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Heavy Smoking Can Worsen Facial Aging

A new study confirms what many already suspect: Heavy smoking can worsen facial aging.

Researchers from the University of Bristol in England examined 18,000 traits from the UK Biobank cohort to identify those that may be affected by heavy smoking. Along with identifying several known adverse effects, such as harm to lung health, the researchers also found evidence that heavy smoking can influence appearance.

The study is published in the journal PLOS Genetics.

The researchers wanted to demonstrate a new approach that could be used to systematically test for causal effects across thousands of outcomes, by combining two existing methods: the Mendelian randomization approach and gene-by-environment interaction tests.

To test their new method, the Bristol team searched for the effects of heavy smoking using the UK Biobank cohort.

The researchers found their approach worked, as their results included several known effects of heavier smoking on lung function. They also identified an interesting potential effect of heavier smoking on facial aging.

Their findings add to evidence showing that heavier smoking affects facial attractiveness and the amount of wrinkling, which might be reasons to encourage someone to stop smoking or deter them from starting in the first place.

By showing that the approach works, it could be used to search for the effects of other exposures, such as alcohol intake.

“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,” said Dr. Louise Millard, Vice Chancellor’s Research Fellow in the Bristol Medical School: Population Health Sciences (PHS).

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

Mendelian randomization is a technique that uses genetic variation in a person’s DNA to help understand the causal relationships between risk factors and health outcomes; in this case, whether heavy smoking can cause health outcomes.

However, Mendelian randomization is biased if the genetic variant also affects the outcome via other pathways. The research team used additional information — that the effect of heavy smoking only occurs in people who actually smoke — to overcome this problem.

By testing associations in ever and never smokers separately they were able to determine whether the genetic variant affects an outcome via smoking or another pathway. If the effect is at least partially via smoking heaviness, the researchers would expect the effect to differ in ever versus never smokers, and this would suggest that smoking causally influences the outcome.

More research is needed to find out whether being told that smoking could affect appearance is an effective strategy for smoking prevention or stopping.

Source: University of Bristol

Heavy Smoking Can Worsen Facial Aging

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2019). Heavy Smoking Can Worsen Facial Aging. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 2 Nov 2019 (Originally: 2 Nov 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 2 Nov 2019
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