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How Is Smoking Linked To Psoriasis?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: July 2016.

Psoriasis, a chronic autoimmune condition, causes a person’s body to produce too much inflammation. This inflammation causes new skin cells to be produced too quickly for older skin cells to be shed naturally, so the skin cells build up on the surface layer of the skin as plaques.

Smoking or using any type of tobacco products is harmful to anyone’s health. For people with psoriasis, and other autoimmune conditions, smoking can also worsen their health condition. People who smoke have a higher chance of developing psoriasis. People with psoriasis who smoke tend to have more severe symptoms that cover larger areas of the body1.

Unfortunately, research shows that many people with psoriasis (especially men) use smoking as a way of managing the stress and coping with the emotional impact of living with the condition2.

What does current research suggest about the linkage between smoking and plaque psoriasis?

Researchers think that smoking may cause damage to the immune system that contributes to the production of new skin cells, which causes psoriasis plaques to form. Nicotine, the addictive substance in tobacco products, is also thought to bind to skin cells and help them reproduce more rapidly and move to the surface of the skin more quickly3. Smoking can also make skin affected by psoriasis more inflamed.

Studies have shown conclusively that smoking increases a person’s risk of developing psoriasis symptoms3. Psoriasis is associated with specific genes that are responsible for the chronic inflammation. Smoking may activate or trigger these specific inflammatory pathways that trigger psoriasis symptoms5.  People who smoke longer are even more likely to develop the condition, but if you stop smoking, that risk will decrease over time. After 20 years of not smoking, a former smoker’s risk of developing psoriasis will be the same as someone who has never smoked4. If you currently smoke, quitting now is a good way of reducing future risks associated with smoking, such as chronic inflammation and cardiovascular disease.

One study found that women who are current smokers are almost 80% more likely to develop psoriasis than women who have never smoked all3. Another study found that people whose mothers smoked when they were pregnant or who were around people who smoked during their childhood had an increased risk of developing psoriasis4.

Men who smoke do not have the same risk as women with regard to developing psoriasis. However, men who smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day are likely to have more severe symptoms. For both men and women with psoriasis who smoke, smoking will mean that your psoriasis treatments will take longer before symptoms improve or go into remission5.

What are some steps I can take to help quit smoking?

Quitting smoking is a two-part process. The first step is overcoming the physical addiction to nicotine, which can cause withdrawal symptoms and cravings for at least 2-3 weeks. The second step is overcoming the emotional dependence on smoking. Many people find that they need to change their routines somewhat in order to break habits and improve their chances of quitting successfully. For example, trying to change daily routines to avoid situations where/when you are used to smoking, and to avoid social situations where other people are smoking.

There are medications available that can help a person stop smoking, such as nicotine replacement products that deliver a small amount of nicotine that can help reduce the craving for tobacco. The amount of nicotine is tapered off over time to break the physical addiction. Nicotine replacement products include:

  • Gum
  • Lozenges or tablets
  • Skin patches
  • Nasal sprays
  • Inhalers

Other types of support can help you to stop smoking, such as:

  • Counseling
  • Support from family and friends
  • Advice from healthcare providers
  • Support groups with other people who are in the process of quitting smoking

If one kind of treatment or strategy for quitting doesn’t work, don’t feel discouraged. Many people have to try several different supports and many times in order to quit successfully.

There are also many helpful resources available online, such as:

The American Lung Association also offers a free phone service called the Lung HelpLine and Tobacco QuitLine:  1-800-LUNGUSA (586-4872)

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