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Smoker’s Lips : Causes, Effects, and Prevention for a Healthier Smile

  1. Introduction

    1. What Are Smokers Lips?

      Smoker’s Lips refer to the vertical lines surrounding the mouth that are known to develop with smoking. It is also known as perioral rhytids (vertical lines or wrinkles that appear around the mouth as a result of smoking, aging, and other factors), as it can occur from puckering up the lips while smoking as well as with straw use, or natural aging. In individuals with Smoker’s Lips, the lips and gums become significantly darker than their natural shade.(1)

      A Smoker’s Lips can develop months or even years after a cigarette or tobacco use. The best effort one can take to reduce the appearance of a Smoker’s Lips is to stop smoking.

      Smoking causes bluish-black discoloration of the lips. According to the research done in 2013, the discoloration may indicate chronic smoking.(1) Along with Smoker’s Lips, smoking may also show the following effects on the skin:

      • Changes in the elastic skin fibers
      • Reduced vitamin A levels and skin moisture
      • The heat of the cigarette may burn the skin
      • Narrowing of the blood vessels may decrease the blood supply to the skin thereby leading to changes in the elastin fibers and loss of collagen.
    2. Importance of Discussing Smoker’s Lips

      There are various reasons that make discussing Smoker’s Lips important:

      • To make individuals more aware of the consequences of smoking, potentially motivating them, and discouraging non-smokers from starting smoking.
      • It is important for early detection and timely medical intervention of serious health problems that might occur due to the effects of a Smoker’s Lips.
      • An individual can take proactive steps such as using a sun protection factor on lips or avoiding irritants, to maintain lip health and appearance.
      • The discussion may compel smokers to quit for the sake of lip health and overall well-being.
      • It may encourage positive lifestyle changes.

      By sharing information about Smoker’s Lips, health professionals, educators, and communities can contribute to broader public health initiatives aimed at reducing smoking rates.

      Those looking for quitting smoking can find encouragement and motivation by learning about the potential positive changes they can experience.

  2. Effects of Smoking on Lips

    The effects of a Smoker’s Lips may be quite noticeable. They may range from cosmetic issues to potentially serious health issues.

    Some of the effects include:

    • Discoloration and Darkening: Smoking introduces nicotine and tar into the body.(2) This may accumulate on the lips over time. There may be yellowing or browning of the lips, giving them a dull and unhealthy appearance.
    • Dryness and Coughing: Smoking leads to a reduction in the flow of blood to the lips. The reduction of blood flow may lead to reduced moisture content in the lips, which may result in dryness, chapping, and even flaking.
    • Wrinkles and Premature Aging: Nicotine in cigarettes may lead to the breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin.(3) Decreased collagen may cause fine lines and wrinkles to develop around the mouth, contributing to premature aging.
    • Increased Cancer Risk: Smoking is a significant risk factor for lip cancer.(4) Carcinogens in tobacco smoke directly affect the delicate skin of the lips, leading to the development of cancerous cells.
    • Reduced Healing Ability: Smoking impairs the ability of the body to heal itself.(5) Even minor cuts or irritations may take longer to heal in smokers compared to non-smokers.
    • Decreased Sensation: Due to reduced blood flow, smoking may lead to decreased sensation to touch, temperature, and others.
    • Impaired Lip Function: Dry, chapped, and inflamed lips can affect lip function. This may make the smokers experience discomfort when speaking, eating, or even simply moving their lips.

    The effects of smoking on lips may vary based on factors such as the intensity and duration of smoking, individual genetics, and overall health.

  3. Causes of Smoker’s Lips

    The harmful effects of smoking and the chemicals present in tobacco are the primary causes of a Smoker’s Lips.

