Heavy Smoking Can Make Your Face Look Older, Study Suggests

Scientists have uncovered evidence that heavy smoking could make your face look older, according to research.

A team from the University of Bristol in England looked at genetic data from the U.K. Biobank—which follows the health and well-being of 500,000 volunteer participants—to examine 18,000 different traits, in order to assess which could be affected by the amount that someone smokes.

Their analysis—published in the journal PLOS Genetics—revealed that smoking could indeed influence appearance, in addition to other factors like lung health that are more well-recognized by scientific research.

According to the authors, the findings indicated that smoking could have an impact on facial attractiveness and the amount of wrinkling that people experience. They said that knowledge of this may help to deter some people from taking up the habit or help others to quit.

For the study, the Bristol team used a new approach to analyze the data in the Biobank that they hope could be used to help investigate the effects of exposure to other substances, such as alcohol for example.

"We proposed a novel approach that could be used to search for causal effects of health exposures, and demonstrated this approach to search for the effects of smoking heaviness," Louise Millard, lead author of the study from Bristol Medical School: Population Health Sciences, said in a statement.

"We searched across thousands of traits to identify those that may be affected by how heavily someone smokes," she said. "As well as identifying several known adverse effects such as on lung health, we also identified an adverse effect of heavier smoking on facial ageing."

This photo illustration shows a man smoking a cigarette in Washington, D.C. on September 12, 2019. EVA HAMBACH/AFP via Getty Images

The technique that the team used was a combination of two methods. The first was known as "Mendelian randomization," which essentially looks at genetic variations in a person's DNA to help understand how certain risk factors lead to specific health outcomes.

In addition, they also compared genetic associations in smokers and people who had never smoked in order to overcome biases in the Mendelian randomization technique.

The authors said in the study that a current smoker who has smoked five cigarettes per day for 12 years, for example, or a former smoker who smoked five cigarettes per day for 21 years but stopped 10 years ago have a much higher chance of reporting that others say they look older than they are compared to someone who has never smoked.

However, the team said that this association needs to be tested in other studies to definitively determine whether or not there is a causal link between smoking heaviness and apparent facial ageing.

Furthermore, the scientists said that more research needs to be conducted on whether telling smokers that their appearance could be affected will actually help people to stop smoking.