you having to do anything.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does smoking cause acne?

Although there is not a direct link between smoking and acne, smoking is terrible for your skin. Smoking reduces blood flow to the skin, accelerates aging and wrinkles, causes inflammation, and can lead to skin cancer over a long enough time period.

Will I get an acne breakout if I stop smoking?

Quitting smoking causes the body to go through nicotine withdrawal. During this process hormone levels fluctuate significantly as the body works to remove toxins. An acne breakout is a normal side effect of your body removing toxins the first few weeks after you stop smoking.

Does Smoking interfere with other acne medications?

If you are currently smoking or have done so in the past, make sure to tell your doctor before taking any prescribed medications. Smoking is not great for overall health but does not interfere with some medications such as Accutane.

Need more help? Ask our team!

I’ve helped over 2,500 people clear their acne naturally. If you cannot easily find an answer to your question on the website, please reach out to me by email ([email protected]) or send me a message on Instagram or Twitter. I will reply within 24 hours.

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sam wood is GoodGlow's Chief Editor
Analyzed by Sam Wood

Hi I’m Sam Wood. I’m the chief editor, lead acne expert, and health coach behind GoodGlow. I’m also an author of one of the top selling acne books on Amazon, a husband, father of two, and a pretty good cook!

I’m so glad you found GoodGlow and hope the information I have spent the last 10 years cultivating will help you clear your skin and improve your overall health.

I began experiencing acne breakotus as a sophomore in high school, but unlike most of my friends, my acne actually got worse as I got into my 20s. I exercised regularly, ate healthy (or so I thought) and spent hundreds of dollars a month on high end skincare products and supplements to help clear my skin. Despite these measures my acne breakouts and scarring only got worse as the years wore on.

This greatly wore on my self confidence and mental health. Simple things like taking pictures or going out with a large group made me feel self conscious. So I avoided these situations whenever I could help it.

As a last ditch effort I decided to try an extremely restrictive diet recommended by a close friend with an autoimmune disease. After following this diet for about two months my skin started to clear for the first time in over 8 years. The good news is that this restrictive diet is not actually necessary for 99% of people to permanently clear their skin, and over the course of a few months I was able to add back about 90% of my “normal diet”.

After clearing my skin I spent the next 4 years self experimenting on myself with different diets, supplements, skincare products to try and find a pattern for what was triggering my acne breakouts. I even tried different meditation, ice baths, and accupuncture to try and isolate the root cause of the breakouts.

In the end I realized that an extremely restrictive diet was not necessary for clear skin. The most important thing to do is to avoid inflammatory foods in your diet. Some common examples of this are fried foods, alcohol, sugar, and dairy.

Most impoirtantly I stopped reading trendy websites for skincare advice and began reading medical journals authored by dermatologists and nutritionists. Although the information in the articles was great the information was not easily understandable to most readers (including me). I spent hours dissecting individual posts and looking up terms I did not understand. Over the next 6 months I gradually began to understand these journals and started self experiemting some of the research on myself.

After experiencing quite a bit of success personally, I started sharing my research on forums and with close friends struggling with acne. When I shared the research it was in easy to understand, plain English. Everyone I talked to loved what I had to say and kept asking more and more questions. So I decided to start a blog so I could just send someone a link when they asked a question instead of rewriting something I had sent 100 times before 😅

While the same directional principles apply to everyone, acne is very personal and should be treated on an individual basis. That’s ultimately why I created GoodGlow. To help everyone reverse engineer the root cause of their acne and clear their skin permanently.

To date I’ve helped over 2,500 people clear their skin using a natural, holistic approach. If you are unable to find an answer to your question in any of the articles my team has written please reach out and I will do my best to guide you to the proper information and resources so you can make a thoughtful, informed decision.

Read more of Sam's articles.

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