Vices and Your Skin

Written by: Katharine Ehresman


Welcome back. Today’s topic is a serious one, but I will try to make it not so troubling that it becomes self-defeating. Previously we learned about the effects of the sun on your skin. Is the sun a vice? Not in of itself, but the “art of sunning”, which most of us perfected in our youth, is something we learned not only can be but should be considered a vice. I know that’s not what you want to hear but we all know it’s true. Now, let’s add insult to injury and talk about two other pastimes that can truly wreak havoc on not only your skin but your entire wellbeing: drinking and smoking.

Why do I call them both vices? I will offer a couple of definitions and then maybe it will be a little clearer. St. Basil the Great defined it very succinctly by declaring this, “Vice – an evil use, and one contrary to the command of the Lord, of things given us by God for good.”. Ouch! Perhaps the definition from the Free Dictionary is a little less dramatic as indicted by describing a vice as “…a bad habit; serious moral failing”. Damn, that second part is harsh, as well. But, when you learn what smoking does to you as well as excessive drinking, you will recognize harsh is pretty darn accurate.

Smoking, though legal, is one of the worst things you can do for and to your body. Nicotine is a vicious drug, and yes, it is a drug! We all know smoking is addictive, but we may not really know why. Nicotine increases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which affects the brains pathways that control reward and pleasure. With extended use your brain slows the production of dopamine, but your body still craves the feeling it receives from it, so it craves that thing that mimics natural production. It’s a wicked cycle and really no different from cocaine or heroin’s effects but still we don’t equate smoking with the same destruction.

Aside from all the damage it does to you physiologically, smoking does an excellent job of showing its destructive tendencies outwardly on your skin. Smoking causes what is described as oxidative stress which, as defined by Healthline is “…an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in your body.”, resulting in cell degeneration which hampers the blood supply with the carbon monoxide contained in nicotine. The result is reduced blood flow which affects the production of collagen which results in saggy, lackluster skin. I’m sure you’ve known someone who smokes a lot or seen them. You can’t help but notice the telltale signs; crow’s feet, “smoker’s mouth”, baggy eyelids and slack jawline and skin that looks thin, red, and screaming for oxygen. In my head I picture the quintessential “Cruella Deville” but rather than being elegant in her fur, she’s in a track suite, with reddish pink died hair, too red lipstick and elicits the term broad.


Which twin is the smoker??

Alcohol isn’t much kinder to the skin and body, at least not when imbibed in excess, which for women is really more than one drink a day. I know, it’s hard to stop at just one when we are talking about a good crisp Chardonnay or tangy mimosa. But your momma was right when she said too much of a good thing is bad for ya! As we age our bodies don’t hold as much water as we used to, and it is easy to get dehydrated. Alcohol is a diuretic and pulls water from your body, so it dehydrates you even more. Dehydrated skin becomes dull and wrinkles appear faster. Additionally, alcohol releases a histamine that dilates the blood’s capillaries, so that the net effect is redness of the skin which can become permanent. It also acts as a vasodilator in that it widens the blood vessels that bring blood to the face which, if you drink excessively over time these vessels turn into broken capillaries that can burst especially around the nose and face. We’ve all seen these telltale signs on the faces of some of our friends.

Now that I’ve totally depressed you, how about a little good news? Jodi Sawyer, RN writes in her blog that, “Studies have shown that moderate drinking can help to lower cholesterol and lower the risk of heart attack (as compared to non-drinkers, especially in older men). Alcohol can help to lower the risk of diabetes by improving the body’s sensitivity to insulin. It can also help to lower the risk of dementia.” The key is to remember it is all about moderation. And, don’t forget about the wonderful attributes to red wine! Many red grape varieties contain key properties such as polyphenols which are antioxidants that can actually help keep the blood vessels flexible which can reduce the chance of clotting. Finally, you may have heard of resveratrol which is contained in the skin of the grapes which contributes to aiding your body in regulating your blood sugar levels. Resveratrol is also associated with helping to keep your brain sharp by hampering the formation of beta-amyloid proteins which are a key ingredient in the plaque found in the brains of Alzheimer patients. Hot digity, abstinence be damned, you have a safe solution!

Ladies let your sparkling personalities shine on their own. I’m quite certain that you can be the life of the party without getting sloshed or standing around the big smoker’s trashcan out in the alley. If you want to maintain your youthful glow stay away from those nasty cigarettes. They are aging you and your body in a myriad of ways and nothing good comes from them. Thankfully, there is nothing wrong with relaxing with an adult beverage after a long hard day. And, if you drink a yummy glass of Pinot Noir or a Shiraz you are actually helping your body. So, sit back and smile as you relax with that glass of red, just be careful not to spill!

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