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Smokers' skin appears to age faster, study of twins shows

| Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013, 5:36 p.m.

NEW YORK — Smokers are likely to get bags under their eyes and wrinkles around their lips earlier than nonsmokers, according to a study of identical twins.

Judges who didn't know which twin smoked said the smoker looked older 57 percent of the time. That pattern held when both twins were smokers but one had smoked for many years longer than the other.

“Smoking makes you look old. That's all there is to it,” Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi said.

“Besides lung cancer, heart attacks and strokes, just one more good reason to stop smoking is that it's definitely making you look a lot older,” she said.

Tanzi is a dermatologist at the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery and George Washington University Medical Center. She was not involved in the study but said it confirms what she and others see in practice.

The findings are based on standardized photos of 79 pairs of identical twins taken at the Twins Days Festival in Twinsburg, Ohio.

Dr. Bahman Guyuron of Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals of Cleveland and his colleagues showed the photos to three trained judges, then asked them to grade each person's wrinkles and age-related facial features.

The twins were in their late 40s, on average. About three-quarters of them were women.

Forty-five sets of twins included one smoker and one nonsmoker. Smokers tended to have more wrinkles and other signs of face aging. But the differences were often small.

For instance, on a zero-to-3 scale, where zero means no wrinkles and 3 is severe wrinkles, upper eyelids were rated at 1.56 among smokers and 1.51 among nonsmokers. Jowls were rated at 1.0 among smokers and 0.93 among nonsmokers, on average.

There was no difference in assessments of crow's feet or forehead wrinkles based on smoking.

Other factors related to skin aging, including sunscreen use, alcohol drinking and stress at work, were similar among smoking and nonsmoking twins, the researchers noted.

Of the remaining 34 twin pairs, one had smoked for an average of 13 years longer than the other.

Twins who had smoked for more years had more pronounced bags under their eyes and more wrinkles around their lower lips, according to findings published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

“It really just kind of confirms a lot of stuff that most people believed,” Dr. Alan Boyd said. He is a dermatologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville and wasn't part of the study team.

Still, he said, the study adds a layer of evidence by putting numbers on the effect of smoking on different parts of the face.

Facial creams and plastic surgery are options for people whose skin has been damaged by smoking, Guyuron said. But he said the goal of releasing the findings is to give people another reason never to start.

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