I've noticed women who consume tobacco often have striations in their skin above the upper lip when passing middle age (a frequent cause of annoyance as lipstick gets drawn into them via capillary action). I've not however noticed similar patterns in male smokers. Anyone know why?

  • 1
    I'm skeptical this is true (the male vs. female part). Do you have anything to support this notion that female smokers have more of these than male smokers?
    – Carey Gregory
    Jul 7, 2017 at 4:17

2 Answers 2


As far as I know this was never under experimental laboratory conditions in humans. But there are some observational, correlational and theoretical studies and considerations to explain the phenomenon. There are two main factors to consider here: sex and gender.

The gender part is that female members in our societies are hold to a different physical attractiveness standard, are judged differently, get a different form of attention; and draw a different kind of attention onto their own physical appearance; as evidenced by the original question where it mentions "lipstick". Men with wrinkles tend to be called "looking interesting" while female are often called to "look old". These are psychological and sociological factors that cannot be discarded, but there is a biological reason to which these gender aspects are only amplifying.

Smoking has either very subtle differences regarding the over-all effects in male or female smokers or even the self-selection process in becoming a smoker presents a more fundamental confounding factor for observed differences:

Hormonal and subjective effects of smoking the first five cigarettes of the day: A comparison in males and females (1991)

But the difference becomes readily apparent after the age of forty:

Facial wrinkling in men and women, by smoking status. (1995)
With age, average sun exposure, and body mass index controlled, the estimated relative risk of moderate/severe wrinkling for current smokers compared to never smokers was 2.3 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.2, 4.2) among men and 3.1 (95% CI = 1.6, 5.9) among women. Pack-years was positively associated with facial wrinkle score in women aged 40 through 69 years and in men aged 40 through 59 years. In both groups, the increased risk of wrinkling was equivalent to about 1.4 years of aging.

Taken together with the difference in collagen metabolism, already mentioned in Chris answer, where males and females differ from the start the difference in reaction is again amplified due to smoking:

Perioral Wrinkles: Histologic Differences Between Men and Women (2009)
Women tend to develop more and deeper wrinkles in the perioral region than men. Although much is known about the complex mechanisms involved in skin aging, previous studies have described histologic differences between men and women with respect to skin aging only incidentally and have not investigated the perioral region.
Results: The female replicas showed more and deeper wrinkles than the male replicas (P < .01). Histologic analysis revealed that the perioral skin of men displayed a significantly higher number of sebaceous glands (P = .000; 95% confidence interval [CI] 23.6–53.2), sweat glands (P = .002; 95% CI 2.1–8.1), and a higher ratio between vessel area and connective tissue area in the dermis (P = .009; 95% CI 0.003–0.021). The amount of hair follicles did not significantly differ between men and women, although the average number of sebaceous glands per hair follicle was greater in men (P = .002; 95% CI 0.33–1.28).
Conclusions: Women exhibit more and deeper wrinkles in the perioral region and their skin contains a significantly smaller number of appendages than men, which could be a feasible explanation for why women are more susceptible to development of perioral wrinkles.


Skin wrinkles and creases are generally caused by a breakdown of the collagen framework within the skin.

Collagen is a key part of your skin's structure. It forms a network of fibers within your skin that acts like a framework.

In young skin, the collagen framework is intact and the skin remains moisturized and elastic. Over time, the support structure weakens and the skin loses its elasticity. The skin begins to lose its tone as the collagen support wears down.

Regardless of age, men have a higher collagen density than women; this is the ratio of collagen to the thickness of the skin. Researchers believe that the higher collagen density accounts for why women appear to age faster than men of the same age.

Both men and women lose about one percent of their collagen per year after their 30th birthday. For women, however, this escalates significantly in the first five years after menopause then slows down to a loss of two percent per year.

Wrinkles and other signs of skin ageing can be influenced by habits and behaviours during a person's life. Avoiding some risk factors for premature skin ageing can help keep skin looking younger for longer.

As well as smoking causing premature skin aging,

Wrinkles at the corners of the eyes (crow's feet) or between the eyebrows (frown lines) are thought to be caused by small muscle contractions. Over a lifetime, habitual facial expressions like frowning, smiling or squinting leave their mark on our skin.

The first link states that

Using your facial muscles -- smiling, frowning, or squinting, for instance -- is part of expressing yourself. That's normal, but it does stress the collagen in your skin. Over time, that stress adds up and contributes to facial lines and wrinkles.

  • All nice to know, but it doesn't answer the question (ie, gender differences).
    – Carey Gregory
    Jul 7, 2017 at 4:15

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