    The following factors contribute to the development of Smoker’s Lips:

    • Nicotine and Chemicals: Nicotine constricts the blood vessels and reduces the blood flow to the various parts of the body, including the lips.(6) The chemicals in tobacco may contribute to the damage at the cellular level.
    • Reduced Blood Flow: Due to vasoconstriction caused by nicotine, the blood flow to the capillaries is restricted including the lips. This may result in reduced oxygen and nutrients to the skin. Insufficient blood flow hampers the body’s natural healing and maintenance processes.
    • Dehydration: Smoking, with its diuretic effects may lead to dehydration.(7) The chemicals in tobacco may cause the body to lose more water leading to dryness not only in the lips but also skin and mucous membranes.
    • Collagen Breakdown: Collagen is a protein that maintains skin elasticity and smoothness. Smoking accelerates the breakdown of collagen, resulting in the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging of the skin including around the lips.(3)
    • Toxins and Free Radicals: Smoking introduces toxins and free radicals into the body. These may cause cellular damage, including DNA mutations. This may lead to premature aging and health issues.
    • Irritation and Inflammation: Chemicals in tobacco may cause skin irritation and inflammation including lips. This may lead to redness, swelling, and general deterioration of the lip’s appearance.
    • Weakening of Immune Response: Smoking weakens the immune system.(8) This makes it less effective at repairing and maintaining skin health. There may be slow healing due to the weakened immune system.
    • Lack of Nutrient Absorption: Smoking interferes with the ability of the body to absorb nutrients like vitamins A and C, which are crucial for skin health repair.(9)
    • Exposure to Heat and Smoke: Holding cigarettes close to the lips exposes them to heat and smoke, which can cause direct damage to the sensitive skin of the lips.
  4. Care and Prevention of Smoker’s Lips

    Smoker’s Lips can be addressed through a combination of lifestyle changes, skincare practices, and professional interventions.

    • Quitting Smoking: This is the most effective way to prevent damage and improve overall health. Help from a healthcare professional and support groups can be taken to quit smoking.
    • Hydration and Moisturization: Drinking plenty of water can combat dehydration caused by smoking. Using high-quality lip balm or moisturizer can also help keep the lip hydrated.
    • Sun Protection: Lip balms with a sun protection factor should be applied. This can be helpful in protecting lips from harmful UV rays.
    • Healthy Diet: Consuming a diet rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and nutrients can help support skin health. Foods rich in vitamins A, C, E, and Omega-3 fatty acids can help in skin repair.
    • Using Humidifier: Humidifiers can help maintain adequate indoor humidity levels. This can be helpful in preventing drying lips.
    • Medical Interventions: A dermatologist should be consulted for severe damage. Professional treatments including fillers, botox, laser treatment, micro-needling, chemical peels, and medical-grade skin care products can give targeted care.
      • Botox can relax lines and minimize repetitive muscle contraction around the lips.
      • Fillers contain hyaluronic acid that can help the skin and lips to appear plump.
      • Micro-needling aims to increase collagen production.
      • In chemical peels, acids are used to exfoliate the skin.
    • Avoid Irritants: Limiting exposure to irritants like spicy foods, alcohol-based products, and harsh weather conditions which exacerbate lip issues can be helpful.
    • Regular Health Check-ups: Along with all the above, it is also important to monitor the condition of the lips and oral health. Any unusual change, if noticed should be informed to the doctor.

    The result of treatment may vary depending on the number and depth of lines. With a multi-intervention treatment approach including lasers, the result can be seen in 6 months. Adopting a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, sufficient and stress management is important to support skin and lip health.


Smoking poses not only severe health risks but also leads to cosmetic challenges, most prominently evidenced by the darkened, chapped appearance and vertical lines around the mouth known as Smoker’s Lips. Quitting smoking offers a dual benefit: it safeguards overall health and mitigates these adverse cosmetic effects. Taking proactive steps, from quitting smoking to adopting care and prevention strategies, empowers individuals to restore their lip health, regain confidence, and lead a more vibrant life. Raising awareness about the repercussions of smoking on our lips is not just about aesthetics—it’s a clarion call for a healthier, brighter future.

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 21, 2023

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